“Gravity’s Rainbow” (1 Samuel 31)

When Thomas Pynchon titled his classic novel Gravity’s Rainbow, he did so as something of a dark joke.  The novel takes place in the era of nuclear fear.  The “rainbow” refers to the parabolic arc—the arch across the sky formed by intercontinental ballistic missiles.  The worst thing of all, according to the novel, is that when the missiles travel faster than the speed of sound no one can ever hear it coming.  One day, there’s a flash, and it’s all over.

What goes up must come down, and usually with no real precision or sense of target specificity.  The transition from the books of 1-2 Samuel comes with the decline of Saul, a man now caught in the “rainbow” of the gravity of his own failure:

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul.3 The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. 5 And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. 6 Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. 7 And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. (1 Samuel 31:1-7)

Saul takes his own life, while the people flee from battle.  He takes the easy way out, though the aftermath of this decision would be felt throughout the land.

8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. 11 But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. 13 And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days. (1 Samuel 31:8-13)

Thus ends 1 Samuel, almost as a tag line from a newspaper headline.  The best case scenario was a few valiant men who came to claim his body before it could be fully desecrated.

2 Samuel picks up this same storyline:

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. 2 And on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. And when he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage. 3 David said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” 4 And David said to him, “How did it go? Tell me.” And he answered, “The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.”5 Then David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” 6 And the young man who told him said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear, and behold, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. 7 And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 8 And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ 9 And he said to me, ‘Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ 10 So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.” (2 Samuel 1:1-10)

The man is lying.  1 Samuel 31 tells us that Saul killed himself when even his armor-bearer refused.  Why lie about this?  The Amalekite makes it seem almost an act of mercy—or more likely, he wanted to be remembered as the man who finally put David in power.  Unfortunately the scheme backfired:

11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. 12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 13 And David said to the young man who told him, “Where do you come from?” And he answered, “I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.” 14 David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” 15 Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go, execute him.” And he struck him down so that he died. 16 And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’”

David wants nothing to do with someone that would take the life of God’s anointed.  The irony, of course, is that the man was never guilty of this crime—yet his bragging only brought him ruin.

Much attention has been given to suicide in recent months—starting with the death of Robin Williams to the scheduled death of Brittney Maynard, a 29 year old cancer patient choosing to end her life on her own terms.  We might add to this list the literally thousands who struggle with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.  What should the Christian response be?

First, contrary to other teachings on the matter, we should recognize that suicide does not equal a trip to hell.  Your acceptance before God is through Jesus.  If a person trusts in Jesus, yet takes their own life, then while God is displeased with that choice it does not remove the grace of His Son.

Secondly, suffering is an integral part of life in a broken world.  Death is inevitable for us all.  Saul surely saw this—as do those suffering with cancer.  So how imminent should death be before we can justify such decisions?  We’re talking, of course, about euthanasia, or assisted suicide.  From an ethical perspective, there are two broad forms.  Passive euthanasia refers to allowing nature—in its cursed form—to follow its natural course.  This might mean withholding or even ceasing treatment from the terminally ill, and allowing their body to shut down.  As Christians, we rightly recognize that this horrific decision does not come easily—but we also should not cling so tightly to the here and now that we fail to prepare ourselves for the journey from nature to eternity.  In his book on the subject, M. Scott Peck—spiritual author as well as physician—repeatedly writes: “Let my people go.”  By that he meant Christians should not be surprised by suffering, nor should we approach death as if it’s truly final.

But active euthanasia, the act of terminating someone’s life through some direct intervention, is much more difficult.  As Christians, we recognize that suffering is never beautiful, never positive, though we might call it enriching.  We need not romanticize the notion of the noble sufferer, but on the other hand we must recognize the way that suffering connects to the core of who we are as humans.  Suicide, therefore, dehumanizes us, suggests that suffering is something that can be opted out of at our discretion.

Let’s not throw rocks.  Each of us faces a “rainbow” all our own.  We will face tough decisions about what to do about suffering—either our own or that of a loved one.  But the gospel promises that because Jesus suffered with us—nay, for us—we can allow our hurts to press us more closely into the character of God.

