Shame or Glory (1 Samuel 19)

The greatest of human tragedies is not to live for self, but the tragedy of unrepentance.  Every human being is born selfish, hostile toward God.  It is only through God’s grace that we are brought near through the blood of Jesus.

The story of 1 Samuel records two equal and opposite reactions to King David.  We find the sacrificial loyalty of Jonathan, but we also find the deep-seated hatred of King Saul.   The contrasting reactions were meant to give readers pause: How do you react to God’s chosen King?  For the original readers of these stories, this meant how they reacted to the line of kings who came from David onward.  For those living in the age of the Church, this means how we react to the true King: Jesus, who also comes from the line of David.

DAVID’S ESCAPE

In 1 Samuel 19, we find the story reaching critical mass.  Saul’s earlier indirect attempts to assassinate David had proved unsuccessful, so now the gloves come off.  Fortunately, Jonathan remains committed to his friend David, and pleads his case before his father:

And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. 2 And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. 3 And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” 4 And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. 5 For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?”6 And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” 7 And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.

Unfortunately, this peace wasn’t meant to last.  In fact, we might even wonder if Saul is just “playing nice,” biding his time until the next opportunity.  A short while later, an evil spirit once again settles on Saul—the third time this is recorded (cf. 16:14; 18:10).  David had evaded Saul’s attacks before, now he would have to escape them entirely:

8 And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him. 9 Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. 10 And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.

 

11 Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, told him, “If you do not escape with your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped. 13 Michal took an image and laid it on the bed and put a pillow of goats’ hair at its head and covered it with the clothes. 14 And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” 15 Then Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16 And when the messengers came in, behold, the image was in the bed, with the pillow of goats’ hair at its head.17 Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me thus and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go. Why should I kill you?’”

Like Jonathan, Michal’s devoted love protects David from harm.  She creates a ruse to fool Saul’s messengers—using a household idol to create the illusion of David in bed, sick.

But we might ask a critical question: why would David’s house contain an idol?  In the ancient world, sometimes these household idols were specific statues that you’d inherit—passed down like some bizarre family heirloom.  But it’s hard to imagine that Michal—or anyone in this premodern society—could completely separate family tradition from pagan worship.  The text doesn’t specify just who owned this idol, nor does it give us reason to throw rocks at David for permitting such an object in his home.   Yet it reminds us that he inhabited a world full of misplaced faith—trusting in lesser gods for security or wealth.

SAUL’S RUIN

Now that David had escaped, the text describes the further descent of Saul:

18 Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. 19 And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” 20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied.22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

Do you remember hearing that last line before?  Is Saul among the prophets? was a question posed earlier (1 Samuel 10:12) when Saul was first anointed.  It’s as if the writer is trying to get us to think back to the day that Saul’s kingship began—and just how far he’d fallen.

And so we now see the radical difference between Jonathan and Saul.  Jonathan gave his clothes to David as an act of self-sacrifice (1 Samuel 18:1-5).  Saul stripped his clothes as an act of self-destruction.  What did he “prophesy?”  It makes little difference.  At this point he was far from God, a man who’d gone from splendor to shame through a series of poor choices.  And those are the final consequences of every person’s reaction to God’s chosen king: you either bare your soul in love, or be stripped bare in shame.  This is why Jesus would later warn the religious leaders that “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:3).  And that’s horrifying—until we consider that our only other recourse is to lay ourselves bare before the great physician and unmask our secrets and our shame.  We will be clothed in Christ’s mercy, or covered in the shame and scandal of a life lived for self.

SPIRITUAL ENDURANCE

What about us?  What about the “long haul?”  Is it possible to start out like Jonathan—full of love for God and for Jesus—and only end up like Saul?  Experience tells us the answer is a haunting “yes.”  We can easily name those who have been “on fire” for God, only later to walk away from faith.  Still more painfully, we can name those who walked to their graves without having publicly turned back toward God.

There are many Godly, intelligent Christians who love Jesus deeply and believe that you can lose your salvation.  I am not one of them.  I believe that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  I believe that “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:30).  I also believe there are two critical elements in this passage that we need to think deeply about:

  • The presence of the Spirit. In Saul’s day, the Holy Spirit came upon select individuals for the purpose of leadership.  In the age of the Church, the Holy Spirit comes upon all believers to empower them the live on mission (Acts 1:8).  So while Saul saw the Spirit leave, Christians do not share this same fear.  And as he departed, Jesus promised that “I will be with you until the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
  • The object of faith. Michal’s home contained idols.  And—again—while we needn’t throw rocks, we recognize that David inhabited a world of imperfect trust and divided beliefs.  Often, I hear people say: “I just don’t know that much about the Bible,” or “I just wish I could pray more.”  But God so regularly rescues idolatrous people that we have no choice but to conclude that I am acceptable to God not because of the quantity of my faith, but the object of my faith.  If God saves me at all, it says more about his goodness than my own.

