19. Saul Loses His Grip (1 Samuel 22:5-23:14)
A friend tells the story of an elderly person bemoaning those things which come with age. “I don’t mind so much that I have to take off my glasses at night. I don’t even mind so much that I have to take my teeth out for the night. And then there’s my hearing aid, which I also have to deposit on the night stand. I don’t miss the loss of good sight, good teeth, and good hearing so much -- but I sure do miss my mind!”
Some of us who are not quite at the point of old age might also wonder at times if we are beginning to miss our minds. If anyone should “miss his mind,” it is King Saul. Up to this point, Saul has had his problems in life. He was delighted to find David who could play his harp and soothe his troubled spirit (16:14-23). He also rejoiced greatly when David took on Goliath and won (chapter 17; see also 19:5). But when the women of Israel began to sing their song of celebration giving David greater honor than Saul, the king began to look upon David with suspicion (18:6-9). Quickly overtaken by jealousy, Saul tried to kill David in a way that would not make him look bad before the people (18:10-29). But before long the king gave orders to his servants to kill David (19:1). Jonathan talked him out of his plans for a short time (19:1-7), but it did not last long. Soon, Saul was hurling his spear at his very own son (20:33). By various means, God spared David’s life, but eventually it became necessary for him to flee from the king’s presence. He first fled to Ahimelech, the high priest, who inquired of the Lord for him (22:10, 15) and gave David some of the sacred bread, along with the sword of Goliath (21:1-9). Our text describes the consequences following this event.
When we come to chapter 22, we see a king who has completely lost his grip, mentally speaking. Saul would be admitted to any mental hospital for what ails him. His fits of depression and jealousy appear to become more intense and more frequent. Now, he seems in a constant state of fear and jealousy, interspersed with fleeting moments of sanity. In our text, Saul reaches an all-time low, for here Saul’s fear of David drives him to begin killing other innocent people. Here his jealous rage drives him to order the killing of the priesthood, an almost unthinkable thing.
Just before instructions to Israel and her king about the role and responsibilities of Israel’s kings, we find these instructions concerning the priests:
8 “If any case is too difficult for you to decide, between one kind of homicide or another, between one kind of lawsuit or another, and between one kind of assault or another, being cases of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses. 9 “So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them, and they will declare to you the verdict in the case. 10 “And you shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the LORD chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. 11 “According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. 12 “And the man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 “Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again” (Deuteronomy 17:8-13, NASB).
King Saul is about to kill not just one priest, but to make an attempt to execute all the priests and their families -- in spite of these words God gave Israel and her king regarding their respect for, and obedience to, the priests. Let us give heed to our text to see how Saul reached this low point in his life and leadership, as we also look to see what God has for us to learn from this text.
A Prophetic Directive
10 And the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.
It appears that when David goes to Ahimelech the high priest one of his intentions is to obtain divine guidance. At least this is what Doeg reports to Saul, and Ahimelech seems to confirm this fact to Saul (22:10, 15). Since David conceals the fact that he is fleeing from Saul, one does not know what guidance he received from Ahimelech. But we do know that after this, David flees the country. He goes first to Gath, from which he is expelled for acting like a madman (21:10-15), then to the cave of Adullam (22:1-2), and then on to Moab (22:3-4), where he leaves his father and mother, and perhaps hides out himself in the stronghold.94
Like Melchizedek in Genesis 14, the prophet Gad appears from out of nowhere and instructs David not to stay in the stronghold but to go into the land of Judah. If I understand him correctly, he tells David to stop hiding outside the land of Israel. David is to find his sanctuary in Israel, specifically in the territory of his own tribe, Judah. It is Judah, after all, who first accepts David as their king (2 Samuel 2:4). David obeys, making his hideout in the forest of Hereth. The exact whereabouts of this forest are not entirely clear, but from reading 2 Samuel 18:8, it is a dangerous place, one which Saul and his men will be reluctant to enter. This forest seems to be to David and his men what Sherwood Forest was to Robin Hood and his men.
Saul Lacks Intelligence95 and Gains it from Doeg the Edomite
6 Then Saul heard that David and the men who were with him had been discovered. Now Saul was sitting in Gibeah, under the tamarisk tree on the height with his spear in his hand, and all his servants were standing around him. 7 And Saul said to his servants who stood around him, “Hear now, O Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse also give to all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? 8 “For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day.” 9 Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing by the servants of Saul, answered and said, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. 10 “And he inquired of the LORD for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”
I confess that sometimes I allow my imagination to become carried away. As I read here that Saul sits under that tree with a spear in his hand, I can’t help but wonder what kind of weapons he might have if he lived today. Can’t you just imagine him with a pair of 357 automatics strapped to his side, a couple of sawed-off shotguns within reach, and an oozie in his hands? This man is paranoid. He never seems to be without that spear or without what appears to be a host of bodyguards.
Saul now seems to think the whole world is against him and for David. The term conspired appears twice in our text (in verses 8 and 13). Saul comes across in verses 6-10 as a kind of Rodney Dangerfield, who moans and groans that he gets “no respect.” He accuses virtually everyone of being part of a sinister plot against him, when in reality God is the one taking his kingdom from him, due to his own sin (see 13:8-14; 15:1-31). As a result of the guilt Saul heaps upon his servants, Doeg will inform Saul of David’s visit to Ahimelech and Ahimilech’s innocent compliance with David’s requests.
It is no surprise that Saul accuses David of conspiring against him. That is, after all, what Saul thinks. But he is wrong in accusing David of conspiracy. David is not “lying in ambush” as Saul charges (22:8, 13), waiting for the opportune moment to end Saul’s life. David is hiding out, seeking to avoid Saul and to escape from Saul’s schemes to put him to death.
What is amazing in these verses are the accusations Saul makes against his own son, Jonathan. Because of the covenant David made with Jonathan, we would not be surprised to read that Saul accuses his son of being taken in by David, of being recruited by David to join him in his conspiracy against Saul. But Saul accuses Jonathan of leading David astray, of stirring up David against him (22:8). This is a most amazing charge. The “conspiracy” against Saul, if traced to its roots, originated with Jonathan and not with David. Saul has lost it.
But the conspiracy theory goes even further. Not only does Saul accuse Jonathan and David of conspiring against him, he also accuses his servants – all of them! Saul is surrounded by his servants as he sits under the tamarisk tree near his home in Gibeah (verse 6). He begins by reminding his servants about the nature of politics and the spoils of political victory and power. As a reward for their loyalty to Saul, these Benjamites have been given property and positions of authority as political spoils. Do they think that if David becomes king they will enjoy the same spoils? They most certainly will not. And so Saul reminds his servants that they owe him -- big time. And now he wants a payback -- by having them inform him of David’s whereabouts. Saul tells his servants that by keeping silent about David and withholding any information about him and his whereabouts, they are joining David in his conspiracy against Saul. Doeg the Edomite finds this ample reason to pass on to Saul what he observed while at Nob.
Doeg has just recently seen David. While at Nob, he saw David arrive and have dealings with the high priest, Ahimelech. The high priest inquired of the Lord for David and also gave him some of the sacred bread and the sword of Goliath, which he had been keeping. All of these things are true, but what Doeg does not tell Saul (perhaps he does not know) is that David never informed Ahimelech that he was fleeing from Saul. He never disclosed to the high priest anything that would make him a conspirator against Saul. But Saul is not interested in learning the truth. He is only blindly jealous and intent upon getting rid of anyone whom he wrongly perceives to be a threat to his throne.
The Massacre at Nob
11 Then the king sent someone to summon Ahimelech the priest, the son of Ahitub, and all his father's household, the priests who were in Nob; and all of them came to the king. 12 And Saul said, “Listen now, son of Ahitub.” And he answered, “Here I am, my lord.” 13 Saul then said to him, “Why have you and the son of Jesse conspired against me, in that you have given him bread and a sword and have inquired of God for him, that he should rise up against me by lying in ambush as it is this day?” 14 Then Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, even the king's son-in-law, who is captain over your guard, and is honored in your house? 15 “Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any of the household of my father, for your servant knows nothing at all of this whole affair.” 16 But the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father's household!” 17 And the king said to the guards who were attending him, “Turn around and put the priests of the LORD to death, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was fleeing and did not reveal it to me.” But the servants of the king were not willing to put forth their hands to attack the priests of the LORD. 18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 And he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he struck with the edge of the sword. 20 But one son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21 And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD. 22 Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father's household. 23 “Stay with me, do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life; for you are safe with me.”
After Saul browbeats his servants, Doeg discloses that David has gone to Ahimelech the high priest, who inquired of the Lord for him, and gave him sacred bread and the sword of Goliath. Saul has heard all he thinks he needs to know. In his mind, not only Ahimelech but all of the priesthood are part of the “conspiracy” against him. Ahimelech and the priests are all summoned to appear before Saul. I doubt that you and I can even fathom the ominous mood of this meeting. We live in a country where the President of the United States can be questioned, opposed, and even removed from his office. When he speaks, his opponents can boo him without fear for their lives. This is not so in the court of King Saul.
I recently read an article which described the terror that Joseph Stalin skillfully produced in the hearts of his ministers:
Stalin’s dinners in the Kremlin went on all night. He would sit at a long table and force his ministers and cronies to drink, hour after hour, while he plotted and probed and flattered and terrified them. At dawn, when their brains were numb with fear and vodka and confusion, the NKVD might lead one or two of the men away, without explanation, to be shot. That was the physics of paranoia under laboratory conditions: for every action, an opposite (if, in the Kremlin, somewhat unequal) reaction. Paranoia induces paranoia. Stalin refracted violent fear through alcohol, then presided over a reciprocal mind game that ended in death.96
It is one thing to have a mad man in office, whom you can restrain and even remove. It is another to have a mad man who is a dictator like Stalin, or Nero, or Hitler. Such men hold absolute power. They can do whatever they please, even if it is irrational and insane, and there is no one to stop them. So it is with Saul. Saul is now a madman with no one to stop him. Does Saul rave about David and Jonathan, and even his servants being conspirators? Who is there to correct him? This madman now has an audience with the entire priesthood. On this occasion, it is not they who are to pass judgment on Saul but Saul who passes judgment on them. One can only attempt to appreciate the mood of terror, that ominous sense of dread, which all who stand before Saul must feel on this occasion.
Saul reveals his disdain for both David and Ahimelech by the way he addresses them. He calls them by their father’s names: “the son of Jesse” (verse 8) and “the son of Ahitub” (verse 12). In his sin of offering the sacrifices described in chapter 13, Saul makes himself equal to Samuel. In his dealings with Ahimelech and the priests here, Saul makes himself superior to them. He does not seek the facts of the case, but hastens to condemn the priests as traitors to the throne. He does not ask if Ahimelech has betrayed him, but why (verse 13).
Ahimelech responds with remarkable poise. He does not take this opportunity to cast blame on David for deceiving him, which in fact David did. Instead, Ahimelech stands up to Saul, speaking on David’s behalf, and reminding the king that David is not only his most faithful servant but the man whom the people honor, and whom Saul has promoted to positions of power and authority. If all else fails, Saul should at least remember that David is his son-in-law (verse 14).
14 Ahimelech also speaks in his own defense, and on behalf of all the priests whom Saul has summoned.
Ahimelech did assist David, by inquiring of the Lord for him, by giving him some of the sacred bread, and by giving him the sword of Goliath. He did not knowingly assist David in any act of conspiracy. And the fact that he assisted David is nothing new or novel, let alone inappropriate. It is certainly not the first time David has come to him, asking him to inquire of the Lord. We can infer from this that David frequently sought divine guidance as he commenced a mission for the king. Saul should not see this visit of David, or Ahimelech’s ministry to him, as anything out of the ordinary or out of bounds.97
Ahimelech is right, and Saul is furious. The king pronounces the death sentence, not just upon Ahimelech but upon all the priests who have gathered. It seems that this is Saul’s intention from the outset. Saul orders the guards standing by to put the priests to death. As much as these men fear Saul, they are not willing to put the priests to death. This must be a very painful period of silence, when every man freezes in place, unwilling to carry out Saul’s order.98
But Saul will not be thwarted. He turns to Doeg the Edomite and orders him to slay the priests, which he does. Saul will now kill the “king of the Jews” (David) and any who support him (like the priests), and he will enlist the help of Gentiles if need be to do so. Doeg kills 85 priests that day, but this is not enough for Saul. He then goes to Nob, the city of the priests, and proceeds to annihilate the families and even the cattle of these priests. How amazing! Saul, the man who was not so zealous in killing the Amalekites, even though ordered to do so by God, is now zealous in killing the priests and their cattle, even though forbidden to do so by God. How low can Saul sink?
Only one priest, Abiathar, survives and he flees to David to tell him what Saul has done to the other priests. David assumes full responsibility, admitting that he had seen Doeg when he was at Nob, and that he knew this man would likely report on David’s visit to Saul. There is nothing that David can do for those who have been slain, but he does offer sanctuary to Abiathar.
David Rescues Keilah
1 Then they told David, saying, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and are plundering the threshing floors.” 2 So David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines, and deliver Keilah.” 3 But David's men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the ranks of the Philistines?” 4 Then David inquired of the LORD once more. And the LORD answered him and said, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 So David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines; and he led away their livestock and struck them with a great slaughter. Thus David delivered the inhabitants of Keilah. 6 Now it came about, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand. 7 When it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah, Saul said, “God has delivered him into my hand, for he shut himself in by entering a city with double gates and bars.” 8 So Saul summoned all the people for war, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men. 9 Now David knew that Saul was plotting evil against him; so he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” 10 Then David said, “O LORD God of Israel, Thy servant has heard for certain that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. 11 “Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Thy servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Thy servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the pursuit. 14 And David stayed in the wilderness in the strongholds, and remained in the hill country in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand.
David’s servants bring him word that Keilah is under attack by the Philistines. Actually it is King Saul’s responsibility to deal with the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16), but he is more interested in killing Israelites than dealing with the Philistine invaders. In a much more kingly response, David feels an obligation to come to the aid of his Israelite brethren and seeks divine guidance about whether he should engage the Philistines in battle. The Lord instructs David to attack the Philistines and deliver Keilah.99
David’s men are uneasy about the decision to fight the Philistines, and they let David know it. Their apprehension is not really hard to understand. After all, this small force of 600 men (23:13) is not a highly trained group of soldiers, but a rag-tag group of discontented men who have fled from Saul (22:2). Most of these men joined forces with David while he was hiding in the cave of Adullam. More likely this cave was most likely in Philistine territory, and if not, on the very fringe of Israel’s territory. From here David and his men went to Moab, where they hid out in the “stronghold” (22:4-5). The prophet Gad instructed David to cease hiding out in foreign nations and to return to the land of his own tribe, Judah, which he did by hiding out in the forest of Hereth (22:5). In the dense, difficult terrain of this forest, David’s men must still feel relatively safe out of Saul’s reach. But it is an entirely different matter when David is instructed to fight the Philistines at Keilah. This is a much more difficult and dangerous venture. They will have to come out of hiding and out into the open to fight the Philistines, knowing this will expose them to an attack by Saul’s forces. Since Keilah is located approximately 20 miles southeast of Gath, David and his men will no longer be in the mountains hiding safely in the forest, but rather in the lowlands, out in the open, where they can be seen by Saul’s army and opposed by Philistine chariots. When David’s men protest the decision to rescue the people of Keilah, they seem to do so on the basis of the greatly increased risk. This is not the safe thing to do. It would be far safer to hide from Saul in the forest than to attack the Philistines on the open plains.