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A Wilderness Within (1 Samuel 30)

If you’ve read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings saga, then you may have noticed Peter Jackson’s films omitted a large portion of The Return of the King.  Tolkien’s novel concludes with a lengthy section called “The Scouring of the Shire,” which records the way that the familiar homeland of the Shire had now become overrun by “ruffians.”  Tolkien was working in the years that followed the first World War.  Many young men had gone off to a war fought in trenches and stretches of territory called “no man’s land.”  When they returned home, they found they could not shake the evil they’d seen.  Tolkien’s fanciful story reflects this time—reminding all readers that it’s simply not possible to face evil without evil touching you, maybe even changing you.

If you’ve been through any sort of major trauma—a death in the family, a broken relationship, any sense of loss—there’s a sense in which you can’t really “get over it.”  There’s some part of you that always feels some sense of soreness, like some limp of the soul.

1 Samuel concludes with the coming war between Israel and the Philistines, but in chapter 30 the narration slows and focuses on David.  His wilderness years are drawing to an end, but the suffering he’d experienced was still very much a part of his life.

DAVID’S CRISIS

David and his men return to find a land in ruin:

Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

The men are incensed, and the natural target was David.  After all, he’d been their leader, surely he’s to blame for failing to protect their families?

When we’re hurt, it’s easy to cast blame.  And why not?  Anger is often preferable to hurt, because at least when you’re angry you’re not feeling helpless.  But this small measure of control will never truly serve you well, and in time such bitterness can prevent you from taking a realistic look at your circumstances.

GOD’S GUIDANCE

David’s first recourse was to seek God’s direction:

And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those who were left behind stayed.10 But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.

You and I don’t share this direct connection with God.  But we have something David didn’t.  Jesus promised that His followers would be given the provisionary guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Together with God’s word, God’s people have the tools necessary to navigate hostile terrain,

DAVID’S KINDNESS

In contrast to his men, David was able to show kindness to a stranger:

 11 They found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. And they gave him bread and he ate. They gave him water to drink, 12 and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” He said, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. 14 We had made a raid against the Negeb of the Cherethites and against that which belongs to Judah and against the Negeb of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire.”15 And David said to him, “Will you take me down to this band?” And he said, “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will take you down to this band.”

The kindness paid off—now this man would be instrumental in David’s victory.

DAVID’S VICTORY

David was now granted the ability to attain victory:

 16 And when he had taken him down, behold, they were spread abroad over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing, because of all the great spoil they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. 17 And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. 18 David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all. 20 David also captured all the flocks and herds, and the people drove the livestock before him, and said, “This is David’s spoil.”

21 Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them. 22 Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.” 23 But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us.24 Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” 25 And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.

And notice that David was able to use this victory to bless others:

 26 When David came to Ziklag, he sent part of the spoil to his friends, the elders of Judah, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.” 27 It was for those in Bethel, in Ramoth of the Negeb, in Jattir, 28 in Aroer, in Siphmoth, in Eshtemoa,29 in Racal, in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, in the cities of the Kenites, 30 in Hormah, in Bor-ashan, in Athach, 31 in Hebron, for all the places where David and his men had roamed.

When we experience deliverance from a time in the wilderness, how can we use this victory for the benefit of others?  Chances are you have a story of how God delivered you from circumstances that seemed overwhelming.  That story—when shared with a neighbor or a coworker—can be powerful in God’s hands at revealing His character.

I experienced such a wilderness in the years after college.  My undergraduate training was in science and chemistry, but a brief stint in cancer research stretched my abilities past the point of breaking.  I was devastated—and jobless.  What was I to do?  It’s a terrible thing to witness your dreams dissolve in a veil of tears.  But it’s a wonderful thing to watch God work His will with your life.  The end of the story, of course, is that I would later become a pastor.  Life will always bring its share of time in the wilderness.  But we can remain confident that Jesus’ victory over sin and death—and the righteousness that he grants to our ledger before God—will see us through.

“What sort of tale have we fallen into?” (1 Samuel 26)

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare once wrote.  Yet as we step onto its floorboards, there will be times when we wonder what sort of play we enact.  Tragedy?  Comedy?  And the greatest prophets of our day insist that there is nothing in our script not inscribed there by nurture or nature—the dispassionate playwrights of an empty human drama.   “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all,” writes international novelist Anaias Nin.  “There is only the meaning we give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”  Yet suffering, times spent in the wilderness—these things give us pause as we consider how to make sense of the story God seems to be writing in our lives.

DEJU VU ALL OVER AGAIN

Once again David has the chance to solve his problems on his own terms.

Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?” 2 So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph. 3 And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, 4 David sent out spies and learned that Saul had indeed come. 5 Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.