But surely we can’t afford to be lazy?  Surely not.  The writer of Hebrews challenges his readers to “run the race set before you” (Hebrews 12:1).  Good works are never the basis of faith—but they are the expression of faith.  Every follower of Jesus is challenged to daily take up the cross and follow Jesus in a hostile world, that one day we might not be stripped in shame but clothed in glory.

 

How to Land a Wife in 200 Easy Steps (or: “Still a Better Love Story than Twilight”–1 Samuel 18:12-30)

Few things possess more horsepower than romance.   Bob Dylan’s 2001 song “Bye and Bye” speaks of a man obsessed: “The future for me is already a thing of the past.  You were my first love and you will be my last.”  Desire is deeply ingrained in the heart of ever man and woman.  While marriage can never be elevated to the status of an idol (after all, singleness can be a Godly gift, whether for a season or a lifetime), marriage remains God’s ideal design for mankind.

So it’s little wonder that Saul would capitalize on this fundamental fact of human nature to eliminate his up-and-coming rival, David.   Having failed to kill David with his spear, Saul hatches two plots to have David killed indirectly.

PLOT #1

Saul’s first plot boils to the front of his mind after the people of Israel continue to express their allegiance to David and his military might.

 Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. 13 So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand.  And he went out and came in before the people. 14 And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. 15 And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. 16 But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them.

Then Saul said to David, “Here is my elder daughter Merab.  I will give her to you for a wife. Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles.” For Saul thought, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” 18 And David said to Saul, “Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” 19 But at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.

Saul is cold, calculating.  Do you understand his scheme?  In verse 17, he essentially says to himself, Let’s let the bad guys do my dirty work for me.  By sending David into deeper conflict, the Philistine adversaries would take him out.  The bad guys would get the blame, and Saul would keep his hands clean.

The problem?  David seems to think himself unworthy to be the king’s son-in-law.  Sadly, in the ancient world women were viewed as commodities to be bought or won.  David lacked a sufficient “bridal price” to pay for the privilege of marrying Merab.  Though this marriage would advance his career, he declines—which is why Merab is given to another man.

PLOT #2

Not to be outdone, Saul hatches another, similar plan.

20 Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. 21 Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall now be my son-in-law.” 22 And Saul commanded his servants, “Speak to David in private and say, ‘Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now then become the king’s son-in-law.’” 23 And Saul’s servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?” 24 And the servants of Saul told him, “Thus and so did David speak.” 25 Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’”  Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.

Saul’s plan was simple: if David couldn’t afford a “bridal price,” then Saul would engineer a situation wherein David could collect this price.  But…most people don’t include, you know, body parts on their wedding registry.  Why this bizarre request?  Well, practically, since circumcision represented Israel’s inclusion in God’s promises dating back to Abraham, then the foreskins would prove that he truly slaughtered 100 of God’s enemies.  In Mitchell Dahood’s commentary on Psalms, he notes that in Psalm 118 David writes: “All nations surround me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off” (Ps 118:10-12).  The “cut them off” in this passage literally means “circumcise”—the act here is more than merely killing their enemies, but separating them from the community of God.  For Saul, this steep price would ensure that David wouldn’t come back alive.

 26 And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law.  Before the time had expired, 27 David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines.  And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife. 28 But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, 29 Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy continually.

30 Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed.

Earlier David had been said to “kill his tens of thousands.”  Now, he doubly satisfies Saul’s requirements, returning with 200 foreskins.  What Saul had intended as an evil scheme only deepened the nation’s love for David.  Even Saul’s daughter Michal joins her brother Jonathan in her loyal love for David.  Saul’s plans did not succeed, but only result in David being further exalted.

THE TRUE AND BETTER BRIDEGROOM

By now you’ve noticed that we’re making an effort to read the Old Testament twice: the first time to understand the original historical and cultural meanings, and the second time to understand how the whole Bible is a story about Jesus.  What do we make of such bizarre stories as this?

First, we recognize that like David, Jesus entered into a world whose reactions toward him were mixed.  Though many praised his miraculous works, the religious leaders felt threatened by his growing popularity.  And so, like Saul, they schemed to have him killed.  And like David, this scheme only backfired.  The hour of Christ’s greatest humiliation would only be his greatest hour of glory—through Christ’s death and resurrection, he would “draw all men to himself” (John 12:32).

And the Bible is also a story about marriage.  Jesus, the true and better David, would pay a unique bridal price to rescue his bride, the Church.  Paul picks up on this theme in his letter to the Church at Ephesus:

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)

David would produce his required “bridal price” while preserving his life.  Jesus would pay the “bridal price” for the Church by relinquishing his life.