David listens to the objections raised by his men, but he is intent on obeying God rather than men. He “inquired of the Lord” a second time (23:4) and receives the same response, with the assurance that God has already given them the victory. With this assurance, David and his men approach the city of Keilah and attack the Philistines, winning a decisive victory and delivering the Israelites there from defeat and securing the Philistines’ livestock (23:5). How strange are the ways of God. A week earlier, who among them would have thought they would be eating T-bone steaks from Philistine cattle?
Having delivered the people of Keilah from defeat at the hand of the Philistines, one assumes these people would be some of David’s most loyal supporters. Surely they would give David and his men sanctuary from Saul. Saul learns of David’s presence in Keilah, however, and summons all of Israel to attack the city of Keilah, assured that this will result in the capture of David and his men. After all, Keilah is a fortified city. Saul supposes that the “double gates and bars” of that city will not keep him out, but rather will contain David and his men within.
David learns of Saul’s coming attack and wonders whether it is wise to stay in Keilah. David seems to want to avoid his own capture, but he is also concerned about the well being of the people of Keilah. Has he rescued these people from the Philistines only so Saul’s army can destroy the city? Fortunately, when Abiathar fled to join David, he brought the ephod with him by which the will of the Lord could be discerned (23:6). Wishing to know and do the will of God, David inquires of the Lord by means of the ephod. David has two questions to ask of God. First, is Saul really going to come to Keilah, as David has heard? Is his intelligence report accurate? Second, if Saul really does come to Keilah, will the people of Keilah betray David and turn him over to Saul?
The answer to both questions is “Yes.” Notice, however, that the answer to both questions is hypothetical, based upon some variables. Had David remained in Keilah, Saul’s men would have come and attacked the city. Had David remained and Saul’s men come and attacked the city, the men of Keilah would have turned David over to Saul. But knowing this leads David to leave Keilah before Saul arrives. Consequently, Saul does not actually attack the city, nor do the men of Keilah actually surrender David to Saul. But they would have, had David stayed.
The first thing to note about David’s inquiry and the divine response is this: God not only knows all things that will be, He also knows all things that could be, under any set of circumstances. It is one thing to know what the future holds. It is vastly greater to know what the future could hold, under differing circumstances. God’s omniscience (omniscient = to know all) is such that He knows all things actual and all things possible. This is precisely how God can be in control of all things (the sovereignty of God), without being responsible for men’s sin. For example, God knew that given the circumstances, Judas would betray the Lord Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The betrayal of Jesus was a necessary part of God’s plan, and there was no doubt that it would happen. God’s omniscience made it all possible, yet without making Him culpable for man’s sin. The same can be seen in Peter’s words to the Jews (and Gentiles) who were responsible for the death of our Lord on the cross of Calvary:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know -- 23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22-23, NASB).
And so it is that, informed by God as to the outcome of remaining in Keilah, David leaves that city with his 600 followers. He returns to the wilderness, hiding in the safety of the strongholds he finds there. Learning of David’s departure, Saul has his men turn back, and thus the city of Keilah is spared, not only from the Philistines but from Saul. Yet those who owe their lives to David would have betrayed him when the going got tough. In all of this, David too is spared from the wrath and jealousy of Saul, for God would not deliver His future king into his hand.
While many lessons could be gleaned from our text, one seems to stand above and apart from all others and can be summed up in these words:
When the whole world seems to be senseless and unpredictable, and when madmen have the power to carry out their wicked schemes which result in the suffering and death of the innocent, God is still in control. While not immediately apparent in the chaos and confusion, God’s plans and purposes are being accomplished, even by means of madmen who seek to overthrow His purposes and promises.
Throughout history, many Christians have lived during times best characterized by the words “madness” or “insanity.” How can we explain why a terrorist plants a bomb in a building that kills hundreds of people he never even knew? What sense can we make of a man who robs a clerk of a few dollars and then needlessly kills him? Why would a teenager drive by a school emptying an automatic weapon into a crowd of students? Much of what we see going on in our world does not make sense – it is insane. Do we wring our hands in despair, as though in the midst of such chaos and violence God cannot be in control?
Our text assures us that even in the midst of insanity, God is in control. King Saul is out of his head when he orders Doeg the Edomite to kill all the priests and their families. It all seems senseless and insane. We know that many innocent people were killed that day, and we must in no way attempt to justify it. But at the same time, we must not overlook the fact that God used Saul – in his most irrational moments – to accomplish His purposes and promises. In chapters 2 and 3 of 1 Samuel, Eli is told that due to the wickedness of his sons, his priesthood will be taken away,
27 Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh's house? 28 ‘And did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel? 29 ‘Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?’ 30 “Therefore the LORD God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever'; but now the LORD declares,’ Far be it from Me-- for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed. 31 ‘Behold, the days are coming when I will break your strength and the strength of your father's house so that there will not be an old man in your house. 32 ‘And you will see the distress of My dwelling, in spite of all that I do good for Israel; and an old man will not be in your house forever. 33 ‘Yet I will not cut off every man of yours from My altar that your eyes may fail from weeping and your soul grieve, and all the increase of your house will die in the prime of life. 34 ‘And this will be the sign to you which shall come concerning your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: on the same day both of them shall die’” (1 Samuel 2:27-34, NASB).
11 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 “In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 “For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. 14 “And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever” (1 Samuel 3:11-14, NASB).
Because of Eli’s sin of failing to deal with his sons, Eli’s priesthood was to be taken away. The sign that this would happen was the death of his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas (2:34). The next phase of the fulfillment of this prophecy comes in our text, brought about by the insane jealousy of Saul when he orders Doeg, the Edomite, to kill all the priests and their families. One survivor is left, just as God indicated (2:33). The next phase of fulfillment will come in the days of Solomon when the priesthood is taken from Abiathar, the descendant of Aaron’s son, Ithamar, and given to Zadok, the descendant of Aaron through his son, Eleazar (1 Kings 2:27, 35). The full and final fulfillment seems to be the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the faithful priest (see Psalm 110; Hebrews 5:6; Revelation 19:16).100
Who would have ever thought that the prophecy of chapters 2 and 3 would be fulfilled as described in chapter 22 by a virtual madman? Even in his disobedience and insanity; even in his rebellion against God by the slaughter of the priests, Saul is being used of God to fulfill His promise, yet in a way that does not impugn the character of God.
Notice the similarity between the prophecies God made concerning Eli’s priesthood in chapters 2 and 3 and the prophecies God gives concerning Saul’s kingship in chapters 13 and 15. Because of his sin in failing to deal with his sons’ abuse of their priesthood, Eli’s priesthood was taken away. A significant part of this we now see described in chapter 22. Is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Eli here not given to us at this point in the story to buttress the prophecy God made concerning Saul’s kingship? Just as surely as Eli’s priesthood was taken away a few years and a few chapters later, so Saul’s kingship is taken away a few years and a few chapters later. God always keeps His promises, and He sometimes does so by employing the most unlikely instruments.
Second, we can see in our text how fast and how far a seemingly trivial sin can take us downward. Saul’s sins in chapters 13 and 15 are serious sins, but they do not appear to have many great immediate ramifications. Beware of trivial sins, for it will not be long until these sins grow significantly. Saul, who is initially fearful and reticent, failing to fully carry out God’s instructions, now is a raving maniac, who has fallen so fast and so far he can order all of the priests to be put to death. Sin almost always appears to be harmless, but it is never long before its real character is evident.
Third, let me to make a brief observation, and then ask a question. It appears to me that Christians are often among those most likely to believe and even promote conspiracy theories. Why has the FCC received so many letters from Christians, protesting against alleged plots by Madelyn Murray O’Haire to ban Christian programs from radio and television? We seem predisposed to believe conspiracy claims. I wonder why. Let us not be paranoid. Neither let us be oblivious to Satan’s schemes.
Fourth, I see in our text three prototypes. Saul is a prototype of the antichrists who have come and who will come, resisting God and His Messiah, Jesus Christ. Herod is one such antichrist (see Matthew 2). The scribes and Pharisees are another example of antichrists (see Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10; John 11:47-48). As Saul joins forces with Doeg, a Gentile, in his attempt to do away with David’s threat to his throne, the Jewish leaders joined forces with the Gentiles to execute Christ. David is a prototype of Christ, who is rejected and resisted because he is to become God’s king. Ahimelech is a prototype of all those who suffer and die for associating with Jesus Christ, as he died for his association with David.
Finally, I see in our text another very important lesson, which can be summed up in this way:
Safety for the Christian is not gained by isolation or by hiding out from the dangers of this world; it is found by those who cast themselves upon God for His guidance and care, as they seek to carry out His work and His will.
David and his men initially seem to think that the further they are from Saul, the safer they are. David finds that it is not all that safe in Gath with the Philistines. He may have felt safe in or near Moab territory, but the prophet Gad instructs him to return to the territory of Judah. And when David’s men feel relatively safe in the forest of Hereth, God directs them to go to Keilah, where they are exposed not only to Philistine attack but to an attack by Saul.
David is God’s man, God’s choice for king, and he is indestructible until God’s work for him is done. He does not need to hide out or play it safe, especially when it hinders his carrying out his mission and ministry (such as saving the people of Keilah). David does not have to calculate his safety in terms of distance from danger; He calculates his safety in terms of the nearness of God. A kind of escapism is found in Christian circles today, as though remoteness is the key to safety. I challenge this kind of thinking. God may lead some to remote places, but let us not seek to hide out when God calls us to be salt and light in this dark place.
Let me also say that trusting in God and doing what is right is no guarantee of physical safety. In our text, Ahimelech is a noble, godly man, who stands up against Saul and for David when he knows the risk of so doing. He is a man who is murdered, along with his family and his fellow-priests. In the ultimate sense, Ahimelech and his fellow-martyrs could never have been safer than in the arms of God. They are just as “safe” as David, but their mission is done, and David’s is not. Living a godly life is no guarantee of safety from suffering, troubles, and even death. But God will not allow these things to keep us from that for which He has called us. Until our work for Him is done, no one can be safer than the Christian who trusts and obeys, even in the most dangerous of circumstances.
94 Some have held that the stronghold was Masada, but I am not entirely convinced. It would seem that there is more than one stronghold (see 22:4, 5; 23:14), and that the stronghold in 22:4 was actually in Moab, and not in Israel.
97 I cannot help but wonder if there is not a subtle inference in Ahimelech’s words, which might be verbalized in this manner: “Saul, I have seen David on many occasions, as he sought divine guidance, but I don’t think I’ve seen you lately. . . .”
98 One cannot help but compare this event with that described in chapter 14, when Saul fully intended to put his own son, Jonathan, to death. There the people rebuked Saul, insisting that he would most certainly not be put to death (14:45). Here, there is only passive disobedience. Is this because Saul has become even more irrational and violent?
99 The actual means by which David “inquired of the Lord” here is not indicated. From what we are told in verses 6 and following, I would infer that it was not by means of the ephod which Abiathar brought, but by some other means. God’s will was indicated by a variety of means, and the author does not feel it important to inform the reader here which means were employed.
20. A Friend Indeed (1 Samuel 23:15-29)
Of all the days of David before he became king over Israel, these must have been some of his darkest. It does not seem to read too much into the text to say that David’s spirits at this point in time are very low. David’s God-given courage and skill brings him great success, which in turn brings popularity. Saul’s joy and delight in David then turns to fear and suspicion, and eventually to attempted murder. David is now Israel’s most wanted man, guilty of nothing more than faithfully serving God and his king. David flees to Ahimelech, the high priest, who gives him some sacred bread, the sword of Goliath, and an inquiry of the Lord (21:1-9). This results in the wholesale slaughter of Ahimelech, the priests, and their families -- all due to Saul’s incorrect conclusion that Ahimelech and the priests have joined with David in a conspiracy (22:6-19).
From Ahimelech’s headquarters at Nob, David flees to Gath to seek sanctuary from the Philistine king, Achish. The king’s servants see David as a most dangerous threat. To save his life, David pretends to become insane so that he is driven out of Gath (21:10-15). From there, David finds a hiding place in the cave of Adullam where his family joins him, along with many of those who are not in good standing with Saul (22:1-2). David’s followers now number around 400 (22:2), and he leads them to Moab, seeking a sanctuary for his parents (22:3-4), while he and his men hide out in the stronghold nearby, but still in Moabite territory.
This is the point at which I am going to venture into a little speculation based upon the text. I must admit being troubled that David seeks sanctuary for his parents in Moab. I know that Ruth, the woman from whom David descended, is a Moabite, and this might give David a little bit of leverage with the king of Moab. But still, the Moabites are the enemies of Israel. Why does David leave his parents in Moab?
One possible explanation is found in Psalm 27, a Psalm of David, where we read of David’s trust in God at a time when evildoers are seeking his life. It may be the very period of time we are dealing with in our text in 1 Samuel 23. In verse 10 of this psalm we read,
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the Lord will take me up.
I take these words to be literal, so I must ask the question, “When did David’s father and mother forsake him?” It may be at this very point in David’s life.101 I wonder if David’s family were some of the last to recognize him as the king, like our Lord’s brothers and sisters who did not recognize Him as King of the Jews (see John 7:2-5). We know David’s older brother, Eliab, rebukes him for his actions on the front lines (1 Samuel 17:28). When his family comes to David at the cave of Adullam (22:1), it is most likely because they now understand the danger they are in as members of David’s family. If Saul does not spare the families of the priests, whom he suspects of conspiring with David, why would he spare David’s family?
I believe David’s family is virtually forced to go to David at the cave of Adullam, and that this is not really what they want. They may resent David and hold him responsible for their suffering. When it becomes apparent that staying with David means hiding out in the most remote, inaccessible places, his parents may reject him and demand that David find them a place of refuge which does not require staying with him. If such is the case, his parent’s rejection would be just one more blow to David’s spirit. It is one thing to be rejected by your enemies, like the Philistines, or even Saul. It is another to be rejected by your fellow-Israelites, or even closer, your fellow-Judahites. But to be rejected by your parents would be the final blow.