Though outnumbered, David has the upper hand.  With the element of surprise once again on his side, David could turn this battle in his favor by taking out Saul—or send another in his stead.

6 Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” 7 So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. 8 Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” 10 And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” 12 So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.

Abishai could have easily done David’s dirty work for him.  David’s commitment remains steadfast.  Surely by this time David must have wondered whether the game would ever end.  Would he be trapped on the run forever?

DAVID AND ABNER

Abner was Saul’s bodyguard.  Yet ironically Saul’s life was spared not by Saul’s bodyguard, but by Saul’s would-be assassin.

13 Then David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them. 14 And David called to the army, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered, “Who are you who calls to the king?” 15 And David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord. 16 This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord’s anointed. And now see where the king’s spear is and the jar of water that was at his head.”

DAVID AND SAUL

David now confronts Saul.

17 Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.” 18 And he said, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? 19 Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ 20 Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the Lord, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.”

Notice that though Saul addresses David as “son,” any affection David might have had is gone.  As before, David’s loyalty rests with God—not with the character of Saul.  David insists that searching out a lowly “flea” or “partridge” was beneath the king’s dignity.

Saul repents, though once again his words ring hollow:

21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” 22 And David answered and said, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it. 23 The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. 24 Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” 25 Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.

David responds with trust in God.  He even returns Saul’s spear—the same one he’d tried to use to kill both David and Jonathan.  David sees his trust in God as part of a larger story—a story in which God would make good on his promise to protect and provide for David.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers—the second part of his beloved Lord of the Rings Series—things look grim for Frodo and Sam, the characters charged with the burdensome task of carrying the ring of power to Mordor.  Frodo is at the verge of giving up, when Sam reminds him of why they used to love the stories and tales from their youth:

“The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. … I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”

“I wonder,” said Frodo. “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”

Are you facing difficulty?  Would you rather your life be dull, uninteresting?  When you get to the end of your life, do you really want to look back at your years and consider them ordinary?  The wisest of teachers can’t always tell you what your future holds in store.  Your journey might be through a path of suffering—and there may be no light at the end of your tunnel.   And this is why Christianity insists that nothing makes sense when divorced from the larger story of eternity.  If we understand that God has a greater story to tell, if we see ourselves as bit actors in a far more expansive drama, then that changes everything.  Christianity may not dry our tears, but the pain may press us closer to Jesus, and to the reminder that something larger is going on and there is a plan for a happily ever after.  Struggles along the way are inevitable—but so is our future joy.  Don’t get so lost in present pain that you fail to see future promise.

David and Abigail (1 Samuel 25)

In 1 Samuel 24 and 26, David encounters Saul, both times sparing his life.  But between these two stories is another, lesser-known but fascinating story about David and Abigail.

The story starts with a tragic death—the passing of Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges:

25 Now Samuel died. And all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah.

David had now lost his mentor and moral compass.  Thus he now found himself plunged into a much deeper wilderness—one not defined by geography but by the riddles and valleys of the human heart.

THE WILDERNESS EXOSES OUR IDOLS

David and his men—who at this time numbered in the hundreds—had not been idle.  They’d become something of a peace-keeping force, a sort of “neighborhood watch” over the people of the regions.

Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran. And there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved; he was a Calebite. David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. So David sent ten young men. And David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name. And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”

When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited. 10 And Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters.11 Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” 12 So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this. 13 And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword. And about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.

David’s request had been perfectly reasonable.  But Nabal would have nothing of it.  And David responds with fierce determination to take this man’s life.

Something similar happens to each of us.  When we experience hard times—whether occupationally, relationally, or otherwise—our tendency is to find our own solution.  We want the “easy way out,” because then I can experience the comfort and security and protection found in my financial circumstances, or a new relationship.  Even pornography is often not about sex, but the need to be comforted because of failures in life.  If suffering pushes me toward a deeper commitment to my career or my hobbies, it could be that these are the true gods of my heart.

Without Samuel, David needed another counselor.

BEAUTY EXPANDS OUR VISION

We know nothing about Abigail other than that she was very beautiful.  But now we see that she is exceedingly courageous in protecting her husband’s life.

14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. 15 Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them. 16 They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. 17 Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”

18 Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seahs of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys. 19 And she said to her young men, “Go on before me; behold, I come after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 And as she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them. 21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good. 22 God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”

23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25 Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. 26 Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. 28 Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, 31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”

Christianity has a long history of interpreting “beauty” as a reflection of the character of God.  Every artist, musician, or nature-lover can affirm this.  Yes, even you hunters might think you’re too “manly” to talk about “beauty,” but in reality you connect in some mysterious, soulish way to God through beauty and nature—even if our hearts can’t always express it.