What does that mean for you and I?  This means that though we are deeply flawed, Jesus was willing to go to great lengths to rescue us (cf. Romans 5:8).  Therefore, I don’t need to derive worth from idolatrous pursuits.  I view my career not as a source of identity, but as an opportunity to express my faith.  I abstain from self-indulgence or even pornography—not only because I recognize these things as “bad” but because I understand that Christ is infinitely greater.  If I am married, I no longer derive worth from my spouse, but ascribe worth to my spouse.

Christ loves you.  He died for you.  What else is greater than that?  Who can you share this love with today?

 

The Aftermath of Success (1 Samuel 17:55-58; 18:1-11)

Someone will always be better than you.  So long as you derive your worth from your abilities, your performance, your good looks, you will always live in fear of being shown up by someone more capable, someone more successful, someone more good looking.

In 2013, an article in Slate magazine published an article titled: “Is Facebook Making Us Sad?” According to new social research, social media only increases our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others:

“The human habit of overestimating other people’s happiness is nothing new, of course. … By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature. …Facebook is, after all, characterized by the very public curation of one’s assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.) Blandness will not do, and with some exceptions, sad stuff doesn’t make the cut, either. The site’s very design—the  presence of a “Like” button, without a corresponding “Hate” button—reinforces a kind of upbeat spin doctoring.”

How you respond to your neighbors’ happiness reveals the true god of your heart.

In short, we want to be just like our neighbors—but just a little bit better.  When we fail to “measure up” to these standards, we feel let down, disappointed—maybe even angry.

The slaying of Goliath marked a turning point in the life of David.  From this day forward he wouldn’t be merely a shepherd boy—this unlucky eighth son of a Bethlehem farmer.  No; this was a force to be reckoned with.

While David was on the battlefield, Saul was pondering who exactly this young man was:

55As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” 56And the king said, “Inquire whose son the boy is.” 57And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

These questions are bizarre.  After all, Saul had met David before—he’d been the court musician.  Some think Saul is trying to gain a better understanding of his family history—but he’d met Jesse as well.  In his Handbook to the Historical Books, Victor Hamilton suggests that maybe Saul is asking a selfish question.

“Might it be that Saul, well aware of David’s prowess and hence usefulness to Saul in the future, is asking David to renounce Jesse as his father and proclaim himself Saul’s son?  After all, had not Samuel earlier predicted that Israel’s kings ‘will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots’ (8:11)?  That seems to be literally fulfilled in 8:2, where we read that ‘Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house.’”  (Victor Hamilton, Handbook to the Historical Books, p. 261)

David’s life would never be the same, but now we’d see the ways that the royal family—both Saul and his son Jonathan—would react to this rising superstar.  And the story reveals the ways our own hearts might respond to God’s anointed King Jesus.

DAVID AND JONATHAN

Jonathan was Saul’s son, and in every “natural” sense the heir to the throne.  There was just one problem: God had declared that the throne would pass to David.  The story of David and Jonathan picks up immediately after the falling of Goliath.

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

The story of David and Jonathan is one of the best-loved stories of friendship in all of scripture.  Jonathan’s love for David ran deep—and strong.  Yet for clarity’s sake, we should note that this love did not go beyond friendship (as some have historically suggested)—nowhere else do we hear the Hebrew word ahab being used to refer to romantic love.  No; this was brotherly affection—yet it’s impossible to be unmoved by the sacrificial nature of it. Jonathan strips himself of his own robe and armor, giving it to David.  The gesture is deeply symbolic: Jonathan is essentially abdicating his right to the throne.  By handing over these items, he essentially tells David: Here; these are yours.  And the throne goes with it.

DAVID AND SAUL

Saul’s response to David is less generous.  He’d essentially used David as a pawn in his army—ironically not that different from the way the Philistines had used Goliath.  But when David is successful, Saul is incensed.

6 As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments.1 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

“Saul has struck down his thousands,

and David his ten thousands.”

8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?”9 And Saul eyed David from that day on.

10 The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day.  Saul had his spear in his hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.

The people sang the praises of David.  “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  Even our English translations capture the meaning of the original Hebrew: David had risen to a position of obvious superiority—and obvious popularity.  Earlier, Saul had seen David as an opportunity, a chance to further his empire.  Now, he saw only a threat to his position.

THE TRUE AND BETTER KING

Do you see the contrast in responses to David?  Jonathan and Saul form mirror images to the way God’s people might respond to God’s chosen King.  Saul responded in jealousy and anger.  Jonathan responded in sacrificial love.

The truth is, most of us would prefer to be the king of our own worlds.  We become angry at anything that threatens our own sovereignty—which is partly why we feel threatened when we compare our happiness to that of others.  Christianity demands that we align our hearts with that of God’s, and that means we have to abdicate our thrones to the true King, Jesus.