In addition, the arrival of Jonathan to the hideout of David falls in the very middle of chapter 23, a significant fact because of what lies at both ends of the chapter. The first part of chapter 23 is the account of David’s rescuing of the people of Keilah. David leaves the safety of the dense forest of Hereth to go down to the much more open country of Keilah. He chooses to come out of hiding from Saul to face the Philistines and perhaps Saul as well. In response to David’s selfless salvation of the city of Keilah, David learns that the people would have turned him over to Saul if he had come and besieged the city. In the final verses of chapter 23, we find that the Ziphites, with no threat from Saul, go to Saul and offer to betray David and help deliver him over to Saul.
At this point in his life, things must look mighty dark and foreboding to David. Here is a man with a price on his head who cannot be sure of anyone. At Nob, David has his doubts about Doeg, the Edomite; now he must doubt even his own kinsmen. His father and mother may have also distanced themselves from him. It seems there is no one to whom David can turn. There is Jonathan, of course, but he is some distance away and hardly able to be with David now. . . .
What a sight for sore eyes Jonathan must be, as he flings his arms around his beloved friend David there at David’s desolate hideout. Great men of God, like David, and Paul, and many others, including our Lord, experience times of discouragement, even depression. This appears to be one of those times for David. In His grace, God sends David a visitor, Jonathan, who greatly encourages him. In the midst of betrayal by the people of Keilah and those of Ziph, there is the loyal love and devotion of David’s closest friend, Jonathan. Not only does Jonathan have much encouragement to bring to David, he also has much to teach us about encouragement. Let us look to our text to learn of this most important aspect of ministry one to another.
15 Now David became aware that Saul had come out to seek his life while David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh.102
I believe verse 15 is intended to say much more than the bare fact that David learns Saul is after him. What is new about this news? Only that Saul has gotten close. But the expression “became aware that” is literally “saw.” David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. The word for “saw” is so similar to the word for fear that some have even suggested the author must have meant to say that David was afraid. I would not favor changing the text without support, but the sense is just about the same. The full weight of Saul’s pursuit and its implications seems to bear down on him. Perhaps weary in both body and spirit, David is greatly distressed to hear that, once again, Saul is nearby, fully intent on killing him. There is ample evidence to show that if given the chance, Saul will do so. I am reminded of several proverbs, which may convey some of what the text is implying to us:
15 In the light of a king's face is life, And his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain (16:15).
12 The king's wrath is like the roaring of a lion, But his favor is like dew on the grass (19:12).
2 The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; He who provokes him to anger forfeits his own life (20:2).
15 Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear Is a wicked ruler over a poor people (28:15).
Welcome Words from a Welcome Visitor
16 And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God. 17 Thus he said to him, “Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father shall not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you; and Saul my father knows that also.” 18 So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD; and David stayed at Horesh while Jonathan went to his house.
As I read these words, I am again reminded of some of the Proverbs:
11 Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances (Proverbs 25:11).
25 Like cold water to a weary soul, So is good news from a distant land (Proverbs 25:25).
Saul may be looking for David, but it is Jonathan who finds David. Jonathan could not have appeared at a more opportune time, nor could his words have been any better chosen. The purpose of Jonathan’s visit is to encourage David in God. Jonathan’s encouragement is summed up in verse 17, with the following elements:
(1) Jonathan tells David not to be afraid. With all of Saul’s resources, it seems virtually impossible for David to escape his grasp. Saul has publicly ordered David to be detained and brought to him, or at least to reveal his place of hiding. Saul has the power and determination to retaliate against anyone who seems in any way to support David. The death toll in the city of Nob is testimony to this. Saul will also reward anyone who is loyal to him and assists him in doing away with David. David’s fears are not without reason; nevertheless, Jonathan tells David not to be afraid.
(2) Jonathan assures David that in spite of his father’s efforts to find him, he will not succeed.
(3) Jonathan’s assurance regarding David’s safety seems based upon his confidence in God’s designation of David as the next king. If David is God’s choice for Israel’s next king, then no one, including King Saul, will be able to kill him and thwart God’s purposes and promises. Jonathan’s assurance is rooted in the sovereignty of the God whom he and David serve, whom Saul seeks to resist.
(4) Jonathan seeks to encourage David by assuring him of his submission and loyal service to him as Israel’s future king. Jonathan knows that God will somehow remove his father from the throne and install David as the next king. Jonathan not only joyfully accepts this fact, but has purposed to be David’s most loyal servant and supporter. Not only will David escape from Saul’s hand and ascend to the throne, he will find Jonathan sitting beside him as his helper.
(5) Finally, Jonathan’s loyalty is not a secret. Jonathan’s father Saul is fully aware of his son’s loyalty to David, even though he does not like it. Jonathan has not kept his association with David a secret. Surely this might encourage others in the kingdom to support David as well.
Jonathan is the Barnabas of the Old Testament. What great encouragers both these men are. In the Book of Acts, Barnabas starts out as the prominent leader, and Saul (the apostle Paul) is but a man whom Barnabas takes under his wing. As time passes, it becomes clear that God has chosen Paul to assume the dominant role. When this becomes evident, Barnabas joyfully accepts this fact and becomes Paul’s most loyal supporter.
The same spirit is seen in Jonathan. He is the king apparent, the descendant of Saul whom all expect to rule in his father’s place in time to come. Because of Saul’s sins, God rejects him as king and designates David as the next king. Jonathan realizes this and, like Barnabas in New Testament times, becomes David’s most loyal friend and supporter. When David is in danger and his spirit seems to wane, Jonathan makes his way to and through the wilderness to seek out his friend to encourage him. This he obviously does.
The outcome is yet another covenant between David and Jonathan. In fact, it is more likely a repetition of the same covenant they made earlier, perhaps with a few more details. The first covenant is in 18:1-4, where the words are not supplied, but the meaning is conveyed symbolically by Jonathan’s stripping off of his armor and giving it to David. In chapter 20, David asks for Jonathan’s help, based upon the covenant they have made (verse 8), and then Jonathan appeals to David that David spare his life and the lives of his descendants (verses 14-17).103 Again, in verses 41 and 42 of chapter 20, David and Jonathan renew their covenant, as one that will endure throughout their descendants. There seems to be little doubt as to what the nature of the covenant is in chapter 23.
Before moving on to the remainder of chapter 23, let us reflect on the nature of Jonathan’s ministry to David and how this illustrates the nature and practice of encouragement in every age, including our own.
First, encouragement comes at the right moment, and it picks the right words to say. Many are those who would have been one of Job’s friends at this moment in David’s life. They might have said, “What’s the matter with you David? Don’t you know it is a sin to be depressed? Read your Bible and pray.” The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say to us on this point.
Second, encouragement addresses fear and promotes courage. This has become a very important element of my definition of encouragement. Through the years, I have heard a lot of people speak of the gift of encouragement, or the gift of exhortation, as though it gives one the right to meddle in the lives of others by giving them advice. Most commonly, I fear, is the assumption that encouragement is closely akin to flattery. A number of the “encouragers” I have seen make it a practice to compliment people on a job well done. I am not opposed to giving a word of praise to those who have done a good job, though we must be careful to be honest and not to flatter.104 At its root, encouragement is helping to instill courage upon those who are afraid.
Consider this passage in Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians:
14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14, emphasis mine).
In our text, Jonathan encourages (literally, strengthened the hand of) David by telling him not to be afraid. Encouragement is the ability to sense fear or faintheartedness in others and to minister to them in a way that inspires courage.
Third, encouragement produces the courage to act. I have already said that encouragement addresses fear and instills courage. But the encouragement which Jonathan illustrates is more than this. True encouragement is not just ministering to people so they feel better. It is ministering to people so they have the courage to do the hard thing, the thing they are afraid to do. Encouragement “strengthens the hand” of the one encouraged. It is the “hand” which then works, performing the task God has given.105
Fourth, biblical encouragement gives discouraged men courage by turning their eyes toward God. Jonathan encourages David in the Lord. By all appearances David won’t live another week, let alone become Israel’s king. But God has anointed David by the hand of Samuel. It is God’s plan and purpose for David to reign over Israel, and if this is the case, God’s plans cannot be overturned. The only basis for courage is David’s faith in God, in His word, in His promises, in His power, and in His faithfulness to finish what He has begun. Jonathan turns David’s eyes Godward, from where courage comes. Throughout the Bible, the message is consistent: courage comes from God (Isaiah 35:4; 54:4; Jeremiah 30:10; Zechariah 9:9; John 12:15). Courage comes through the Holy Spirit (Micah 3:7-8; Haggai 2:3-5). Courage comes through our Lord (see Matthew 9:2, 22; 14:27; John 16:33; Acts 23:11).
Fifth, encouragement is more than mere words; it comes from people who exemplify courage, not just those who talk about it. It is hard to encourage another while your own knees are knocking. Courage is contagious, and so is fear. Saul is a man whose life is characterized by fear rather than faith. Is it any wonder that Saul’s army vaporizes when the “going gets tough”? Not at all! Saul’s fear permeates his army, and so his soldiers flee (see 1 Samuel 13:5-7; 17:11, 24, 32). Fearful men do not encourage others. It is men of courage who encourage others. If the writer of 2 Samuel tells us anything, it is that Jonathan, unlike his father, is a man of courage (see 1 Samuel 13:3; 14:1-14). It must take considerable courage for Jonathan to seek David out in the forest while his own father is nearby seeking to kill David.
When I find “encouragers” in the New Testament, I find men of courage. Barnabas is one of the great encouragers of the Book of Acts. We are introduced to Barnabas in Acts 4, where we are told by Luke that this man sells a tract of land and lays the proceeds at the apostles’ feet (4:36-37). I propose that Barnabas is not only a generous man, but a courageous man. Why do I not give more to others? If I am honest, it is because I am afraid, afraid that if I give to others, there won’t be enough left for me and my family. Is this not why Ananias and Sapphira lie about their gift, keeping back a portion of it for themselves for a “rainy day” perhaps (see Acts 5)?
It certainly is a brave thing for Barnabas to come to Paul’s aid in Acts 9. Here is this man, Saul, who arrests Christians and even has some put to death. Now he arrives in Jerusalem, claiming to have been converted to Christianity. Can you blame Christians for doubting his story and avoiding contact with him? But Barnabas is a man of faith and courage. He believes that God can save a man like Saul (most saints would agree with this), and he goes so far as to believe that God has saved Saul (this is where most of us would get off). Barnabas puts his life on the line (acting in courage), and thus he not only greatly encourages Saul (Paul), but greatly encourages the church to have courage and embrace this former enemy as a new creation in Christ. It takes courage to encourage.
I have long considered Barnabas a great encourager, but I am now forced to recognize how great an encourager Paul becomes (in part, thanks to Barnabas). Paul’s encouragement grows out of his own courage. In Philippians 1:14, Paul writes the Philippians that many “have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” because of his own steadfastness in suffering for the sake of the gospel (see 1:12-13). Notice in the midst of an incredible storm at sea how Paul’s courage has a positive impact even on those who are not saved:
21 And when they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete, and incurred this damage and loss. 22 “And yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 “For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' 25 “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 26 “But we must run aground on a certain island”. . . . 33 And until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. 34 “Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish.” 35 And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. 36 And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food. 37 And all of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons (Acts 27:21-26, 33-37).
It all comes down to this: those who encourage others do so first by being people of courage, and then instilling courage in others by pointing them to God, from whom holy courage comes. Jonathan is such a man, as were our Lord, Barnabas, and Paul. These men are models whom we should imitate.
19 Then Ziphites came up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is David not hiding with us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? 20 “Now then, O king, come down according to all the desire of your soul to do so; and our part shall be to surrender him into the king's hand.” 21 And Saul said, “May you be blessed of the LORD; for you have had compassion on me. 22 “Go now, make more sure, and investigate and see his place where his haunt is, and who has seen him there; for I am told that he is very cunning. 23 “So look, and learn about all the hiding places where he hides himself, and return to me with certainty, and I will go with you; and it shall come about if he is in the land that I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” 24 Then they arose and went to Ziph before Saul. Now David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the Arabah to the south of Jeshimon. 25 When Saul and his men went to seek him, they told David, and he came down to the rock and stayed in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard it, he pursued David in the wilderness of Maon. 26 And Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain; and David was hurrying to get away from Saul, for Saul and his men were surrounding David and his men to seize them. 27 But a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid on the land.” 28 So Saul returned from pursuing David, and went to meet the Philistines; therefore they called that place the Rock of Escape. 29 And David went up from there and stayed in the strongholds of Engedi.
Jonathan goes home while David remains in the strongholds of Horesh (verses 18-19). David’s circumstances have not changed, but we have good reason to assume his outlook changed significantly. The people of that area were known as the Ziphites, the people of Ziph (verse 19ff.). They are people of the tribe of Judah, like David. In spite of this, they go to Saul at Gibeah, offering him the location of David so he can be captured. They are eager to win Saul’s favor and likely just as eager to avoid his wrath. Thus they are willing to hand David over to him.
Saul’s language in verse 21 is tragic. It sounds so pious, yet his holy words are only a veil to cover the wickedness of his intended actions. “May you be blessed of the Lord. . . .” What could sound more spiritual than this? This use of God’s name is “vain,” common, profane. This is what God forbids – using His name in vain, in a common and degrading way (Deuteronomy 5:11). Saul dares not bless in the name of the Lord those who are acting in rebellion against him, and assisting Saul in his rebellion against God. It is not spiritual to bless those who would curse God’s anointed. It is not spiritual to betray one’s own kinsman. How ironic that the Ziphites would show compassion toward Saul, when Saul’s son, Jonathan, shows compassion toward David.
Saul is beginning to wise up. He does not immediately summon his troops to make another attempt to arrest David. After all, it seems as though he has just gotten back from his last abortive effort. This time he intends to be more cautious, because it wouldn’t look good to come back empty-handed. He tells the Ziphites to carefully watch David’s movements, to note his hiding places and routes of travel, and then notify him when they know precisely where he is located. Then Saul feels sure that he will capture his foe.
Verse 22 is noteworthy. Saul tells the Ziphites that he is told David is cunning. Why does he not say he has personally found him to be this way? It may be because much of Saul’s intelligence concerning David comes second hand by those whom Saul should not really trust, men like Doeg the Edomite. We will make more of this when we come to verse 9 of chapter 24. Second-hand information is virtual hearsay and should not be taken as though it were the essence of the truth.
The Ziphites return to their land, ready and willing to carry out Saul’s orders. In the meantime, David has moved on a few miles to the wilderness (or desert) of Maon (verse 25).106 Saul and his men appear once again in hot pursuit. What a place for a helicopter view of the chase! David is hurrying to get away from Saul and his men as he makes his way around the mountain. Behind, in pursuit, are Saul and his men. They continue to gain ground, or perhaps they are coming after David in the opposite direction so that they are just about to meet face to face. Perhaps Saul has troops pursuing David and his men from both directions. In one way or another, David and his men are in the process of being surrounded. It is only a matter of time before they are going to fall into Saul’s grasp. We can see Saul’s men getting closer and closer. We can also see that all means of escape are being sealed off. There is no way out. They are finished.