In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne is a man imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.  Yet he rises to the respect of his prison guards and warden, the latter allowing him to start a prison library.  When he receives the first shipment of books and records, he barricades himself inside the office, where he puts on a vinyl recording of an Italian opera.  Then, he takes the prison intercom system, and plays the record for all to hear.  The entire prison stops in their tracks, and turns their focus to the sound of the music playing through the public address system.  Red—Morgan Freeman’s character—narrates the scene:

I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.

Beauty reminds us—on almost a subliminal level—that there is something greater outside the prison of self.  An appreciation of beauty is not necessarily akin to actual worship—but in many instances worship can spring forth from a heart sensitized by beauty.

WORSHIP EXPRESSES OUR TRUST

David’s response is magnificent:

32 And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! 34 For as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.” 35 Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.”

36 And Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until the morning light. 37 In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. 38 And about ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.

39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The Lord has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife. 40 When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” 41 And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” 42 And Abigail hurried and rose and mounted a donkey, and her five young women attended her. She followed the messengers of David and became his wife.

43 David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives. 44 Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim.

David repents, God intervenes, and Abigail becomes David’s wife.  And in the midst of the scene David rejoices in what God has done to remind him of who’s in charge.

Worship, therefore, is not merely something that we participate in an hour a week.  It’s something that happens to us.  It changes us, shapes our hearts toward God’s plans and away from our own.  Church can therefore never be an interruption in our week, but it serves to remind us what our week is fundamentally about: worshipping God in every aspect and every moment of our lives.

 

Commitment or Convenience? (1 Samuel 24)

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  This is a paraphrase from a Robert Burns’ 18th-Century poem.  Others have defined frustration as the distance between expectation and reality.  When my plans fail to unfold the way I desire, it’s devastating.  So when I think about David, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to know God’s promises, only to live in the absence of their fulfillment.  David spent something like 10 years on the run from Saul’s vicious pursuit.  David was not without his supporters (roughly 600 men), but they remained far outnumbered by Saul’s superior forces (3,000 men).

So when an opportunity presented itself to turn the tide, David must have faced an overwhelming temptation:

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:1-7)

David faced a crisis.  He had only to extend his sword and his troubles would be over.  There will be many times when you and I will face a wilderness all our own.  For some it’s a season of prolonged difficulty at work.  Or at home.  Maybe a season—or even a lifetime—of singleness.  Childlessness.  Solitude.  When such circumstances endure, it’s only natural to want a way out.  And it’s hard to deny something that “feels right.”  Singles end their search for “Mr./Mrs. Right” in favor of the “Right Now.”  Those pursuing a promotion at work might be tempted to see an opportunity for advancement—but only if it means shirking their responsibilities toward their wife and kids.

David’s cutting off of Saul’s robe—a symbolic gesture testifying toward David’s threatening Saul’s leadership—only panged David’s conscience.  Why?  Because David understood something altogether basic: immediate solutions do not satisfy ultimate hopes.  Career advancement, a new relationship, a chance at happiness—surely these things seem so good that it’s hard not to think that God might be in this.  But only later do we realize that those pursuits only contradict God’s good and perfect will.  David understood that God’s plan wouldn’t be accomplished by stooping to Saul’s level.  And if we seek to follow Jesus, then it means being satisfied in God’s plans—even if they come at the expense of our own happiness.  Commitment will always be a greater challenge than convenience—but it also brings the promise of greater joy.

DAVID AND SAUL

Following this scene David and Saul have a verbal encounter—from a safe distance, of course.

Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? 10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it.12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! 15 May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.” (1 Samuel 24:8-14)

David’s speech reflects supreme devotion—though ultimately not to Saul, but to God.  Saul’s response seems—at least superficially—seems to be one of gratitude.  In fact, it’s the only time when we actually see Saul cry.