Therefore, we will respond to Jesus as either a “Jonathan” or a “Saul.”  If I am accustomed to living life my way, then like Saul I will become enraged at the demands Christ places on me to follow him, to love my neighbor, to forgive others, etc.  But if I recognize the supreme value and authority Christ possesses, then like Jonathan I strip myself of my delusions of grandeur.  I lay my soul bare before him.  I express only gratitude and devotion.

Most of us will have days when we waver between these two reactions.  But over time we will become more accustomed to devoting ourselves to God’s true King, Jesus.  You may crown him as Lord, or condemn his intrusion.  But in either case, he cannot be ignored.  How will you respond?

Your Goliath is too Small (1 Samuel 17:32-54)

The stage had been set.  David—at this point only a 17 year old shepherd boy—had vowed to face the mighty warrior Goliath.

David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!” 38Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. 40Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.

All along, God had been preparing David for this encounter—though in not quite the same way as boot camp.  As a shepherd, he’d spent time in the wilderness, perfecting his skill at keeping animals at bay.  This included some experience using a slingshot.

Do you remember the old movie Karate Kid?  The film featured Ralph Macchio, playing a young man determined to learn karate to beat the Cobra Kai.  He goes to Mr. Miyagi for training.  What does the old man have him do?  Wax the car.  “Wax on; wax off.”  Paint the fence.  Sand the floor.  Finally the kid snaps and confronts his mentor.  It’s then that Mr. Miyagi shows him the real import of “wax on; wax off.”  The repetitive motions he’d been making during all this manual labor?  They became the basis for defensive karate moves.  Waxing the car hadn’t been some arbitrary stunt; it had been a vital part of a warrior’s preparation.

David was no different.  God had used his past to prepare him for his future.  So much so that David declines the armor from Saul—weighty and a few sizes too big.  He faces Goliath instead with a bag full of rocks and a heart full of faith.

41And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” 45Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

48When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

50So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. 51Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. 52And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. 53And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. 54And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.

David slew the giant not with sling, sword, and stone, but with confidence in what God could accomplish through him.

Here’s the danger: all my life I’ve heard this taught as an example of how you and I can “face our giants.”  That if we have the “five smooth stones” of faith then we can conquer our fears, conquer our temptations, emerge from our struggles victoriously.  So whether our “giants” are addictive behaviors, sexual temptation, prolonged suffering, childlessness, singleness, we have only to “stand and fight.”  Pray more, read the Bible more—you know, be a “better Christian.”  That actually preaches really well.  But there’s just one problem: you’re not David.  You can stand and face your struggles all you want, you can throw as many rocks as you’d like.  But you’ll miss every time.  Why?  First of all, David occupied a position you and I do not.  He was God’s chosen leader over Israel.  Perhaps you and I aren’t empowered to fulfill this same destiny.

But there’s another key issue.  Your Goliath is too small.  So long as we see our problem as merely an issue of circumstance—of singleness, of suffering—we miss the real Goliath that roams the horizon.

If we search the pages of scripture, we find a powerful theme of conflict that runs through the great narrative.  Peter, for example, tells his readers to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Years earlier, Isaiah had predicted that God’s true servant would “swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8).  There is a greater Goliath.  He bears the names of sin, Satan, and death.  None of us can face these adversaries on our own.  We need a true and better champion.  We need Jesus.

Paul tells us that on the cross Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15).  So prominent was this theme in early Christendom it got its own Latin name: Christus victor—literally “Christ the victor.”

Therefore Jesus is the true and better David, who slays the greater Goliath of sin, suffering, and death.  And his victory has been imputed to our account—that is, by following Jesus we, too experience victory over sin and death.  But if that’s true, why do we still hurt?  If you’ll pardon the allegory, it’s because while the giant has been struck dead, we still wait for him to fall.  And so as we follow Jesus, Goliath’s shadow falls on our shoulders—but his spear can never touch us.  Goliath looms on the horizon—but his sword can never cut our flesh.  The gospel assures us there will be a day when even death itself will be “swallowed in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).  And until that day we wait for the giant to topple, we wait for God’s Kingdom to triumph.

Fall Goliath, Fall.

Facing the Giants (1 Samuel 17:1-31)

Every heart is a battlefield, and every lifetime a war.  The story of David and Goliath has become so familiar as to provoke disinterest, but in truth the story tells us everything about the way we handle life’s inevitable conflicts.  If we peel back the layers of our own modern “twists” on this ancient story, we find a fascinating story that initially smells of fear yet in the end screams of victory.

1Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. 3And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 4And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. 8He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

What’s going on here?  The ancient world observed a practice known as ish habbenaym—literally “the man between two.”  A battle would begin with a one-on-one battle between two chosen “champions.”  Why?  Because the ancient world saw their victory as not merely their own, but the blessing (or judgment!) of their respective God/gods.  The winner of this initial “grudge match” would have an enormous impact on troop morale—which helps us understand why armies would actually turn and flee if their champion was defeated.

Goliath was one such champion.  Later Hebrew manuscripts tell us that he was “four cubits and a span,” making him over 6 feet tall.  But earlier Hebrew manuscripts tell us that he was “six cubits and a span,” making him somewhere between nine feet and nine foot nine.  His armor alone weighed roughly 150 lbs—the head of his spear weighed an additional 15.  And notice the blend of bronze and iron weaponry.  Historians have been quick to note that Goliath’s armament was a blend of a variety of different cultures, which only serves to highlight Goliath’s backstory.  His impressive height, his array of weaponry—this was a hired gun.  He had probably traveled extensively, sort of a mercenary hired out to win battles.  He’d killed before—probably many times.  And judging by his raucous speech, he truly had come to believe himself untouchable.

The irony?  There truly was one man in Israel “head and shoulders” above the rest.  Saul.  Of all the people in Israel, this would have been the man you’d expect to face the giant.   But no.  The text is clear: Saul was no different than the rest of the men: weak in the knees, weak in the heart, weak in the soul.

The truth is, most of us will never face physical combat.  But we each have a giant that looms over us on the horizon.  For some, it’s a Goliath of temptation.  For others, it’s a Goliath of trials and suffering.  For all, it’s a Goliath that presses us toward the question: Is God in this? 

While Saul was the most likely candidate for a warrior, the true warrior would come through David.   Now mind you, roughly five years had passed since David’s anointing.  He was now a 17 year old boy—yet despite his anointing he remained a shepherd until his time of succession.  When he arrives at the battlefield, he comes not as a soldier, but as a delivery boy.

 12Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. 13The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. 14David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, 15but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 16For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

 17And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. 18Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.” 19Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

 20And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. 23As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

 24All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. 25And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.”

 26And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 27And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”

 28Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” 29And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” 30And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before.

 31When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him.

Once again we see a contrast.  Two men.  Two kings.  Saul hid in fear.  David stood in faith.  The truth is most of us are more like Saul than David.  When trouble looms ahead, I’d much rather hide—sink myself into career, into entertainment, into hobbies, even sin.  Men especially can flee from their responsibilities as men.  How?  Video games—whose players extend well beyond teenagers these days—give me a false sense of accomplishment.  Pornography grants me a false sense of intimacy.  Why focus on being productive when I have Call of Duty?  Why focus on marriage when I have an internet connection and no one’s watching?

It takes a man like David to step up in faith and say that I’m willing to do the unthinkable, and with God accomplish the impossible.  And if our faith is placed in God alone, then we are reminded that it is not the purity of our faith that saves us—it is the object of our faith.  Your impossible circumstances may only be a matter of perception.  Are you focusing on the problem, or are you focusing on the Solution?

We need to give a “to be continued” today.  Tomorrow we’ll come back and finish this story of David and Goliath, to answer how Jesus is the true and better David.

A Musician a Day Drives the Devil Away (1 Samuel 16:14-23)

As most of you who know me are aware, I was a double major in college that included a degree in music. The music department was looked upon by the rest of the school as being a bit … well … more than a bit weird – inhabited by an odd mix of artsy people. And frankly, it was true; it was a pretty weird bunch. We were called “Twinks.”  I was one of only two or three normal people there … I think – at least that’s how I remember it! As an athlete, I was my college’s version of Justin Tucker – the Baltimore Raven’s player who was an opera singing music major at the University of Texas.

But where would the world be without musicians? Who doesn’t listen to music for soothing enjoyment?  (Actually, to be truthful, I don’t … just another area where I’m weird.)  When things in life get tough, what do people do? They call for a musician on their iPod or phone playlist.

The French poet Alphonse de Lamartine said that “music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”

“Music is the medicine of the mind,” said Civil War General and Congressman John A. Logan.

And it was a medicine for the mind that King Saul needed …

David in Saul’s Service

14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.

Say what? God sends evil spirits?

The way we should read this is that God allowed an evil spirit in the absence of the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirt of the Lord was not a universal experience of God’s people until the Day of Pentecost – which is what is so great about knowing Christ and being a part of his body, the church. We possess what was only given by God in the Old Testament to certain people at certain times.

15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”

The secret service agents around King Saul knew that something had to be done to calm him down at these times of torment. And yes, maybe music would be the soothing answer. So they went on a search for the best Twink they could find, and look who it turned out to be …

18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”

19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.

21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”

23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

That’s quite a coincidence isn’t it? Actually, no, it is not. Rather, it was the sovereign hand of God at work. God was giving young David the experience and exposure to the royal house – putting him behind the curtains and into the context of the sphere of the king, for better and worse.