Suddenly, when Saul’s men are almost close enough to touch, a shout is heard. A messenger is calling out to Saul, informing him that Israel has come under attack by the Philistines. It must not be at Keilah, for Saul doesn’t seem to care about this city’s problems with the Philistines. Could it be much closer to Gibeah, Saul’s home? The situation is viewed as being so serious that Saul breaks off his pursuit, just seconds away from success. He orders his men to turn around and go back down the mountain to assemble to march out to confront the Philistine army.
The suspense is so intense, so thick, one could almost cut it with a knife. David and his men look like goners, but God spares them. The irony is that while Saul is David’s enemy, the Philistines are unwittingly his allies. Their attack is God’s means of delivering His anointed king, David, from the grasp of King Saul.
Who would ever believe it? Who would imagine that Saul could get so close to killing David, and then turn back at the last possible moment? Who would have believed a hostile attack against Israel would be God’s means for preserving the life of her next king? Those who know God believe it. In fact, we should almost expect it. God’s resources are so infinite, He is not forced to deliver His chosen ones in the same boring fashion, endlessly repeating one miracle over and over. God often saves when all human hope is gone, and then in ways we would never have predicted or expected. He does so because He is God, because His resources are unlimited, and because His way of doing things is beyond our wildest imaginations.
Not only does God deliver David in a most unusual way, He also encourages him in a unique way. God encourages David by an unexpected visit in a remote, hard-to-find spot. This is not on Jonathan’s way to somewhere else. It is a place where David intends not to be found, and yet he is. And the one whom God chooses to encourage David, hotly pursued by King Saul, is none other than the king’s son, Jonathan.
We must close this lesson with the words of Scripture which say it better than we ever could:
6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:6-11).
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
102 Scholars do not actually know the location of a place called “Horesh,” though there could have been such a place. The Hebrew word rendered “Horesh” in the NASB is a word meaning “forest,” and thus the NKJV renders it “forest”: “So David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. And David was in the Wilderness of Ziph in a forest.”
103 This could be at the time David is seeking to protect himself from Saul, or after David becomes king. It was often the practice of newly installed kings to kill off all others who feel they have a claim to the throne.
104 All too often, people try to “encourage” someone who has done a bad job by telling them they did well. If someone attempts to sing a solo and they can’t even get on key, it is no favor to the would-be singer or the audience to falsely compliment them on their efforts. Some of the biggest lies I have heard have been prompted by an embarrassing failure.
21. A Time to Kill, or Not (1 Samuel 24:1-22)
This incident in the cave could easily be a rerun of the execution of Eglon, King of Moab, as described in Judges 3:12-31. The Moabites are oppressing the Israelites, and God hears the cries of His people. He raises up Ehud as one of Israel’s judges. Ehud, a left-handed Benjamite, goes to Eglon to deliver the “tribute” monies the Israelites are paying to Moab. He wears his custom-made sword on his right thigh, under his cloak. It seems that before Ehud is allowed to enter Eglon’s presence, he is searched, but only on his left side where all right-handed men keep their weapons. When in the king’s private quarters with no one else present, Ehud arrives. He finds the king in his cool roof chamber, where the king's toilet is placed. Ehud slays Eglon and flees, but not out the normal entrance. Instead, he closes the doors to the king’s private chamber and locks them, escaping unseen. The king’s servants grow more and more nervous as time passes and he does not come out of his private chamber -- but no one wants to interrupt him. When they finally unlock the doors, they find their king dead.
The same thing could have happened in the cave where David and his men are hiding, and where Saul decides to relieve himself privately. David could easily have killed Saul at this vulnerable moment, or at least allowed one of his men to do so. Instead, David spares the king’s life, allowing him to leave the cave unharmed, without even knowing that David is near. What David does next is even more surprising, as we shall soon see. Saul’s response to all of this is likewise amazing.
It is a great story we are about to study. The sense of drama is intense. In this account, we find danger, suspense, and surprises. But it is not just a good, well-written, entertaining story. It is a story that has great application to every Christian today. How can this be? David is a man who has been appointed and anointed to be Israel’s next king. The events we are presently studying take place in that intervening period of time between David’s designation as Israel’s next king and his appointment as king.
We who trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal salvation are “kings and priests” to be.
12a If we endure, we shall also reign with Him . . . (2 Timothy 2:12a).
10 “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Revelation 5:10).
6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6).
5 And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:5).
This matter of waiting to reign is very important. A number of errors found in Christian circles today (and throughout church history) have to do with the relationship of our present-day living to the future reign of Christ, with his saints. Some err in supposing we can actually “reign” now, enjoying all the future benefits today. Our text, like the rest of the Old and New Testament, is based upon the fact that while we are going to reign in the future, God is presently preparing us through rejection and suffering. Just as God dealt with David in this area, He is also dealing with us in the same area today. Let us listen well then, because this is not mere history we are reading. This text is God’s instruction to us, through the example of saints like David, and even sorry people like Saul.
David Refuses to Cave-in to Peer Pressure
1 Now it came about when Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, saying, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” 2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. 3 And he came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the inner recesses of the cave. 4 And the men of David said to him, “Behold, this is the day of which the LORD said to you, 'Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.'“ Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul's robe secretly. 5 And it came about afterward that David's conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul's robe. 6 So he said to his men, “Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD'S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD'S anointed.” 7 And David persuaded his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. And Saul arose, left the cave, and went on his way.
In chapter 23, Saul seems to have David within his grasp. He is closing in on David when a messenger informs him that Israel is under attack, forcing Saul to give up his pursuit of David to engage the Philistines. We do not know how Saul fares in his confrontation with the Philistines, but we do know he returns in one piece, just as zealous to capture David. Someone has informed Saul that David is now in the wilderness of Engedi.108
Saul expects to encounter David in front of the “Rocks of the Wild Goats” (24:2)109 and sets out in that direction. I imagine Saul has learned as much about this general area as possible and concluded that this remote spot in the mountains of Judea would likely be David’s hideout if he knew Saul was in pursuit. It would seem David does just the opposite. Instead of fleeing from the wilderness Engedi to the “Rocks of the Wild Goats,” David heads in the opposite direction, right toward Saul. The paths of the two men cross at some sheep pens, where there is also a cave. Saul feels the urge of nature and begins to look about for a place where he can privately relieve himself.
Think of yourself as one of David’s men, peering out from that cave, watching Saul and his army draw near, and then stop. I can almost feel the tension as Saul’s eyes turn toward the cave. David’s men crouch low at the back of the cave and silently moan as they see Saul approach them. Little do they know what Saul has in mind. It must look as though they are finished. Saul approaches the cave as David and his men grasp their weapons, ready to defend themselves. What follows need not be described, except to say that it was a relief to both Saul and David’s men.
David’s men are more at ease now, and they begin to ponder the meaning of this moment. It looks to them as though God has given them the opportunity to kill Saul. A prophecy is recited to David, which says,
4 “Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you” (verse 4).
In the light of David’s response, one must come to one of several choices. First, one might say this is a false prophecy, which should be rejected (see 1 Kings 22). Second, this may be a prophecy related to someone (some enemy) other than Saul, and wrongly applied to Saul by David’s men. Third, this prophecy may be genuine and related to Saul, but wrongly interpreted and applied by David’s men. I am inclined toward the third option.
David stealthily makes his way toward king Saul, who is oblivious to all that is happening behind him. His robe has apparently been removed and placed out of the way, far enough away that David can reach out and cut off a portion of the edge. Immediately, David’s conscience smites him. There are those who believe this is because such an act was highly significant, somehow challenging or undermining Saul’s right to rule.110 I do not think so. It seems to me that David’s intent is only to obtain proof that he had been able to come within striking distance of Saul, and yet did him no harm. In and of itself, this would not have troubled David, but the fact is that David damages Saul’s garment. In today’s terms, David might have slashed the tires on Saul’s car. It is something like vandalism.
David’s act should not be judged by the amount of damage done, but rather in terms of against whom it is done. A seemingly trivial action would be taken very seriously if it were done to the President of the United States. David’s action was committed against his king. It matters not that the action is a small one, certainly trivial when compared to the assassination his men want. He has raised his hand against his king, and in so doing, he has raised his hand against his God. It is God who has raised up Saul, and it is God who will remove him, in some way that does not include David acting with hostility toward him:
10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish” (1 Samuel 26:10).
However Saul is removed, it is God who will remove him, not David. Until God does remove Saul as king, it is David’s duty to faithfully serve his king, and cutting off a portion of his robe was not done to further Saul’s interests. For this reason, David’s conscience troubles him.111
David is conscience-stricken over his taking a portion of Saul’s robe. His men, on the other hand, are plotting much worse things for Saul. David’s success with garment cutting inspires his men to solve the Saul problem once for all. Saul is vulnerable at this moment. His men are out of sight (Saul surely wants to conduct his business in private), and so they can simply do him in.112 This is something they seem intent on doing, and only the most forceful reaction on David’s part turns them from their intended course of action. The translation of verse 7 in most versions is amazingly bland (“persuaded,” NASB), compared to the word the author employs (the marginal note in the NASB indicates that a literal translation would be tore apart).113 114 At the mention of killing the king, David literally tears into his men, fiercely defending the life of the king and demanding that, just as he would not lift his hand against the king, neither will they. While David’s men look at David in wonder, Saul finishes his task, gathers up his (now altered) robe, and goes out of the cave.
David and Goliath #2115
8 Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself. 9 And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men, saying, 'Behold, David seeks to harm you'? 10 “Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, 'I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD'S anointed.' 11 “Now, my father, see! Indeed, see the edge of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the edge of your robe and did not kill you, know and perceive that there is no evil or rebellion in my hands, and I have not sinned against you, though you are lying in wait for my life to take it. 12 “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. 13 “As the proverb of the ancients says, 'Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness'; but my hand shall not be against you. 14 “After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea? 15 “The LORD therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause, and deliver me from your hand.”
To kill Saul is to resist the Lord’s anointed, and such an act cannot be godly. Thus, David’s men’s use of the divine revelation is a wrong, and so David adamantly resists and refuses. David is to do to Saul “what seems good” to him. What seems good to David is to submit to his king and to faithfully serve him, seeking his best interest. This certainly means that David must not oppose Saul or act in any way that will be detrimental to him. Submission to his king means much more than this to David. It means acting in a way that promotes Saul’s best. David’s interpretation of what “is good” in reference to Saul surprises Saul for certain, and undoubtedly everyone else who witnesses the next event.
David and his men are safely hidden in the cave. All they need do is keep quiet and let Saul and his men leave. They can then make their escape in the opposite direction. Abandoning all efforts at self-protection or evasion, David emerges from the cave, calling out to Saul. He addresses Saul as his “lord the king” (verse 8), and a little later as his “father” (verse 11). David prostrates himself on the ground, showing his reverence for and submission to Saul as the king (verse 8). He appeals to the king to set aside the things others have told him, to listen to his words, to compare them with his actions, and then to judge his guilt or innocence for himself.
David challenges the charge that he is seeking Saul’s defeat or death. He is not striving to gain the throne by removing Saul from it. Showing Saul the portion of his robe he cut off, David urges Saul to acknowledge that while he could have killed his king, he did not. Saul is God’s anointed. To harm the king is to act in rebellion against God, who enthroned him. When Saul’s life was in David’s hands, David protected him, keeping his men from killing him. And now, David puts his life into Saul’s hands, and ultimately into God’s hands, for it is to God that David has made his ultimate appeal. It is to Him that he looks for justice. Because of this, he need not act against Saul himself.
David reminds the king that men can be known by their fruits. In the words of the ancient proverb, David quotes, “Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness” (verse 13). David has done nothing wicked toward Saul, and he assures Saul his hand will not be against him in the future (verse 13). He also reminds the king that his fears about David are exaggerated. David likens himself to a dead dog and to a single flea (verse 14). How can such a great man as Saul, with all his military might, can have such fears about David?
David closes his argument by telling Saul that he has committed himself into God’s care. He has left judgment and retribution to God. He looks to God for justice and for protection from Saul’s attacks (verse 15). With this, David rests his case. It is now time for Saul to respond, and that he does.
Saul’s “Repentance” and Request
16 Now it came about when David had finished speaking these words to Saul, that Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” Then Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 And he said to David, “You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you. 18 “And you have declared today that you have done good to me, that the LORD delivered me into your hand and yet you did not kill me. 19 “For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safely? May the LORD therefore reward you with good in return for what you have done to me this day. 20 “And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 21 “So now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name from my father's household.” 22 And David swore to Saul. And Saul went to his home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
Saul is shocked to hear his name called out from behind. He can hardly believe his ears, that it is actually David calling to him. Saul lifts up his voice, weeping, calling David his “son.” How much easier this is after David has called him his “father” in verse 11, and after David bows down to him as a faithful servant to the king. It is obvious that David has Saul’s life in his hands, and he spares it. How unlike himself David is! Saul confesses that David is righteous, but he is not. He has done wickedly toward David, and yet David has done “good” toward him in response. David would not have let him go if he were his enemy, and thus he must be his friend. And so Saul invokes God’s blessings upon David.
Verse 20 is an amazing confession from Saul. For the first time recorded in Scripture, Saul owns up to the truth. He has been told by Samuel that his kingdom will not endure (13:14), that he has been rejected by God as Israel’s king (15:26). In chapter 18 (verses 8-9), Saul indicates that David is so popular, the only thing left is for him to possess the kingdom. In 20:31, Saul tells Jonathan that he will never inherit the throne so long as David is alive. Elsewhere, Saul deals with David as a traitor, plotting to do him in and take over the kingdom (see 22:6-13). But here, for the very first time, Saul acknowledges that God is taking his kingdom away from him and giving it to David. He admits that David’s ascent to the throne is a certainty.
Because of this, Saul petitions David to swear that he will not kill off his descendants (24:21). Saul’s concerns are not entirely groundless. It was common practice for men who ascended to the throne to wipe out every possible heir to the throne, especially the descendants of the king he overthrew or replaced (see 2 Kings 10:11, 15-17; 11:1). The irony of Saul’s request is that this matter was already taken care of in the covenant between David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:14-17, 41-42). Nevertheless, David swears to Saul that he will not destroy all of his descendants.116
The two men part.117 David goes up to the stronghold, while Saul goes back to his home (24:22). David is probably hopeful that his troubles with Saul have ended, but he is no fool. Saul has “repented” before (see 19:1-7), but it did not last long. David will see what Saul’s long-term response is by watching from a distance. The other side of this coin may be that David is actually serving Saul in a backhanded fashion. Are the people turning to David and looking down upon Saul? Then David will keep his distance, staying out of the public eye so that Saul’s popularity may not be undermined.