16 As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.18 And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 21 Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” 22 And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.(1 Samuel 24:16-22)

But Saul’s words ring mightily hollow.  In his commentary on David’s life, Eugene Peterson regards Saul’s speech as “a classic instance of a sentimentalized spirituality:”

“Saul concedes that David is right and attests that he knows David is the rightful king who will eventually take over.  He acknowledges all that the circumstance in the cave reveals as the truth of their respective kingships.  There is nothing in the account that suggests that Saul does not feel and believe what he is saying while he is saying it.  But there is no character to back it up, no covenant (as there is between [Jonathan] and David) on which to build a life of repentance and prayer, relationship and obedience.  Saul displays exquisite religious emotions, but his life does not change in the slightest degree.”  (Eugene H. Peterson, First and Second Samuel, p. 118)

Surely David must suspect this.  David’s men are probably voicing it in their ranks.  The most shocking thing about the gospel is that Jesus loves the unlovely.  To the church in Rome, Paul writes:

“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8-10)

Christ died for his enemies, and at the hands of his enemies. Jesus died for me before I ever gave hint at commitment to him.  That’s not convenience—that’s grace.  And like David, Jesus’ greater commitment is to his Father’s glory and plan.  To live within that plan means abandoning our immediate solutions in favor of ultimate joy.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished – (1 Samuel 23:1-29)

So, you’re walking along in the woods and you come across a wild animal caught in a trap. Feeling compassion for the beast, you free it, only to have it attack and bite you before running off through the woods. Next, the trapper/hunter comes along and shoots you in the arm for letting his game loose.

You’ll probably never have that scenario happen, but there are dozens of others in life where you help someone through a good deed, only to have the person turn on you; or perhaps you end up being criticized or hassled by another party who did not know of your good deed or disagreed with it as an appropriate action.

David must have had such feelings. In our story today, he and his motley crew deliver a Jewish city from Philistine raids and oppression by defeating these thieves and scoundrels as God promised David he would. David’s men were at first hesitant to come out of hiding against a superior military force, but God promised success and delivers on a victory through them.

The people of the city named Keilah are thankful … to a point. Saul hears that David is there and he goes after him to catch David and his men in an enclosed place. David inquires of the Lord if Saul is coming after him, and secondly, will the people hand him over to Saul?  The answers are “yes” and “yes.”  Thanks for the gratitude!

So it is back on the road again for David and his men as they are off and hiding, staying just a step or two ahead of Saul and his army. Let’s read the story, and I’ll share a couple of thoughts after it …

David Saves Keilah

23:1 When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” 2 he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”

The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.”

3 But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!”

4 Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. 6 (Now Abiathar son of Ahimelek had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.)

Saul Pursues David

7 Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and he said, “God has delivered him into my hands, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars.”8 And Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.

9 When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.” 10 David said, “Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. 11 Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.”

And the Lord said, “He will.”

12 Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?”

And the Lord said, “They will.”

13 So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there.

14 David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.

15 While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.”18 The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.

19 The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hakilah, south of Jeshimon? 20 Now, Your Majesty, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for giving him into your hands.”

21 Saul replied, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me. 22 Go and get more information. Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty. 23 Find out about all the hiding places he uses and come back to me with definite information. Then I will go with you; if he is in the area, I will track him down among all the clans of Judah.”

24 So they set out and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, in the Arabah south of Jeshimon. 25 Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon. When Saul heard this, he went into the Desert of Maon in pursuit of David.

26 Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” 28 Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth. 29 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi.

  1. When it feels like you are winning some occasional battles but generally losing the war, remember that it is God’s score that really counts. David is doing well in serving God, even if his resume is not being particularly enhanced by the visible marks of success in this world. So do what is right, and leave the rewards with God. Yes, I know how hard this is … every day I think about it.
  2. Look to God for direction and wisdom in the daily affairs of life. In this passage, one cannot help but notice that David is constantly inquiring of God about what to do, while Saul is continuously inquiring of others or seeking the answer in his own mind. Saul never had a natural proclivity for looking toward God. A humorous detail lost in the translation from Hebrew to English is that the word for “inquire” sounds ironically like Saul’s name… “sa’al.”
  3. God sends occasional encouragements to get us through the darkest times. In the passage, it is Jonathan who comes again to David and reaffirms the truth underlying David’s belief system and actions. I have seen this happen over and over in my own life over the years. There are many times when I’ve come to the very threshold of giving up the calling of serving God, and at the darkest moments, someone has shown up out of the blue (in many cases) to stop my impulsive action in a moment of despair.

I believe God works with us in these ways if we will allow him and look to him. I’m not going to tell you that it is easy. It often is not. It usually is not. It almost always is not.

Don’t trust me or anyone else… trust God on this one. That’s the point. Good deeds of obedience to God’s truth only get punished in the scoring system of this world.