On the day that I write this, I spent several hours with a young man who sought out my counsel to discuss knowing the “calling of God.”  I think some pastors and others I know have had a dramatic moment-in-time experience of hearing God’s call to do a particular work.

But I think most people discover God’s call in their life in the cumulative experiences of life where God sovereignly opens and closes doors. And the pattern and pathways that He orchestrates can only be fully seen after it is all done.

Those paths are not always straight and not always pleasant. But God is at work at all times and in all things, composing within us a life symphony that is a crescendo of glory to his praise if we will yield to the Devine Composer’s notations and rhythms for our lives.

A heart for God is more than skin deep (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was that “beauty is only skin deep.”  I don’t really recall when she would use that phrase – perhaps when she thought I should be interested in some girl that I was not finding interesting? I remember that happening a lot. Haha! Or maybe she was just quoting the lyrics of a 1966 song of this title by The Temptations? Nah… had to be the former!

The phrase actually dates back to literature from the 1600s. But the truth of its meaning dates back essentially to the beginning of human history.

There is no doubt that we live in an age of external appearance. Name a couple of musical stars who are ugly. When is the last time you saw an unattractive female news anchor?

Without doubt, the natural proclivity we have is to judge a book by its cover – to make evaluations about people by external appearance over inner character and quality. God is not given toward this malady however.

And today as we begin our readings that introduce the character of David, we have one of the great verses in all of Scripture – a quote of God himself speaking and saying that “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Samuel Anoints David

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Have you ever heard of someone described as “loyal to a fault?”  That was Samuel. Even while fully faithful to God, he so very much longed to see Saul be a successful king with a desire to obey God. But it was not in Saul’s character to ever be that person. God wanted Samuel to move on, sending him to a tiny place called Bethlehem and to the family of a man named Jesse.

Samuel’s concern, given the broken relationship he now had with Saul, was that the King would eliminate him for anointing the next king. But God directs that the purpose need not be identified … that going as the spiritual leader in Israel for the purpose of sacrifice and worship was sufficient reason for the occasion.

4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

Perhaps some of you have worked for very large companies with multiple sites. And then a day came when the CEO arrived unannounced at your little location. What would you think? Why is he there? Is it good news or bad news? Did your facility perform something extraordinary, or is he there to consider shutting it down?

Bethlehem was not a place a person of Samuel’s importance came without some reason. But there he was to sacrifice and to invite, among others, the family of Jesse.

As with all the greatest of families, the home of Jesse consisted of a household full of boys.

6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

As a father of five boys, I’ve always laughed at this point of the text. What? Seven boys aren’t enough?

The outward appearance criteria of judging by size had certainly not worked well in Israel with King Saul – who was head and shoulders taller than anyone else. And Jesse had one hunk after another of sons to present. And when the parade stopped, Samuel presumed there had to be another.

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

And the final son was called in from the fields to stand before Samuel. We can clearly infer from this passage that he was almost an after-thought – not much more than a servant kid in his own household. Literature from the time would seem to indicate that a seventh son was highly favored; but add one more, and you were really into extra innings.

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

It is not at all certain what the brothers, or even David himself, thought or understood about this anointing. I don’t think it was perceived at the moment to be for the role of the king of the nation. Perhaps he was seen as being randomly selected to be set aside for training and education by Samuel at varied intervals – a sort of college scholarship. Whatever, we later see that his oldest brother was not impressed with the youngest boy when he shows up where Goliath is threatening the Israelites.

Timeless lessons – This passage today at once gives us both a challenge and an encouragement.

The challenge is to be reminded about what it is that God really values and to make our lives disciplined toward the cultivation of an inner heart for God – to know him and to value that which he values, having an eternal values system. Rather, our natural tendency is to be consumed with the things of this world in terms of material assets and places of prestige. We work hard at maintaining an outer image, while too often neglecting the more important inner character of knowing God and walking in truth with him.

The encouragement is that though we are all pretty much mostly plain and ordinary people, we can be extraordinary by virtue of relationship with the creator of the universe. That is pretty amazing. Probably most of us don’t know practically anyone important – like congressmen or governors or the President … or anyone else of fame and prominence in the news and culture. But we can know God intimately – which is better than anything else we could imagine. That is pretty awesome, and it is more than skin deep.

A Monument to Monumental Stupidity and Disobedience (I Samuel 15)

An engineer friend of mine many years ago was attempting to help me – a more artsy sort of person – understand why engineering types of personalities were more cold and precise about the details of everything. He said, “When you’re an engineer with your name on a project, you’re always afraid that when you build something, if it is wrong, it will stand as a monument to your stupidity for years to come!”