This is truly an amazing story. Who would ever have thought that “nature’s call” would result in the peaceful parting of David and Saul on such an occasion? God is sovereign. He is in absolute control of all things, and “all things” includes things as basic as the “call of nature.” By means of this very natural (our children would say “gross” or something of the sort) event, some very supernatural things happened. First, David and Saul met and parted, yet without the shedding of any blood. Saul confessed things we would never have expected from him. David not only repented of his act of cutting off a portion of Saul’s robe, he kept his men from killing Saul. And all of this is the result of Saul looking for a pit stop, and finding it in the very cave where David and his men “just happened” to be hiding. God is able to employ “nature” to achieve His purposes. What a marvelous God we serve!
In his book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders speaks of three principles which govern spiritual leadership:
I believe this dear brother is absolutely right, and that these three principles can be seen in the life of David as God prepares him for spiritual leadership. Let us consider each of the three.
The first factor in spiritual leadership is the sovereignty of God. I attended a meeting in which Sanders told of how God called him to leadership. He was engaged in a very different kind of ministry, as he had been most of his life, when he was contacted about becoming the head of a large missionary organization. It took Sanders (and his wife) a year to recognize the persistence of this organization as an evidence of His sovereign call to leadership. It is God who sovereignly raises up spiritual leaders (see the way God raises up Saul/Paul in Acts).
The sovereignty of God is one of the principle factors in David’s thinking about leadership as well. God sovereignly raised up Saul as Israel’s king. Though Samuel anoints David as Israel’s next king, David believes it is God who will remove Saul and that this is not his task. So long as God keeps Saul in power, to lift his hand against Saul is to lift his hand against God. Circumstances may have been favorable for David or one of his men to kill Saul, but David’s belief in the sovereignty of God keeps him from doing so.
Satan rebelled against the sovereign rule of God. He was not willing to serve God, but wanted to lead, like God. Sin is rebellion against God, against his sovereignty. It is seeking to rise above God. David submits to the sovereignty of God. And he does so by leaving vengeance to God. John Murray’s comments on Romans 12:19 are most pertinent:
“Here we have what belongs to the essence of piety. The essence of ungodliness is that we presume to take the place of God, to take everything into our own hands. It is faith to commit ourselves to God, to cast all our care upon him and to vest all our interests in him. In reference to the matter in hand, the wrongdoing of which we are the victims, the way of faith is to recognize that God is judge and to leave the execution of vengeance and retribution to him.”118
The second factor in spiritual leadership is suffering. Oswald Sanders spoke of one of his first sermons (some 65 years earlier!). He said that after his message, he could not help but overhear two women discussing his sermon. One woman asked the other, “Well, what did you think?” The second woman responded, “Not bad, but he’ll be much better when he has suffered.” Sanders then went on to describe how God brought him through suffering by the death of two wives and one niece. When I hear many contemporary Christian musicians, I feel like that woman who heard Sanders’ first sermon. I believe they will be better after they have tasted suffering. They often write and sing their music as very young and inexperienced people. Most have not tasted the cup of suffering and sorrow. Suffering has a way of changing you and your message.
From the time David is anointed king to the time he is appointed king, David endures a great deal of suffering. Most of his suffering comes from the hand of Saul. David’s ascent to the throne is not in spite of his suffering, but by means of it. Suffering is the means by which God prepares David for leadership. And this is no exception. Joseph’s suffering at the hand of his brothers prepared Joseph to lead and prepared a way of deliverance for his family. Israel’s suffering in Egypt prepared the people of God for the exodus and their life as free men and women. Our Lord’s suffering prepared Him for the ministry which He will have as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our suffering accomplishes exactly the same thing.
David’s men are tempting him to shortcut his sufferings and to hasten his rule as king by killing Saul. Their temptation is little different from the temptation of our Lord by Satan in the wilderness at the beginning of his public ministry (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). We too are tempted to avoid suffering and to get right into the glory, but suffering is God’s appointed means of bringing us to glory. David is willing to suffer in order to obey God, even though it seems to be inconsistent with his future reign.
The final factor Sanders describes in relation to spiritual leadership is servanthood. Servanthood and submission are very closely related in my mind. Both are very much involved in God’s preparation of David for kingship. A servant is one who faithfully serves another. David is Saul’s faithful servant, even when Saul is seeking to take his life. Submission is subordinating your own personal interests to serve another.
David serves his master, Saul, faithfully. His conscience troubles him when he cuts off a portion of Saul’s robe. This is not serving Saul faithfully. He refuses to consider killing Saul, or to let his men do so. This is not serving Saul. Suffering is the price David is willing to pay to serve Saul faithfully. Saul is, in a sense, David’s enemy, and God has put his life in David’s hands. But David believes that in order to do what is good in his sight, he will have to serve Saul, not slay him. And in order to serve Saul, he will have to endanger his own life. So David lets Saul go and then reveals himself to Saul outside the cave. David goes so far as to submissively rebuke Saul, pointing out that he is not his enemy, and that he has done only good toward him. David never ceases to serve Saul in submission, as long as he is alive and as long as he is God’s king. David does “good” toward Saul, as Saul himself confesses, and this David does by suffering at Saul’s hand, by serving Saul, and by submitting himself to Saul, looking ultimately to the sovereign God for justice and retribution.
These guiding principles of sovereignty, suffering, and servanthood enable David to discern the will of God in his circumstances. David’s men (1 Samuel 24:4), much like Saul (1 Samuel 23:7), discern God’s will on the basis of favorable circumstances: God gives them the opportunity to kill Saul, and thus it must be God’s will for them to do so. David discerns God’s will on principle. He chooses to fight Goliath, not because it looks as though he is sure to win (though he does have this certainty, no one else does), but because this man is blaspheming God. David is not willing to take advantage of his circumstances because he is thinking like a spiritual leader, thinking in terms of the sovereignty of God, suffering as a part of God’s will and servanthood.
I see much less of David’s discernment of God’s will today than I do of Saul’s or of David’s men. I hear many Christians think and teach that suffering is not God’s will, and that true faith will be rewarded by immediate blessing and the absence of pain. I find that many discern God’s will by looking only at favorable circumstances, rather than living by faith in God’s word, and not by sight. I see many Christians getting their guidance from other misguided Christians, rather than standing alone on biblical principle. Let us be like David in this regard, and not like his men who only want to end the pain by killing God’s anointed. Such self-serving is precisely what we see in the scribes and Pharisees (along with the masses, including the Romans), when they rejected Christ and crucified him, releasing Barabbas instead.
I see in David’s life, as described in 1 Samuel, an example and illustration of many biblical texts on the subjects of suffering, servanthood, and submission. Though we cannot consider them now, let me simply list some texts for your further consideration: Psalm 7; Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:17, 19; 1 Peter 2:11-22; 4:12-19. Let us all seek to be men and women, like David, who have a heart after God’s own heart, to His glory and for our good.
108 A report came to Saul that David was in the wilderness of Engedi, “an oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea, favored with a perennial spring located several hundred feet up a large cliff.” Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart: Expositions of the Book of 1 Samuel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), vol. 2, p. 103.
109 From what I read, no one really knows the location of this place, but from Psalm 104:18, we can infer that it was a very high, remote spot, where wild goats would thrive, and where soldiers would not fare well in their pursuit of David.
112 I am not quite certain how they think they will get away with this. They are still trapped inside the cave, or so it seems. Do David’s men think that once their king is dead, Saul’s men will simply scatter?
113 This term is employed in Judges 14:6: “And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a kid though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done (emphasis mine).”
114 “One would never know it from our Bible versions, most of which allege in verse 7 that David ‘persuaded,’ ‘rebuked,’ or ‘restrained’ his men with words. But the Hebrew text reads, ‘So David tore apart his men with the words,’ suggesting that David had to resort to violent and threatening language to cool their blood. Many commentators (and seemingly some ancient versions) think the word is too strong, but I do not see why. It is the writer’s very point: David had to ‘tear them up’ or ‘cut them down’ with his words in order to prevent the spilling of Saul’s blood.” Dale Ralph Davis, vol. 2, pp. 105-106.
116 I understand that David is here covenanting with Saul not to kill off all of his descendants, thus keeping Saul’s family (and thus his name) from being carried on after his death. I do not understand David to be promising that he will not kill any of his descendants. Thus, when we come to 2 Samuel 21, David will execute seven of Saul’s descendants to rectify Saul’s slaughter of the Gibeonites. David executes two sons of Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines, and five sons of Merab, Saul’s daughter, who almost became David’s wife. He does not execute any of Saul’s sons nor any of Jonathan’s children. Thus he keeps his oath to Saul and his covenant with Jonathan.
117 The parting of David and Saul in 24:22 is somewhat parallel to the parting of David and Jonathan in 23:18. I am not really certain what the relationship between these two partings is, but it does seem that they are related somehow.
118 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 2 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965], 2:141-142. As cited by Dale Ralph Davis, vol. 2, p. 108, fn. 10.
22. Dear Abby (1 Samuel 25:1-44)
Not that often, but every once in a while I feel like I have done something right. The worst part is that it seems all too soon thereafter I do something stupid and sinful. The only consolation (not excuse, mind you) I find is that I have a lot of company in my spiritual state. I think first of Peter (who doesn’t?), the first disciple to blurt out the right answer to our Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20). For this our Lord commended Peter, and yet within a few moments, our Lord rebuked Peter with these words, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (verse 23) for attempting to talk Him out of dying on the cross of Calvary. Later on, Peter assures his Lord that even though all the other apostles deny Him, he will be faithful (Luke 22:31-34). Only a few verses and a few hours later Peter denies his Lord, not once, but three times (Luke 22:54-62).
In the Old Testament, we see the same fickle faith and obedience, even in a man as highly esteemed (today) as David. Chapter 24 of 1 Samuel is certainly one of the high water marks of David’s faith. King Saul stops at a cave to use it as a restroom, and unknowingly puts his life in the hands of David and his men hiding at the back of the cave. David refuses to raise a hand against the king and forbids his men to harm him. He even regrets his act of cutting off a portion of Saul’s robe. Finally, he puts himself at great risk by revealing himself to the king to show the king that he is a faithful servant, and not a criminal waiting for the right moment to take the king’s life.
One chapter later, David loses his temper because he is insulted by a foolish man. David is ready not only to kill this rich fool, but every male in his household. It is a wise woman who, at her own risk, acts in a way that spares her husband’s life and keeps David from acting foolishly. I believe the author of 1 Samuel wants us to look upon Abigail, Nabal’s wife, as not only a beautiful and wise woman, but an example of godly submission. Since her submission takes an unusual form, we must pay close attention to the text we are about to study.
David Suffers a Great Loss
1 Then Samuel died; and all Israel gathered together and mourned for him, and buried him at his house in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the wilderness of Paran.119
Samuel has been one of the central personalities in the Book of 1 Samuel, which is named after him. He was the one who designated and anointed Saul and Israel’s first king (chapters 9 and 10). He was also the prophet who informed Saul that his kingship was going to be taken away (chapters 13 and 15). Samuel was the prophet who anointed David as Saul’s replacement (chapter 16). Samuel was a man to whom David could flee when he was being pursued by Saul (19:18-24). And now, Samuel is dead. What a great loss David must sense. Samuel is dead, he has met with his beloved friend Jonathan for the last time (chapter 23), and his wife Michal, who is also Saul’s daughter, has been given to another man for his wife (25:44). On top of all this, David’s parents have been placed in the care of the king of Moab (22:3). True, David does have 600 men with him, but not a one of them seem to share David’s convictions concerning his submission to King Saul. How lonely David must be.
David, along with many other Israelites, goes to Samuel’s home at Ramah where he mourns for this great man of God. After this time of mourning, David once again goes into hiding in the wilderness of Paran. This is the wilderness where Hagar and her son Ishmael lived after being sent away by Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21:21). It is also the place where the Israelites camped after leaving Mt. Sinai, and from which the 12 spies were sent to spy out the land of Canaan (Numbers 10:12; 13:3). Now, it is the place of David’s hiding.
Sheering Time is Sharing Time
2 Now there was a man in Maon whose business was in Carmel; and the man was very rich, and he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. And it came about while he was shearing his sheep in Carmel 3 (now the man's name was Nabal, and his wife's name was Abigail. And the woman was intelligent and beautiful in appearance, but the man was harsh and evil in his dealings, and he was a Calebite), 4 that David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep. 5 So David sent ten young men, and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, visit Nabal and greet him in my name; 6 and thus you shall say, 'Have a long life, peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 7 'And now I have heard that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us and we have not insulted them, nor have they missed anything all the days they were in Carmel. 8 'Ask your young men and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we have come on a festive day. Please give whatever you find at hand to your servants and to your son David.' “
We are introduced here to two very important characters in our story, a man named Nabal, and his wife, Abigail. Nabal is a very wealthy man (by ancient standards). His home is in Maon, and his livestock are kept in Carmel, a very few miles away. It is here, near Carmel, that David and his men have been hiding for some time. The name Nabal means fool, and so he is. We are told that he is harsh and evil in his doings (verse 3). His wife is a refreshing contrast. Abigail is a wonderful blend of good looks and good thinking.
David learns that Nabal is sheering his sheep. When the sheering is done, there is a time of celebration for all the workers, and for anyone else nearby who is not so fortunate. During this festive time, Judah goes up to Timnah, and there manages to get his daughter-in-law Tamar pregnant (Genesis 38:12-26). At this time of celebration, Absalom persuades David to let his sons come to his home to celebrate, thus enabling Absalom to have his revenge against Amnon by killing him (2 Samuel 13:23-29). We know that at such times the Law of Moses instructed the Israelites to be generous with those who were not so fortunate (see Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:10-13; Nehemiah 8:10-12). For David to ask Nabal for a gift is not unusual at all. And since David’s men had contributed to Nabal’s well-being and wealth, David’s request is even more reasonable.
David sends ten of his young men to Nabal, who greet Nabal in David’s name and pronounce a blessing upon him and his household. They call Nabal’s attention to the fact that it is sheering time, reminding him that their presence has not been detrimental to him, but they have performed for Nabal a very beneficial service. David’s men have not harmed any of Nabal’s servants. Indeed, David and his men have protected Nabal’s flocks and shepherds. Nabal is encouraged to ask his servants to verify the truth of these words. And so it is that they very politely ask Nabal for a gift, waiting patiently and expectantly for his response.
Nabal Returns Evil for Good
9 When David's young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in David's name; then they waited. 10 But Nabal answered David's servants, and said, “Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are each breaking away from his master. 11 “Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men whose origin I do not know?” 12 So David's young men retraced their way and went back; and they came and told him according to all these words. 13 And David said to his men, “Each of you gird on his sword.” So each man girded on his sword. And David also girded on his sword, and about four hundred men went up behind David while two hundred stayed with the baggage.