Many Malcontents and One Miscreant (1 Samuel 22)

Since today’s application of the passage is rather obvious, I’ll begin with the end and work back to the beginning.

If you find yourself estranged and out of touch with the government and it seems like God isn’t working fast enough in your life, here is what you do. You drop everything and head for the hills and live in a cave. You gather together every other dissident with a gripe, form a vigilante army, and live like doomsday preppers.

Seriously, these were difficult times in Israel. The king was completely unglued and a psychological “Exhibit A” who was haunted by an evil spirit. Certainly David was not the only one negatively impacted by the social unrest and disorder to naturally descend from such leadership disarray.

Fearing the possible reprisals of Saul, David moves his family to the area of Moab – perhaps to be with distant relatives related to his great grandmother Ruth?

David at Adullam and Mizpah

22:1 David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. 2 All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.

3 From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, “Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?” 4 So he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him as long as David was in the stronghold.

5 But the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah.” So David left and went to the forest of Hereth.

Saul Kills the Priests of Nob

Saul was of the family of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin – an oft rather rugged and impulsive clam within the nation. These were his advisors that he gathered around him, expressing his irritation and paranoia that none of them were letting him know what was going on with this “David, son of Jesse” character running around the countryside.

6 Now Saul heard that David and his men had been discovered. And Saul was seated, spear in hand, under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah, with all his officials standing at his side. 7 He said to them, “Listen, men of Benjamin! Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? 8 Is that why you have all conspired against me? No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse. None of you is concerned about me or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does today.”

Demonstrating that political patronage is as old as, well, the hills of Jerusalem, one person takes the bait, a man named Doeg – an Edomite (descendent of Esau). He relates to Saul the story of seeing David being cared for by a priest at Nob (see Tuesday’s devotional) and where David picked up the sword of Goliath. This infuriates Saul who calls these priests, and Ahimelek in particular, to appear and give an account.

9 But Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s officials, said, “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelek son of Ahitub at Nob. 10 Ahimelek inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

11 Then the king sent for the priest Ahimelek son of Ahitub and all the men of his family, who were the priests at Nob, and they all came to the king. 12 Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.”

“Yes, my lord,” he answered.

13 Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him, so that he has rebelled against me and lies in wait for me, as he does today?”

14 Ahimelek answered the king, “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king’s son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard and highly respected in your household? 15 Was that day the first time I inquired of God for him? Of course not! Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair.”

As a wonderful example of living for God in face of civil power (something more imaginable for religious leaders here lately than in former times – I might add with no extra charge), Ahimelek speaks the truth of the situation. Doeg is the only one willing to take on the task of carrying out Saul’s edict to execute these servants of God and their families.

16 But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelek, you and your whole family.”

17 Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.”

But the king’s officials were unwilling to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord.

18 The king then ordered Doeg, “You turn and strike down the priests.” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck them down. That day he killed eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep.

20 But one son of Ahimelek son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David. 21 He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 22 Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family. 23 Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”

This Doeg character is a despicable creature – a miscreant even. Now there is a word you don’t hear much. It is infrequently used of someone who is the worst category of persons imaginable. I can tell you that any Civil War buff can relate that they know that word to have been used famously by Robert E. Lee to describe a particular Union General named John Pope – due to that general’s belief that the civilian population in Virginia should feel the effects of war and their secessionist philosophy and decisions. It was unusually harsh language for the verbally circumspect Lee.

Doeg is a true miscreant … killing priests, families, townsmen and children, and even their herds. The entire situation grieved David terribly. Could it get much worse?

What can we take away from this passage? Though it may seem like stretching things a bit, it is true that many of those who were coming to David would eventually be a big part of his life and story later when he became king. And the one priest who escaped – Abiathar – would also serve long as the high priest.

So even in times when it seems that everything is upside-down and God seems distant and disinterested, God is always at work – often in circumstances and ways that cannot be seen or measured. And God is very good with records and is the avenger of injustice in the long-run.

Our need is to obey and serve God today with what is right and what can be done now – even if it seems small and insignificant. Do what is right and true with what can be seen and accomplished this day, and trust God with the rest and for his timing to complete what is good and just.

A Dark Decade of Troubles (Psalm 56)

Being adopted by my grandparents, I grew up with a different generation of parents than did the rest of my friends. They were survivors of the Great Depression, and it impacted the rest of their lives and their thinking on many topics.

