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.

 

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“How to Put an Idol to Good Use” (Psalm 59, 1 Samuel 19)

So, you think you’re having a bad day? Do you think you’re being treated unfairly, or not getting credit for what you have done?

Consider this Psalm 59 that we read today, and let us study it after we are reminded of the historical situation that generated it. This is really helpful for our understanding.

As we’ve noted before, the superscriptions (the little background info at the top before verse 1 of some of the Psalms) is part of the original Scripture and is therefore inspired. Verse numberings are not inspired and were added later. In fact, in Hebrew Bibles, these superscriptions often count as verse #1.

The Psalm begins by saying: For the director of music. To the tune of “Do Not Destroy.” Of David. A miktam. When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house in order to kill him.

The story behind this Psalm is found in 1 Samuel 19 where it says …

1 Samuel 19

8 Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him.

9 But an evil spirit from the Lord came on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the lyre, 10 Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.

11 Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. 13 Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head.

14 When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.”

15 Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.” 16 But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair.

All David had done was be successful in battle on behalf of the nation and King Saul, but back at the royal house, while David was serving as “minister of music” – something that soothed Saul’s darkness – a time came when Saul’s jealousy overwhelmed him. He took a sword (and remember that Saul was a big, big dude – like a head taller than all around him) and zipped it past David’s head into the wall. David made an escape from this attack (something ministers of music have been doing ever since when the congregation gets angry at their song selections).

At home that evening, David’s wife helps him escape. Recall also that this is the daughter of King Saul. He slips out the window while his wife uses an idol – apparently life-sized – to put under the covers of the bed with some goats hair to complete the ruse. (This is how we know that David had curly hair.)

But seriously, have you ever heard of a better use for an idol?

And more seriously, imagine how David must have felt at this time. Having done nothing but good, he is accused of wrong and then becomes the object of murderers seeking to unjustly take his life. He has to sneak out of his own house in order to save his life.

Now read the Psalm …

Psalm 59

1 Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
2 Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood.

3 See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, Lord.
4 I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me. Arise to help me; look on my plight!
5 You, Lord God Almighty, you who are the God of Israel, rouse yourself to punish all the nations; show no mercy to wicked traitors.

6 They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city.
7 See what they spew from their mouths—the words from their lips are sharp as swords, and they think, “Who can hear us?”
8 But you laugh at them, Lord; you scoff at all those nations.

9 You are my strength, I watch for you; you, God, are my fortress, 10 my God on whom I can rely.

God will go before me and will let me gloat over those who slander me.
11 But do not kill them, Lord our shield, or my people will forget. In your might uproot them and bring them down.
12 For the sins of their mouths, for the words of their lips, let them be caught in their pride.
For the curses and lies they utter, 13 consume them in your wrath, consume them till they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.

14 They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city.
15 They wander about for food and howl if not satisfied.
16 But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.

17 You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.

Twice in the Psalm the agents of King Saul are seen like a pack of wild dogs. Don’t be picturing your pet Fido here; think more like a pack of coyotes. I was talking this week with an old friend who lives in the mountains outside Roanoke, Virginia. He was telling me that there are no more outdoor cats in the area; and if you don’t walk your dog at night and bring it safely inside, it will be gone – victims of the coyotes that have taken over the area and hunt at night.

That is a picture of what David was facing. But he was safe in God’s hands. God had a plan for him. He was anointed to become the King of Israel, and it was going to happen. Though surrounded by the worst of dangers, David was safe in God’s hands.

I went to college in downtown Philadelphia. It was not a horrifically unsafe area, but those sorts of neighborhoods weren’t too far away. Many families were unwilling to send their children to a college in the inner city. And I well remember the school officials saying in frustration that the same people who would on Sunday sing the familiar hymn “Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go, anywhere he leads me in this world below (except Philadelphia)” would on Monday send their college kids to a rural campus.

We live in a dangerous world surrounded by injustices and evil. But we are safer in God’s will and God’s hands in the most dangerous location than we are locked in our room at home, though outside of God’s will and pleasure. God is our fortress on whom we can rely (verse 17).