There David’s ten men stand before Nabal waiting for a response, and more specifically, for a gift. Nabal has several options. (1) He can send these men back with a word of thanks and a generous gift. (2) Nabal can send David’s servants back with a less than generous gift, barely living up to his obligation. (3) Nabal can send the ten men back to David with an apology (or a word of thanks), but no gift at all. (4) He can send David’s servants back to him without any gift, and insult them at the same time he declines to give. To his great loss, Nabal chooses the last option.
At first glance, it seems from Nabal’s words that he does not even know who David is. If this were true, Nabal would simply be refusing to give a gift to a stranger. But Nabal does know who David is. From his own words, he informs us that David is “the son of Jesse.” He knows from this that David is one of the descendants of Judah, just as he is. Nabal is a “Calebite” (verse 3), and we know Caleb is the representative of the tribe of Judah sent into Canaan to spy out the land (Numbers 13:6). In other words, David is a distant relative of Nabal, and yet Nabal is unmoved by his request for a gift at this time of celebration.
Nabal knows much more than this, however. Not only does he know that David is a “son of Jesse,” he is also well aware of the tension between Saul and David. Nabal speaks of David as a “servant of Saul,” who is “breaking away from his master.” Abigail, Nabal’s wife, knows that David is the one designated to reign in Saul’s place (verses 30-31). Nabal speaks only of David as a servant who has fled from his master, as though he were a mere runaway slave. I do not think Nabal refuses David’s request out of fear of reprisal from Saul, knowing what happened to Ahimelech and the priests when the high priest gave David some of the sacred bread to eat, along with Goliath’s sword. His message to David is not one of fear of reprisal, but one of pure selfishness and meanness. He will not share with David and his men anything that is his (note the repeated “my” in verse 11).
The final words of refusal Nabal speaks are noteworthy. He says to David’s messengers, “Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men whose origin I do not know?” (verse 11, emphasis mine). If I understand Nabal’s words accurately, he is here revealing his own arrogance and snobbery. Nabal is a “Calebite.” He comes from an outstanding family. David and his men, on the other hand, seem to come from obscure or unknown roots. Why should a man of Nabal’s standing give anything to such riffraff? The irony of this is that David and Nabal come from the same root, Judah. And if Nabal thinks he can boast that Caleb is a part of his family tree, he should wake up and realize that he is nothing like his forefather, Caleb, yet David is just this kind of hero.
David’s men return to him empty-handed. They repeat Nabal’s words to David, and David completely “loses his cool.” “Strap on your swords!” David barks this order to his men as he straps on his own sword and heads out to make Nabal pay in a very different way – with his life, and the life of every male120 in his household. In contemporary terms, David has “lost it.” In verses 21 and 22, David is still fuming, and as his words are disclosed to us, we see why:
21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have guarded all that this man has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; and he has returned me evil for good. 22 “May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him.”
David is angry because his actions have not brought about the result he expected. He is not taking the “long view” of this matter at all. From his point of view, he has dealt kindly with Nabal, and now it is time for Nabal to deal kindly with him. But instead of giving a blessing to David and his men, Nabal insults them and sends them away empty-handed. All of his good works are for nothing, David concludes. And if Nabal will return evil for good, David is now justified in returning evil for evil.
It would be good to pause here to reflect on David’s attitude and actions. Let me sum up David’s reasoning.
- David does good toward Nabal and all his household.
- David expects Nabal to respond in kind, and instead he receives nothing but an insult.
- David now feels justified in his intention to kill Nabal and every other male in his household.
All too many of us reason the same way David does in our text. But I must tell you that David is wrong, dead wrong. David is wrong to expect that the good we do will be responded to in kind. David has done good to Saul; he has faithfully served him and refused to take his life when given the chance to do so. But Saul responded with evil, rather than with good, which he confessed to David:
18 “You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you. And you have declared today that you have done good to me, that the LORD delivered me into your hand and yet you did not kill me” (1 Samuel 24:17b-18).
David is somehow willing to deal with the treatment Saul hands out, but not with the insults of Nabal. Why? I think we may have a clue. First, Saul is David’s superior, in terms of authority. David is Saul’s servant. He is willing to take unfair treatment from his superior. Second, David has been promised the kingdom, once Saul is out of the picture. David can handle abuse from Saul because he knows that before long he will fill Saul’s vacated throne.
Nabal is not David’s superior, and he does not at all like the treatment he receives from him. Furthermore, David is not thinking or acting as a man of faith when he sets out to kill Nabal and all the males in his household. David expects an immediate “return” on his “investment” of serving Nabal. He expects the reward to come from Nabal, now. He is not looking for a heavenly reward, then.
How many of us minister to others with a measuring stick in our hands? We are willing to love and serve others sacrificially, but with a certain set of expectations. We expect that sacrificial love and service should be reciprocated. When in return for our doing good, our neighbor gives us evil, like David, we get hot under the collar and look for some way to retaliate. We forget that, like Christ, our words and deeds may bring about persecution and suffering, rather than approval and gratitude. Our reward in heaven will be great, but there may be no such rewards on earth. Let us be careful to do our good works as to the Lord, looking to Him for our reward, and not the recipients of our sacrificial service. David may have learned here that the problem with acting like a servant is that people begin to treat you like a servant. It is one thing to serve in order to be promoted; it is something quite different to serve to be demoted.
A Secret Appeal to Abigail
14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal's wife, saying, “Behold, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, and he scorned them. 15 “Yet the men were very good to us, and we were not insulted, nor did we miss anything as long as we went about with them, while we were in the fields. 16 “They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the time we were with them tending the sheep. 17 “Now therefore, know and consider what you should do, for evil is plotted against our master and against all his household; and he is such a worthless man that no one can speak to him.”
One of the young men who serve Nabal observes the encounter between David’s servants and Nabal. He knows how much David and his men have benefited his master and how offensive Nabal’s response will be to David. Somehow he knows that David is coming, and that if something dramatic is not done quickly, there will be trouble for all. He also knows that Nabal is a fool, with whom he cannot reason. And so the servant does not speak to Nabal, but quickly appraises Abigail of the situation and the need for decisive action. It seems this servant has a great regard for Abigail and her judgment, which is the reason he seeks her out. He does not suggest to Abigail what she should do, but simply tells her the facts and urges her to act with the wisdom she is known to have.
Abigail Responds While David Reacts
18 Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves of bread and two jugs of wine and five sheep already prepared and five measures of roasted grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 And she said to her young men, “Go on before me; behold, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 And it came about as she was riding on her donkey and coming down by the hidden part of the mountain, that behold, David and his men were coming down toward her; so she met them. 21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have guarded all that this man has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; and he has returned me evil for good. 22 “May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him.”
We must take note that Abigail does not ask or inform Nabal about what she is doing. She does not ask because she knows what Nabal’s answer will be. She does not inform him of what she is doing because he will no doubt order the servants not to do as she has instructed. We shall soon see that Abigail’s actions are an example of true submission, even when on the surface they do not appear to be.
Acting quickly, Abigail gathers up generous portions of food which she sends on ahead by her servants. Speed is of the essence. David is on his way, and he is determined to kill every male he encounters at Nabal’s house, including Nabal. It would seem that the supplies reach David and his men before Abigail does, though we are not specifically told so. We are told only that she sends the supplies on ahead of her so as not to delay David’s reception of this gift.
I cannot help but wonder where Abigail got all of those supplies so quickly. I think I know, and if I am right, it is indeed an amusing situation. We know that Abigail sends David 200 loaves of bread, 2 jugs of wine, 5 sheep already prepared, in addition to a generous portion of grain, raisins, and figs. We also know that while Abigail is gone, Nabal is having a feast in his house, a feast fit for a king (verse 36). I believe the supplies Abigail sends to David come from the very supplies Nabal plans to consume at his feast. Can you imagine his face as he walks into the pantry and discovers that a good portion of his banquet is missing? Even so, it is apparent that he does not lack anything.
Having sent the food gift on ahead, Abigail works her way down the mountain, out of sight to David and his men. David likewise comes down from higher ground, only he is still grumbling about Nabal’s insults and rehearsing what he will do when he gets his hands on this ungrateful despot. Without either party recognizing what is happening, David and Abigail are both converging on each other, and suddenly are face to face with each other.
Wise Words Cool Off a Hothead
23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and dismounted from her donkey, and fell on her face before David, and bowed herself to the ground. 24 And she fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the blame. And please let your maidservant speak to you, and listen to the words of your maidservant. 25 “Please do not let my lord pay attention to this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name and folly is with him; but I your maidservant did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. 26 “Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, since the LORD has restrained you from shedding blood, and from avenging yourself by your own hand, now then let your enemies, and those who seek evil against my lord, be as Nabal. 27 “And now let this gift which your maidservant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who accompany my lord. 28 “Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant; for the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you all your days. 29 “And should anyone rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, then the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God; but the lives of your enemies He will sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 “And it shall come about when the LORD shall do for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and shall appoint you ruler over Israel, 31 that this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the LORD shall deal well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.”
Suddenly the paths of Abigail and David intersect, and Abigail promptly dismounts, falling on her face before David (just as David did before Saul in the last chapter). Everything Abigail does and says conveys her attitude of submission. Six times in this paragraph Abigail speaks of herself as David’s maidservant, and fourteen times she refers to David as “my lord.” She begins by pleading with David to place all the blame on her, on her alone. Does David plan to avenge himself by killing Nabal and all the males in his household? Abigail pleads with David to take out his anger on her, if he must. In this, Abigail not only attempts to save the life of her husband, but the lives of her household as well.
In addition to offering herself as a scapegoat for David’s wrath, Abigail petitions David to listen to the words she wants to speak to him. In this regard, David is very different from Nabal, who does not listen to anyone (verse 17). To his credit and his gain, David does listen. She begins by pleading with him not to take her husband Nabal seriously. She informs David that she has had no part of Nabal’s decision to insult him and send his servants away empty-handed. The donkeys standing nearby, laden down with supplies, certainly add credence to her statement. She tells David that her husband’s character is aptly depicted by his name, Nabal, which means “fool.”
How can this woman call her husband a “fool” and be looked upon so favorably, as she obviously is in our text? The answer is not that difficult. Her husband is a fool. There is no disputing this. The servant knows it (verse 17) and so does anyone else who knows him. There is good reason for Abigail to call her husband a fool in our text. It may be the thing which keeps him alive. Do you remember when David sought to hide out from Saul in Gath, the home town of Goliath? When he realized his life was in danger there, David pretended to be a lunatic. The king would very easily have killed David, if he thought he was sane. But when he became convinced that David was crazy, he did not kill him, but simply drove him out of town. There is no honor, no status in killing fools. Pretending to be a fool saved David’s life. Calling Nabal a fool may well have saved Nabal’s life.
If Abigail has succeeded in convincing David that killing Nabal will not be worth the effort, she now presses on to show David how taking vengeance will be detrimental to him. She begins by pointing out that the Lord has restrained David from shedding blood and from avenging himself by his own hand (verse 26). Is she referring to this very moment, or is she speaking of the way God kept David from avenging himself against Saul, one chapter earlier? I am not certain on this. But with these words she does indicate that the hand of God is in all of this, that God is restraining David from shedding innocent blood and from avenging himself. She expresses her certainty that if David leaves vengeance to God, God will deal appropriately with Nabal, as with all others who seek evil against David.
Abigail pleads with David to accept the gift she brings and to share it with his men. She begs David to forgive her transgression against him, as though all the guilt is hers. Then she comes to her finest moment. Does her husband Nabal reject David as a nobody, a mere trouble-maker? Abigail knows better. She assures David that he will become Israel’s king and that his kingdom will last.121 David fights the Lord’s battles, she says, and for this reason, evil shall not be found in him all of his days. If anyone does rise up against David to seek his life, David should know that his life is precious to God. On the other hand, the lives of his enemies are worthless. God will sling them out as from the hollow of a sling.122
For Abigail, there is no doubt about it, David is Israel’s next king. God’s promise to David about this matter will be fulfilled, and God will appoint him ruler over Israel (verse 30). How tragic it would be for David to have a dark cloud over that kingdom, a cloud brought about by his own impetuous acts of seeking vengeance and shedding innocent blood. The Old Testament Law of Moses sets down the principle of justice: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (see Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; see also Matthew 5:38). Nabal has insulted David. That is his crime. The males of his household have done no wrong to David or his men so far as we are told. To kill Nabal and the males of his household for being selfish and insulting is to shed innocent blood, because the punishment is worse than the crime.
Abigail assures David that God will bring about all the good He has spoken concerning him. If God’s plans are for good, why is David so intent on doing evil? David’s present attitude and actions must not conform to God’s will and words. David is a man after God’s own heart, so he will eventually regret the very things he is now so intent on doing. David will grieve and have a troubled heart over what he is now setting out to do. As his conscience smites him in the cave in chapter 24, so it will smite him again. Why not end it all here and now by giving up this reckless anger?
One has to wonder whether Abigail has heard any reports about David’s encounter with Saul in that nearby cave, as described in the previous chapter. If she has , she uses what she learned here. If not, then God has put words in her mouth which have to cause David to think back to that incident. Abigail is simply urging David to act according to his own standards, his own principles, as he expressed them in chapter 24. Abigail encourages David to deal with Nabal in the same way he dealt with Saul. Leave vengeance to God, and do not shed innocent blood.
When David looks back on this incident and recognizes that Abigail has dealt wisely with him, let him remember her. I do not believe that Abigail realizes all that she is saying here, or how God will soon bless her by doing away with Nabal and making her the wife of David. Her words sound much like those of Joseph, spoken to Pharaoh’s cupbearer in Genesis 40:14-15.
32 Then David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, 33 and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed, and from avenging myself by my own hand. 34 “Nevertheless, as the LORD God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from harming you, unless you had come quickly to meet me, surely there would not have been left to Nabal until the morning light as much as one male.” 35 So David received from her hand what she had brought him, and he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace. See, I have listened to you and granted your request.”
Abigail’s words ring true to David. What she says squares with all that God has taught David. He knows she is right, and he now admits it by praising her before all of his men. David recognizes that Abigail is literally a Godsend, and that by means of her words and deeds, God has kept him from wrong doing by taking vengeance against Nabal, and thus shedding innocent blood. Had she not acted quickly, as she did, David would have carried out his plan. She has saved David from folly and guilt, and at the same time spared the life of her husband and every male in her household. Granting her request, David accepts the gift from Abigail and sends her home in peace.
Nabal in the Hands of God
36 Then Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she did not tell him anything at all until the morning light. 37 But it came about in the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, that his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him so that he became as a stone. 38 And about ten days later, it happened that the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.