My parents were married on September 7th of 1929. This was four days after the highest point achieved ever by the Dow Jones Average. Black Tuesday hit on October 29th, seven weeks into their marriage.  depression soup line

My father lost most of his savings in the bank. He did maintain a job throughout The Depression, but he never trusted any sort of speculative investment ever after. He was a classic “cash and carry” guy. The stories of what they went through in the first decade of their marriage to make a living and support also my mother’s parents and three infants were absolutely amazing … and at times, heartbreaking.

But in it all, my father always gave God a minimum of 10%, and at the end of his life he testified to the church I was pastoring (and that he was attending in our home town) that God had taught him through this dark period how his needs would always be faithfully met in some way.

As we have entered into our readings on the life of David upon a period of time where the future king spent likely a decade running from Saul, David was learning valuable lessons that would serve him well in the role he would play as Israel’s king. Make no mistake about it, these were tough times. There were experiences where he could not see how he could possibly survive. Fear and looming demise were his constant companions, but so also was God’s faithfulness.

David would take his pen to write songs that spoke of these times and the lessons he was learning and declaring for others to hear. Psalms that have a direct foundation in this horrific period of David’s life are 18, 34, 52, 54, 56, and 57.

Here today we read just one of these, the historical situation of which we read about just yesterday…

Psalm 56

For the director of music. To the tune of “A Dove on Distant Oaks.” Of David. A miktam. When the Philistines had seized him in Gath.

1 Be merciful to me, my God, for my enemies are in hot pursuit; all day long they press their attack.
2 My adversaries pursue me all day long; in their pride many are attacking me.

3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

4 In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

5 All day long they twist my words; all their schemes are for my ruin.
6 They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, hoping to take my life.
7 Because of their wickedness do not let them escape; in your anger, God, bring the nations down.

8 Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?
9 Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me.

10,11 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?

12 I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

We may never have a situation where people are actually out to seek our lives. But we will all face difficult times where people who are not motivated by God or yielded to him will seek to portray us in a difficult and negative way that could have dire consequences upon the details of our lives. We will have dark times; there is no escaping that reality.

But in those times, like David, we have God to cry out to for justice and endurance in the midst of our sufferings. We can ultimately rest in knowing that there is no harm that can come to us that is outside God’s control.

Fugitive Lessons (1 Samuel 21:1-15)

It is now over 20 years ago that Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones starred in the 1993 film “The Fugitive” – based upon a 1960s television series of the same name. Harrison Ford plays the role of a wrongfully-convicted killer of his wife, and he escapes from custody and sets out to prove his innocence, all the while being pursued by U.S. Marshals.

The story of David on the run from Saul is not really a categorically different sort of action-packed adventure.

As we saw yesterday, David’s life is not safe in the presence of King Saul. He bids farewell to his friend Jonathan and sets out for what will be likely about a decade of his life on the run from the government as a fugitive. Today’s chapter is the first of several that talk about some of his adventures. And a number of Psalms are written by David during this time of his life as well, and we’ll look at one of them tomorrow.

In 1 Samuel 21 we see two fugitive stories. The first is about David going to a place where the Ark was and where there were the priests of Nob. David finds help here – he finds food at a time when he was near starving, being allowed to each the de-consecrated bread that was actually only to be eaten by the priests.

David at Nob

21:1 David went to Nob, to Ahimelek the priest. Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”

2 David answered Ahimelek the priest, “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.”

4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.”

5 David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!”6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.

7 Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.

Remember this name – Doeg – as he is essentially a spy for Saul, and he will return in the story of the next chapter. This is not a good guy.

8 David asked Ahimelek, “Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.”

9 The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.”

David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

The principle is that life itself is more holy than bread. Jesus referenced this very passage, as it reads in Matthew 12:1-8 …

12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

David at Gath

10 That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: “‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?”

12 David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. 13 So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.

14 Achish said to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me?15 Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and David goes to a place where Saul will not pursue him – into enemy territory of the Philistines. There he feigns being a madman. It was not a practice in ancient times to kill the insane, as superstitions were that this would offend the gods in some way and bring trouble upon oneself for doing so.

A tough faith comes out of tough times

So, have you been going through a rough stretch of life? Does it seem like God is far away? You know what is right, you are seeking to live rightly, but you don’t seem to be finding the rewards for it?

Look at David here … is your life that bad right now?

More questions … looking back over your life if you’ve known the Lord for a longer period of time … when did you grow the most in your faith? When things were going swimmingly well? Or when times were difficult and you had to throw yourself upon the Lord?