In today’s reading – our third background passage on Saul before we turn to stories focused upon David – we see a final breaking point of the first king in Israel’s relationship with God and with Samuel. Saul would disobey God’s directives to the extent of even building a monument to himself, and thus he was rejected by the Lord in favor of a younger man after God’s own heart.

The Lord Rejects Saul as King

15:1 – Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. 2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

God is really good at keeping records. Some four centuries before the time of Saul, the Amalekites (descendants of Esau) had brutally attacked Israel for no reason during the time of the exodus of the nation from Egypt (Exodus 17). At that time, God had said that a day of punishment would come. The day had come, and Saul was to carry it out.

Yes, this seems brutal, though understand that God had been gracious for years with these people who had never turned from their evil ways that included the sacrificing of children to idols, etc. (see verse 33) They needed to be completely eliminated, down to the youngest of them all, or they would rise again with their evil. Think of ISIS x10 and you get the picture of what these folks were like.

4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. 5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 6 Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.

7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

So Saul did pretty much everything God wanted him to do, except kill the Amalekite King Agag; and the livestock of these people was amazing – good and fat – too valuable to destroy. So why not take it all as trophies of victory?

10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

When you read in this passage and some others in Scripture where it says that God “regretted” something, don’t read it as if he was admitting to some sort of mistake. We even use the phrase to say that something is “regretful” – meaning that it is very sad. And that is the context here. God was saddened by the outcome of allowing the people to have a king whose heart and character was simply not toward God. Rather, Saul’s focus was on himself – building a monument and a name for himself among the people.bleating sheep

13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

Saul’s answer about the bleating flock of sheep is the ultimate “I ate half the cookies in the jar just to make sure that they tasted alright for everyone else” sort of excuse. No, instead of being the leader and making sure that God’s directives were carried out, Saul allowed the desires of his men, along with his own proud heart, to tweak God’s word.

16 “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

Pretty good isn’t good enough when it comes to obeying God. And one of the most interesting statements of Scripture follows …

22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”

The issue of a person’s heart continues to percolate throughout this entire section of Israel’s history. And a heart for God and truth was simply not Saul’s inner default drive. He was good at going through the motions of things, but the real “HIM” was not oriented toward God in a big way.

24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore.28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord.

32 Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.”

Agag came to him in chains. And he thought, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”

33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.”

And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal.

34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Samuel finishes what Saul did not do in eliminating the Amalekites and their king. Though Saul would actually reign for about another 15 years, the decision was made that he and his household would be replaced.

There is a timeless truth which reverberates even down to us today – that we need to fully obey God. It is easy in the Christian life to be content with getting a B+ average when God desires us to maintain a higher GPA through his empowerment to make it possible through us.

When it comes to the giving of our resources to the Lord, or the investing of the priorities of our time in things that have eternal value, does God hear the “bleating of our sheep” or the beating of our hearts for the things that He values?

If God Won’t Fix Things, I Will! (1 Samuel 13:1-14)

Are you good at waiting for things to happen? I know I’m not, I’d rather do something to try to fix it than wait around.

I always joke with women about how much more difficult childbirth is on the husband than the wife! Really, it is! If you’re the woman having the baby, at least there is something you can DO. You can push and grunt and work (labor) at getting that child outa there. All the husband can DO is watch and encourage. And it is terribly frustrating as a man to have to sit around and not be able to fix something!

When times are difficult, it is difficult to sit around and wait for God to do what you even know and have been told by His Word you must do in trusting him with the situation rather than taking it on in your own strength.

This was Saul’s dilemma is our chapter today. He had been told by Samuel to wait for the spiritual leader in Israel to come and sacrifice before heading into battle. But Samuel had not arrived, and Saul was very much pressed by the Philistine forces arrayed against him.

Samuel Rebukes Saul

13:1 Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.

There is a textual problem here. In other Scripture it says that Saul reigned for 40 years, and the number 30 is not in the original text. Probably it originally said that Saul was 40 when he became king and the events of this chapter were in his second year.

2 Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes.

Saul had put together a regular army of 3,000, divided in two forces with the rest of the nation on standby duty in a crisis. This is the first of three major military events during Saul’s reign.

3 Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!”4 So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.

5 The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.

The war was on, and the Philistines outnumbered the Israelites and had pushed them to Gilgal, which is very near Jerusalem. The situation was quite critical, and some of the Israelites had fallen back so far as to cross to the east of the Jordan.

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

Saul had waited the prescribed time, but Samuel had not arrived. This was not good, as some of his forces were abandoning the lines. Surely God would not mind if he took matters into his own hands, even if it was inappropriate for him as a Benjamite to assume the Levitical duties that Samuel would do. Hey, it had to be done. The situation was intolerable!