Completely oblivious to the stupidity of his actions, and how close he has come to death, Nabal is feasting like a king in his house when Abigail returns. He is merry at heart, which probably only happens when he is drunk, as he is now. Wisely, Abigail says nothing to her husband about the day’s events at this time. As morning breaks, Nabal awakens with a clearer head, and so Abigail informs him of all that happened the previous day. The color drains from Nabal’s face as he begins to comprehend the magnitude of his folly. He is paralyzed with fear. Our text tells us that “his heart died within him, so that he became as a stone.” This may mean that he had a heart attack. Ten days later, the Lord strikes Nabal dead. How much better that this fool died at God’s hand than at the hand of David.
David and Abigail’s Reward
39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and has kept back His servant from evil. The LORD has also returned the evildoing of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent a proposal to Abigail, to take her as his wife. 40 When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they spoke to her, saying, “David has sent us to you, to take you as his wife.” 41 And she arose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your maidservant is a maid to wash the feet of my lord's servants.” 42 Then Abigail quickly arose, and rode on a donkey, with her five maidens who attended her; and she followed the messengers of David, and became his wife. 43 David had also taken Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both became his wives. 44 Now Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was from Gallim.
Word reaches David that Nabal is dead. David responds with wonder and gratitude. He praises God for pleading his cause and removing the reproach of Nabal. He declares that God has indeed kept him from evil. He sees how much better it is to have left vengeance with God. The Lord removed Nabal, not David. That is the way it is supposed to be, and it is all due to the wisdom of a woman, Abigail.
David’s messengers arrive at the door of Abigail’s home. They have a simple message. It is not quite a proposal of marriage, but more like a summons: “David has sent us to you to take you as his wife.” This decisive woman does not have to be asked twice. Quickly she bows to the ground, humbly accepting the offer. She does not look upon herself as David’s queen, but as his maidservant, who will happily wash the feet of his servants. She gets up, and accompanied by five of her maidens, follows David’s men to his place of hiding, where she becomes his wife.
The final verses of this chapter inform us that Abigail is David’s second wife. He has already taken Ahinoam of Jezreel as his wife. Michal was also his wife, but in the time of his hiding from Saul, the king gave her to Palti, the son of Laish as his wife.
Each of the main characters in this chapter has something to teach us. Let us conclude by looking at the lessons we can learn from Abigail, from Nabal, and from David.
Chapter 25 of 1 Samuel 25 seems to begin and end with unrelated incidental editorial comments. In verse 1, we are told that Samuel has died. In verses 43 and 44, we are informed that while David has gained a second wife, he has lost another (Michal). I do not think these are incidental remarks. I believe they are included for a specific purpose. David has suffered the loss of two significant people in his life. Samuel was the prophet of God who anointed him and the one to whom he could flee when pursued by Saul (see 19:18-24). We do not really know that much about Ahinoam, David’s first wife. We do know that she was a Jezreelite, and that she was the mother of Amnon (2 Samuel 3:2), the son who raped his sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Michal, however, was the second daughter Saul offered to David as a wife (1 Samuel 18), and there seems to have been a special love between the two, at least at first (18:20-29). To have her given to another man for a wife must have been a hard blow to David.
It is my conclusion that through the sequence of events described in chapter 25, God provides David with a very wise helpmeet, who compensates for the loss of Samuel and Michal. Abigail’s words to David virtually echo the prophecies of Samuel concerning David. Abigail’s wisdom enables her to be an intimate companion and counselor to her husband. Her beauty must have gone a long way to soothe the loss of Michal. To alter a biblical expression, “the Lord takes away, and the Lord gives” (see Job 1:21). How marvelous are the Lord’s provisions. It is He who deals with Nabal, far better than David. It is He who now gives the widow of Nabal to David, as a woman David can respect and love. God faithfully provides for our needs, at the time He knows we need it.
Abigail is an illustration (if you prefer, a type) of God’s provision for man’s salvation. Due to the folly of Nabal, Abigail’s entire household is in danger. Every male is condemned to death. Unless she does something, they will be killed by David. In wisdom and humility, Abigail steps forward, taking the guilt of all the condemned upon herself, offering herself in their place (see verse 24). Is this not a picture, a prototype of our Lord Jesus Christ? Due to Adam’s sin and our own, we have all been condemned to death. The day of our doom hastens, but the Lord Jesus Christ (who was completely innocent and without fault) stepped forward, taking our sin and guilt upon Himself. He offered Himself in our place on the cross of Calvary. He bore the penalty for our sins. And through faith in Him, we can enter into eternal life. And, in Him, we become Christ’s bride.
Furthermore, Abigail illustrates the essence of all true submission. No doubt this statement will take you by surprise. How can a woman who refuses to consult with her husband, who acts contrary to his will and his word, and who calls him a fool, possibly be considered a submissive wife? I would suggest that it is only in the externals that Abigail appears to be unsubmissive. She certainly acts independently of her husband. What he refuses to do is exactly what Abigail does. And yet, in heart she is truly submissive. To think that submission is mere blind obedience, or giving in to the will and the wishes of a higher authority falls short of the essence of true submission. True submission is the active pursuit of the best interests of another, by the subordination of our own personal interests. True submission is defined in Philippians 2:
1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).
Abigail does not act in a way that seems to promote her own interests. She would be far better off to act like the perfect wife by doing exactly what Nabal wants. Had she simply stayed at home, serving Nabal another drink, she would be “liberated” by David. Her worthless husband would be put to death, and she would be free from his tyranny. Abigail is truly submissive in that she seeks to save her husband (and all the other males in her household). In seeking to save them, she puts her own life on the line. She goes out, alone, to encounter a man who is willing and able to kill her entire household. When she encounters David, she asks that his full anger be spent on her, on her alone. She is submissive in that she acts in a way that will benefit her husband, yet at her expense. Doing nothing (and thus appearing to be submissive) will further her interests at her husband’s expense.
I want to be very careful in what I am saying, and in what you think I am saying. Most of the time, submission is evidenced by our obedience to the one in higher authority. Most of the time, our submission is evidenced as we seek to bring honor to the one to whom we are subject. But there are times when submission will look like something else. There are times when we must act contrary to the wishes of the one to whom we are in submission. This can only be in matters where God’s will is clearly contradictory to the will and wishes of our superior. This can only be when we act in a way that is costly to us, but is truly beneficial to the other.
I am trying to say that this kind of submission – Abigail’s kind of submission – is the exception, not the rule. Nevertheless, there are times when we seek to console ourselves for “caving in” to what is wrong by calling it submission. Godly submission always submits first to God, and secondarily to men in conformity with submission to God. Godly submission always seeks the best interests of the other above our own interests. And sometimes Godly submission even requires us to act contrary to the will and wishes of the one to whom we are in submission. I have said these things not so that you will throw out your definition of submission, but to expand it. Let us be careful not to turn this into a pretext for our own sin.
Finally, let us learn from Abigail that submission is perhaps the best posture from which to admonish and correct a fellow-believer. Do you notice that Abigail never attempts to correct Nabal in this situation? I would understand that this is because she has sought to reason with him before and has learned that it is unwise to attempt to correct a fool. The servant knew this as well, as his words indicate. But I wish to point out Abigail is not only in submission to her husband, she is also submissive to her future king. How can Abigail submit to God without also submitting to David as the next king? It is ever so clear in our text that Abigail, in a most humble and submissive way, seeks to rebuke and admonish David. At the moment, David is hot-headed and foolish. Her actions and words turn him around. And this takes place through her submission.
Being subject to a person (especially another believer) is no excuse for us to look the other way when we see them acting contrary to the will and the Word of God. All too often I hear people excuse themselves from their brotherly duty to admonish and rebuke another because they are a subordinate to that person. I would suggest that from our text a subordinate attitude and demeanor is the best posture from which to seek to correct another. When we seek to correct “from the top down,” it is much more difficult to display humility and godly fear. Let us face up to our responsibility to pursue the best interests of our superiors by rebuking them when required, in a way that continues to demonstrate our humility and submission.
1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load (Galatians 6:1-5).
I have already pointed out that David errs by looking for his reward for sacrificial ministry in this present age, rather than in eternity. David is willing to minister to Nabal, but only if he feels it is worth it. When he realizes that Nabal has no intention of showing his gratitude, David is ready to seek revenge. Once again, he wants to seek his revenge in this life rather than to leave this matter with God. At this moment in time, David lives for the moment, and not for eternity. The New Testament apostles call upon us to live now in the light of eternity:
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12).
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
The hall of faith in Hebrews 11 is filled with men and women who lived their earthly lives in the light of God’s promises, and thus, the certainty of eternal rewards.
Abraham’s life is an example of our fickleness as Christians, of our vacillating faith and obedience. One would think that after the painful consequences of passing off his wife Sarai as his sister in Egypt, he would never do this again. And yet when we read in Genesis 20, we see that Abraham had this deception concerning his wife as a matter of foreign policy, which he did wherever he and Sarai went (20:13). The triumphs of the past are no guarantee of victory in the future. We must be ever mindful of our fallibility, and ever dependent upon God, through His Word and His Spirit.
David, like all of us, is guilty of failure in the area of “connectivity.” David could see the “connection” between his faith, God’s promises, and his actions toward Saul in that cave (chapter 24). But somehow the same principles that guided David in chapter 24 are completely overlooked in chapter 25. It took the wise words of Abigail to remind David of the “connection” of these truths to Nabal’s insults and folly. I think of the apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem, as described in Acts 10 and 11. They called Peter on the carpet for going to the house of a Gentile and for preaching the gospel to those who gathered there. And then they came to the conclusion that God was actually saving Gentiles, as well as Jews (Acts 11:18). But when they went out, they continued to preach the gospel to Jews only (Acts 11:19). They did not see the “connection” between the lesson God was teaching them and their lives. So it is with each of us.
David is a reminder to us of the marvelous grace God bestows upon us, especially (in this chapter) by His divine interventions which keep us from folly. We know that we are saved by God’s grace alone, apart from any works on our part. We know further that the good things which are evident in our lives are the result of God’s grace. As one little old lady once put it enthusiastically, “It’s all of grace.” It is, and among those things which are of grace is the divine intervention which keeps us from sin and our own folly. I am not saying that God keeps us out of every sin; I am saying that apart from God’s intervention in our daily affairs, there would be a whole lot more sin than there is. If left to himself, David would have really made a mess of things when he attacked Nabal and his household. I wonder how many stupid things we would do if God did not block our path, not unlike the way the angel of God blocked the way of Balaam. Thank God for His interventions!
Finally, we can learn from David’s willingness to learn from a subordinate. David is the man designated to be Israel’s next king. He has with him 600 men, including Abiathar the priest, and even the “ephod,” by which God’s will could be discerned. In spite of all these means of divine guidance, David is willing to listen to the words of this woman, Abigail. David may be acting foolishly, but he is at least willing to recognize the wisdom with which Abigail speaks. He listens to her and learns. David seems to understand that truth does not always follow the chain of command. Some will only listen to people in authority over them. They think they cannot learn from a subordinate. Too many husbands fail to listen to the wisdom God may be giving them through their wives, and even through their children. Let us recognize that wisdom and spiritual gifts do not necessarily correspond with one’s office or place in the chain of command. Let us learn to recognize wisdom and to receive it from whatever source God uses.
Nabal represents much of what is worst in men. Nabal is arrogant and self-sufficient. He does not recognize that his prosperity comes from God. He judges men by external standards, such as their ancestry and popularity. He does not esteem wisdom and will not listen to those who could spare him much trouble, and even save his life. He does not appreciate his wife and the wisdom God has given to her. He thinks his wealth is the measure of a man, and thus he feels he needs no one beyond himself. He is the man who is completely oblivious to the destruction which lies ahead. Nabal is man at his worst. Nabal is a man desperately in need of grace, but completely confident that he can make it on his own. Nabal cannot and will not recognize God’s king when he sees him, and when he is told who he is. Nabal is a man destined for death.
Nabal is the worst of the bunch, and David does not look that good either, except for the ministry of Abigail. Let us all esteem this woman for her wisdom, and give her the honor she deserves:
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:30-31).
119 This note concerning Samuel’s death is repeated in 28:3, which suggests that the author is not merely reporting a historical event in its proper chronological sequence, but that the death of Samuel plays a part in the drama which follows.
120 The term “male” is the translation of the Hebrew expression, which we could render, “he who urinates on the wall.” I am not really sure why David uses this expression in referring to the “males” in Nabal’s household. It is found elsewhere in 1 Samuel 25:34; 1 Kings 14:10; 16:11; 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8.
121 The amazing thing about Abigail’s words is that God does not directly reveal this to David until 2 Samuel 7. Abigail’s words go beyond the revelations given to David up to this point. Her words are prophetic, or virtually so.
23. The Second Time Around (1 Samuel 26:1-25)
When dealing with our text, the reasoning of some scholars would go something like this: “The events of chapter 26 are remarkably similar to those of chapter 24. This similarity can best be explained by assuming that these are simply differing accounts of the same incident.”123 It is difficult to reach such a conclusion without assuming that the text of Scripture is somewhat corrupted, and thus certainly not without error. It is true that in both chapters, there are distinct similarities. For example, in both chapters the Ziphites go to Saul to inform him of the whereabouts of David. But what is so difficult about taking the two chapters at face value and assuming that what the Ziphites were not able to do in their first effort, they attempted to do in their second?
Students of Scripture are right, I think, in taking note of the similarities of these two chapters. They are wrong, in my opinion, when they try to explain these similarities based upon the assumption that one or both biblical accounts are flawed. There is a much easier (and better) solution. It begins with the assumption that the Bible is, just as it claims to be, the inspired Word of God, without error. Let us assume that the proximity and similarity of these two accounts of Saul’s meeting with David is by divine design. Let us assume that the author (Author) purposely placed these two accounts in close proximity, so that we would take note of their similarity. And let us further suppose that the author intends for us to take note of both the similarities and the differences. It may well be that the difference between these two similar accounts is the key to understanding both passages.
Let me illustrate what I am suggesting. In the Book of Genesis, we read that Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt. They do so because they are jealous of Joseph and hate him because he is the favorite son of Jacob. They do not care that selling Joseph into slavery will break their father’s heart. When Joseph eventually becomes second in command to Pharaoh, his brothers come down to Egypt to buy grain from him, not knowing that Joseph is really their brother. Joseph then creates a situation in which these brothers must bring their younger brother Benjamin with them if they are to return to Egypt for more grain. Joseph then creates a crisis in which Benjamin is made to look guilty of stealing from him. Joseph gives his brothers the opportunity to betray their brother, Benjamin, to leave him as a slave in Egypt, and to return safely to their father. In short, Joseph gives his brothers the chance to virtually relive their betrayal of him nearly 20 years earlier. What is significant about this “similar” situation in Egypt is the difference in the way the brothers -- especially Judah -- respond. Their compassion toward Jacob and their concern for Benjamin shows Joseph that they have truly repented of their sin against him. The situation is very similar to the betrayal of Joseph, by design, so that the brothers’ repentance will be evident by the differences in the second “similar” incident from the first.