The well-known women’s Bible teacher and former missionary Elizabeth Elliott had some years ago a program on Christian radio called “Gateway to Joy.”  I remember hearing her say one time that she was asked by another woman, “How can I become such a great woman of faith as you are?”

Sensing that the questioner was seeking some sort of immediate “fix” or “magical spiritual pill,” Elizabeth said something to this effect, “Well, you can have your husband killed by a hostile Indian tribe in Ecuador and then live among those savages, raise a child as a widow, marry a second time and become a widow a second time, and deal with dozens of others challenges of life, and then maybe you too can have a great faith.”

David was anointed as a boy to become the king of the nation. You would think that God would take better care of him. But God was with him in everything, teaching and preparing him – even through years of trauma – to be dependent upon the Lord for all things.

This theme of suffering and carrying the cross before wearing the crown – our subtitle of the series – is a timeless truth that resounds to our day and our lives as well. God is so much more interested in our heart relationship of dependence upon him than he is that we have success and comfort.

Look to him today, right now, this moment, for whatever challenge you have … whatever fugitive feeling you possess about life in this unjust world.

The Treasure of Loyalty (1 Samuel 20:1-42)

If you have had lifelong or long-term friends who have been faithful and loyal to you through all of the ups and downs of your life, you possess a great and rare treasure.

Through the wonder of the computer age and social media, I have the opportunity to have occasional contacts with friends from childhood and high school. There are an additional few from college and grad school. A great disappointment is the loss of contact with the vast majority of friends from my previous ministry.

In all of these stages of life, while I remain thankful and in possession of warm memories of people along those pathways, I am sad that so few have remained very close at all.

But there is one friend from New Jersey that is still unique. We ran about 10,000 miles together when marathon training in our younger years. Our parents were friends and our families always went to the same two churches – one of which he has become the pastor of in these latter years of life. There is nothing we can’t talk about and have not discussed.

Today we look at the famous passage of the loyal friendship of David and Jonathan – a relationship that was based upon a covenant of love. It is an imperfect picture of the perfect covenant of relationship that we have with the true king – one that was bought by the blood of Christ.

To review the background leading to this passage, recall that after David killed Goliath, he was put in charge of a segment of the army in Israel, and he had great success in all that he did – because God was with him and blessed his efforts. He was loved by the army and the people, who sang a song about him—that Saul killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands.

All of this created both a jealousy and a fear in Saul, who was haunted by an evil spirit that had come after the Holy Spirit had departed. He twice threw spears at David to try to kill him.

Saul devised plots to put David in battle situations that were very difficult and where he may well have been killed by the Philistines. But God was with David.

Through a whole variety of circumstances, it had become very clear that David could simply no longer safely be in Saul’s presence, as the king had become unhinged in every way.

20:1  Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”

2 “Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!”

3 But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”

4 Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”

5 So David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. 6 If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’ 7 If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. 8 As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?”

9 “Never!” Jonathan said. “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?”

10 David asked, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?”

11 “Come,” Jonathan said, “let’s go out into the field.” So they went there together.

12 Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.”   

16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

18 Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21 Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. 23 And about the matter you and I discussed—remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.”

24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”

30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”

32 “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.

34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.

35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” 38 Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.”

41 After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.

42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

David’s fear about Saul seeking his life proved to be of real substance. And Jonathan’s fears were not without merit as well. Saul’s son knew and understood that David was to become the next king. He knew that in ancient times (as is seen even today is certain military coups around the world) the royal family being deposed was often fully exterminated. This made it impossible for uprisings and rival claimants to the throne in opposition to the new regime.

Jesus is to be crowned the true and better King ultimately. The fleshly nature of Adam within us, and the connection we have to Satan through this evil world of which he is the prince, tells us to make ourselves the king – to see self as our own sovereign ruler of our lives.

Rather, we need to trust in Christ as the King. There has been a covenant of loyal love established – that God will be faithful through his hesed (covenant love) to his people because of the sacrifice of his Son Jesus.

Because of Jesus, the descendants of Adam are not wiped out when Jesus takes the throne, but instead are brought near—very much like the covenant established between David and Jonathan.

So we have a choice – to act like Saul – essentially in self-centered interest like our original father Adam and refuse to trust in God; or we can be like Jonathan in knowing who the king is going to be, and walk in trust and loyal and faithful relationship with Jesus – our brother and friend – who loves us so much as to give his life for us to cover our transgressions.