11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

Saul had committed a grievous error of judgment and sin against God’s command and structure. What it did was demonstrate the cold nature of a heart that was not inclined toward trusting God. Because of this, God would not establish the house of Saul over Israel; it would go to another who had a heart after God … and we know that this will ultimately be David.

We read this story and think, “Wow, Saul is such an idiot!” Yet how often do we fail to trust God when he appears “delayed” in answering or providing what seems surely to be a reasonable need or request? I have seen it when people jump into wrong relationships with even unbelievers, rather than trust God in his timing and supply. And I’ve seen people justify jumping out of marriage relationships simply because they are unhappy with how it has gone – surely God understands that.

And it is not just in the area of relationships. We could ponder other categories – such as prioritizing God in life over the pursuit of material gains or positions of prominence. We could talk about how so, so many find every reason to “forsake the assembling together” with others in regular church family attendance because there is always some other “good thing” to be doing on Sunday mornings instead.

I’ve often found myself at a point of exasperation in a counseling setting with someone who is giving me every excuse as to why their (frankly sinful) choices are justifiable. And I finally say to them, “Do you really think that God would right now say to you, ‘You know what? What you’re doing normally really ticks me off as sinful, but just for today in your case I’m going to overlook it because your circumstances are special.’” Really?

Obedience always trumps everything else, as we will see emphatically in tomorrow’s reading.

Be Careful About What You Desire (1 Samuel 8 + 11)

As we approach eight weeks and 38 days of Scripture readings to accompany our sermon series on David, we need to get some historical background that will help us make sense of the stories about David. So for today and the next two days, let’s look at several select passages about the king just before David. And that would be King Saul – Israel’s first king.

After Israel had conquered the Promised Land and settled down, they were ruled by a series of leaders called “Judges.”  The government was actually a “theocracy.” And it would have worked well if the people obeyed God and lived in accordance with the covenant that the Lord made with his people. But, they did not.

The period of the Judges was known for being a time when Israel would gradually fall into more and more sin, a neighboring nation would be the instrument of judgment, they would call out to God and repent, God would deliver them through one of the Judges, but the cycle would then only repeat itself over and over. And the book of Judges ends famously with the summary statement, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

As it turns out, the last of the Judges was Samuel, who we also see historically as the first of the great prophets in Israel. Over time, Samuel grows old and his sons do not turn out to be honorable leaders.

Israel Asks for a King

8:1  When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So the leaders of the various tribes and clans come together to Samuel and tell him that the solution to the crises they were facing was to be like the other nations around them – to have a king who would be the leader for the country.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

This must have surely been very difficult for Samuel to hear. He had been faithful to God, yet not all was going well in Israel. His instincts told him that their desire was not a healthy one – that it was not really addressing the core issue, which was obedience to the covenant. But God speaks to him …

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Surely Samuel was surprised to hear from the Lord that he should listen to the people’s superficial plan, and he relates to the people the warning about what would follow if having a king would come to fruition …

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king.11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Samuel certainly hoped that this revelation would dissuade the people from this direction. But it did not, and again Samuel laid it before the Lord…

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

It was not God’s preferred way of working with his people. God so desired for the nation to live in a faithful covenant relationship with him, yet even at the beginning, it was known that times would come when the people would yield to sin and walk away from the Lord.

As in the times of Samuel, we today are too often in our natural condition prone to “if only …” thinking. If only we were more financially secure … if only we were born into a different family … if only we lived somewhere else … if only we had were more attractive and healthy.

And we follow that train of thought with, “then … everything would be better.”

This thinking comes from looking around us and falsely believing that externals are everything, when in fact the real issues are most often internal issues of trust, faith, and obedience. If everything we wished for would come true, none of it would satisfy or make us ultimately better off if the internal issues of our heart relationship with God were not properly aligned.

The inner issues of life are what we need to be more focused upon, and that introspective way of thinking and living is what set David apart – from King Saul and others in his generation. Though he was not perfect, we may learn from a study of his life what are the timeless principles to apply that can make us people with a heart for God.

(The following passage is also included in our reading today to give you the actual story of the events culminating in Saul being named the King in Israel …)

Saul Rescues the City of Jabesh

11:1 Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, “Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.”

2 But Nahash the Ammonite replied, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.”

3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.”

4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. 5 Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, “What is wrong with everyone? Why are they weeping?” Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said.

6 When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. 7 He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one. 8 When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and those of Judah thirty thousand.

9 They told the messengers who had come, “Say to the men of Jabesh Gilead, ‘By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be rescued.’” When the messengers went and reported this to the men of Jabesh, they were elated. 10 They said to the Ammonites, “Tomorrow we will surrender to you, and you can do to us whatever you like.”

11 The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

Saul Confirmed as King

12 The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Turn these men over to us so that we may put them to death.”

13 But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.”

14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.