This is much like what the author of 1 Samuel is doing in chapter 26. In chapter 24, David is conscience-smitten because he has cut off a portion of Saul’s robe. While David does many things right in dealing with Saul in chapter 24, he fails to consistently apply the same principles in his dealings with Nabal in chapter 25. It is only after he is gently rebuked by Abigail that David leaves vengeance to God and gives up his plan to execute Nabal, along with all his male servants. In chapter 26, we find David in circumstances similar to those in chapter 24. I believe God is giving him another chance, a chance to “do it right.” And that he does, as we shall see. The similarities of chapters 24 and 26 inform us that David gets a second chance. The differences between the two chapters tell us how well David did, the second time around.
1 Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding on the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon?” 2 So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, having with him three thousand chosen men of Israel, to search for David in the wilderness of Ziph. 3 And Saul camped in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon, beside the road, and David was staying in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, 4 David sent out spies, and he knew that Saul was definitely coming. 5 David then arose and came to the place where Saul had camped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army; and Saul was lying in the circle of the camp, and the people were camped around him.
We have met the Ziphites before. In chapter 23, we are told that the Ziphites went up to Saul at his home in Gibeah, informing him of David’s whereabouts and promising to deliver him over to the king (23:19-20). Saul wanted to be certain not to let David slip through his fingers, and so he sent the Ziphite delegation home, with instructions to identify all of David’s hiding places so they would be certain of his capture on his next campaign (23:21-23). They returned home, and Saul soon came in hot pursuit of David. When David learned of Saul’s coming, he moved further south, where he was nearly trapped by Saul on a mountain in the wilderness of Maon. Had it not been for the timely arrival of a messenger with the report that the Philistines had attacked Israel, Saul would have captured David (23:24-29).
After Saul returned from following the Philistines, he resumed his pursuit of David. Saul just happened to pause for a rest stop at the very cave in which David and his men were hiding. While Saul was in the cave, David secretly cut off a portion of Saul’s robe, but he would not allow anyone to harm Saul. He then presented himself to Saul, demonstrating his innocence by showing the portion of the king’s robe he had just cut off inside the cave. Saul “repented” for the moment, and the two men parted peacefully (chapter 24). It was here that David publicly embraced the position that it would be wrong for him (or anyone else) to remove Saul by harming him, since this would be opposing God’s anointed. David would not harm his king; he would only seek his good.
In chapter 25, we see that the commitment David made regarding Saul’s well being was not one he was willing to extend to Nabal. David sent a delegation of ten men to ask Nabal for a contribution of food because he was celebrating at sheep-sheering time. Nabal rudely refused, withholding any food, and adding insult to injury by heaping insults upon David and his followers. David was so incensed that he set out to kill Nabal and every male in his household. Through the wise intervention of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, David spared Nabal’s life temporarily, and thus was restrained from acting foolishly. In her appeal to David, Abigail reminded him of the very principles he embraced in chapter 24.
Now, once again, we find the Ziphites betraying David to Saul. When the Ziphites come to Saul, he is not in the wilderness of Ziph, threatening the lives of those who would withhold information about David’s whereabouts. He is at home in Gibeah, having given up the pursuit of David, at least for a time. But with the arrival of these helpful informers, Saul is once again prompted to pursue David.124 These Ziphites, descendants of Caleb and thus of Judah, are fellow-Judahites with David, and yet they betray their future king to a Benjamite like Saul.
Saul returns to the wilderness of Ziph, accompanied by 3,000 of his best soldiers. This time he does not intend to let David get away. Saul pitches camp on the hill of Hachilah, close to the road. David remains in the more remote part of the wilderness. This time things are going to be a lot different than the last time these two men met in this place. The first time David was seeking to retreat, while Saul was advancing. Now it is Saul whose soldiers are camped and David who is taking the initiative. David’s spies locate Saul’s camp and inform David, who approaches with his men. David looks down on Saul’s camp and sees Saul asleep in the center of the camp, easily identified by his size, his armor or apparel, and most certainly by his spear. Next to Saul lies his uncle and commander of the army, Abner. From Saul and Abner in the center radiate his 3,000 soldiers, looking something like the concentric ripples when a rock is thrown into a calm pool of water.
An Invitation and One Volunteer
6 Then David answered and said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, saying, “Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” 7 So David and Abishai came to the people by night, and behold, Saul lay sleeping inside the circle of the camp, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the people were lying around him. 8 Then Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time.” 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD'S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD'S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.” 12 So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul's head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the LORD had fallen on them.
David’s scouts locate Saul’s camp, and accompanied by at least two men, David goes to the campsite.125 Two men seem to be near David, Ahimelech the Hittite (not to be confused with Ahimelech the priest, who was killed by Saul) and Abishai the son of Zeruiah, who was the brother of Joab and Asahel (2 Samuel 2:18). David speaks to these two men, requesting that one of them go with him down to Saul’s camp. Ahimelech appears to remain silent, while Abishai volunteers.
Imagine for the moment that you are Abishai. Saul has carefully positioned himself at the innermost part of the circle of his troops. Abner, a heroic warrior and Saul’s body guard, is lying right next to the king. You carefully pick your way through this maze of human bodies, fearing that at any moment someone will awaken. It seems impossible that someone among these 3,000 men is not on watch. You hear a soldier snoring very loudly and wonder if you should turn him on his side, lest he wake up the others. You step on a stick, and it snaps -- your heart nearly stops. You can hardly believe you have actually made it as you stand there with David, looking down at Saul sleeping peacefully, with Abner close by. Close to Saul’s head is his spear, thrust into the ground, and his water container.126
If you are Abishai, it would not take long to figure out what should come next. Knowing from the incident in the cave that David is squeamish about killing Saul, Abishai whispers to David, “God has delivered Saul into your hand today. Now, then, let me finish Saul off with his own spear. It will only take one blow, I assure you.” Abishai reasons: “True, David refused to kill Saul in the cave, but he surely has learned his lesson by now. If David is reluctant to do it, I will. Surely David did not ask for volunteers to come down here with him, only to look at the king and then leave.” What an interesting debate it must have been between David and Abishai, as they strongly disagree, yet desperately try to keep from waking up Saul or any of his men.
David forbids Abishai to kill Saul for essentially the same reasons he verbalized in the cave in chapter 24. No one can lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed without incurring guilt.127 In verse 10, David goes beyond what he has said before. “As surely as God lives, He will be the one to remove Saul,” David assures Abishai. David does not know how, but after his experience with Nabal and Abigail, he knows that God can accomplish His will in any number of ways. He could strike Saul dead, Saul could die naturally, or he might be killed in battle. These are just some of the ways God could remove Saul, but in each case, it will not be by David’s hand, nor by the hand of any of his men.
David has come for Saul’s spear and water container, and that is all. So he takes up Saul’s spear and water jug, instructing Abishai to come along with him. I can see Abishai shaking his head as they make their way back through that maze of bodies surrounding Saul and finally slip into the safety of darkness. “That was a suicide mission! All that only to take a spear and a water jug.” Whether they knew it or not, the author of our text informs us that this was not just a stroke of good luck, or even a good military maneuver. God had miraculously put these 3,000 men to sleep. David and Abishai could have been yelling at each another (Is it possible they were?), and no one would have awakened. Abishai could have stumbled and fallen upon a couple of these soldiers, and they still would have been safe. I wonder how many times in history men have assumed they had a really close call, or they did a spectacular job at some task, without ever knowing that behind it all was the hand of God.
A Rude Awakening
13 Then David crossed over to the other side, and stood on top of the mountain at a distance with a large area between them. 14 And David called to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered and said, “Who are you who calls to the king?” 15 So David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came to destroy the king your lord. 16 “This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, all of you must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the LORD'S anointed. And now, see where the king's spear is, and the jug of water that was at his head.”
David’s mama raised no fool. David waits to call out until he has crossed over what seems to be a valley. Then, standing far from Saul’s reach on top of a mountain, David cries out to the people in general and to Abner in particular. It is probably still in the dark of night, or in the dimly lit early morning hours. The soldiers of Saul are apparently awakened by the sound of David’s voice. Not seeing who is calling out, Abner does not recognize David’s voice.
There is a reason David cries out to the soldiers and to Abner in particular. David indicts the entire group for not properly protecting their king. And for this, David insists that their failure should cost them their lives. As we read David’s words to Abner and the others, we begin to grasp the reasons behind David’s perplexing invasion of Saul’s camp. David did not go down to Saul’s camp frivolously, as a kind of spur-of-the-moment prank. He had a plan, which had worked out just as he had expected. When David asked for a volunteer, Abishai stepped forward, just as I suspect David anticipated. You see, Abishai was a mighty man of valor as described in 2 Samuel 23:18-19:
18 And Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the thirty. And he swung his spear against three hundred and killed them, and had a name as well as the three. 19 He was most honored of the thirty, therefore he became their commander; however, he did not attain to the three.
Abishai is a stouthearted soldier, a man who has no qualms about taking the life of another. David took Abishai along with him, knowing full well that he would want to kill Saul when they reached him in his camp.
Those to whom David call out are soldiers. They are there to arrest David, whom some represented as a dangerous outlaw, determined to gain the throne by killing Saul. If this were the case (or even if it were not) they are Saul’s secret servicemen. David informs them they have failed their most important duty –protecting their king. David claims a would-be killer successfully penetrated their defenses and reached their king, fully intending to do him harm. Only because David stopped him (i.e., Abishai) is the king still breathing. David is right! While David did not approach Saul to kill him, this was surely Abishai’s intention. The only reason Abishai did not kill King Saul was that David stopped him. If any doubted one had come this close to Saul, look for the king’s spear and water jug. Imagine the dismay, especially for Abner, when they look at the ground, inches from Saul’s head, and see the hole where the head of the spear has been and the missing water jug, and perhaps a pair of footprints leading to the spear and back. David invites Saul’s security force to send a man up to him to retrieve the missing items. David has the spear, and he has made his point.
In truth, David saved the king’s life. As commander-in-chief of Saul’s forces, Abner is responsible for this serious breach of security which endangered the life of the king. Abner is the man in charge. It was on his watch, so to speak, that Saul’s life was endangered. And it was Abner who lay next to the king, within easy reach of the one who would have killed the king. Abner is the most renowned soldier in Saul’s army. What a blemish this incident puts on his record! But it is much worse than this, for failing to protect the king is a crime punishable by death. In this instance, not only Abner, but every one of the 3,000 soldiers is guilty of a most unpardonable sin.
Someone told me of a news story they heard on the radio. Apparently there was an attempt on the life of Saddam Hussein’s son. His son was not killed, but for failing to protect him properly, all of the security men were executed. David is not speaking idle words, and every soldier standing near Saul must wonder what the king’s response will be.
David Speaks With Saul
17 Then Saul recognized David's voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord the king.” 18 He also said, “Why then is my lord pursuing his servant? For what have I done? Or what evil is in my hand? 19 “Now therefore, please let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if it is men, cursed are they before the LORD, for they have driven me out today that I should have no attachment with the inheritance of the LORD, saying, 'Go, serve other gods.' 20 “Now then, do not let my blood fall to the ground away from the presence of the LORD; for the king of Israel has come out to search for a single flea, just as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
Saul slowly comes to his senses, groggy no doubt from his supernatural slumber. He overhears the conversation between Abner and a distant voice. Saul knows that voice; it is the voice of none other than David. He has already heard enough to soften him. “Is this your voice, my son David?”128 David acknowledges that it is indeed he. From here, David takes the lead, inquiring of Saul why he is pursuing him once again. He asks Saul what evil deed he has done to necessitate such action on Saul’s part. There is, of course, no good answer.
What follows is even more intriguing. David pleads with Saul to listen to his words and to consider what he is about to say. It is wrong for Saul to seek to kill David, for he has done his king no wrong. Indeed, he has just saved the king’s life. But having pointed this out, David pursues the matter more deeply, in terms of its theological implications. In verses 19 and 20, God is prominent, and so are the spiritual consequences of Saul’s pursuit of David.
Saul obviously believes that David is guilty of some wrongdoing so that he needs to be hunted down and eliminated. David shows that there can be only two sources from which Saul could arrive at such a conclusion. On the one hand, it is possible that David has truly sinned, and that the Lord has stirred Saul up to deal with this evil. If this is the case, Saul need only tell David what his sin is, and then David can obtain atonement for this sin by offering a sacrifice, which God will find acceptable. If this is the case, there is no need for Saul to pursue and punish David, since God has forgiven him.
There is yet another possibility. If David is innocent, then there must be those who have wrongly accused David before Saul by characterizing him as a dangerous criminal, worthy of death. If this second possibility is true, then such false accusers are under a curse before the Lord. It is not David who is worthy of death, but those who have wrongly accused David before Saul.
15 He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD (Proverbs 17:15).
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20).
The sin of such men goes even beyond making false accusations against David. In provoking Saul to pursue David, they have forced an innocent man to flee from his country. It is they, aided by Saul, who have driven David out of Israel. The spiritual implications of this are immense. To leave the country, as David has had to do, is to “have no attachment with the inheritance of the Lord” (verse 19). To force a true Israelite to leave this land is to so much as say, “Go, serve other gods” (verse 19).
This is a very significant point, but one much harder for us to grasp than for an Old Testament Israelite like David. Let me attempt to explain. When God created the world and mankind, He put Adam and Eve in a special place, the Garden of Eden. It was here that He fellowshipped with them. When they sinned, they were driven out of this place of fellowship and blessing. When God chose Abraham, He set apart a man whom He would bless, and whose descendants He would bless as well. But He also set aside a place of blessing. It was to this place of blessing that Abraham was instructed to go, leaving his homeland and family behind. God also chose the land of Israel as the place where He would dwell in a special way.
When Jacob deceived his brother Esau, he was virtually forced to leave this special place, Israel. As he was leaving Israel (or what became the land of Israel), headed for Paddan-aram, God gave Jacob a dream:
12 And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 “Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 “And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on its top. 19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. 22 “And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house; and of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee” (Genesis 28:12-22, emphasis mine).
In this dream, God communicated a very important message to Jacob. The message was that Canaan was a very special place; it was the place where heaven and earth intersected, it was the place where God dwelt in a special way. It was a message that motivated Jacob to return to this place and not stay in Paddan-aram. Just as God chose a certain people, among whom He would dwell, God chose a certain place where He would dwell. It is because of this that Jacob was buried in the promised land, even though he died in Egypt (Genesis 47:27-31; 49:29-33). Joseph, likewise, instructed that his bones be taken to this land when the nation Israel returned (Genesis 50:22-26; Exodus 13:19).
When the Israelites were ready to enter the promised land, God made it very clear to them that they were to worship Him only at the designated place in the promised land:
5 “But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. 6 “And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the first-born of your herd and of your flock. 7 “There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you. 8 “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9 for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. 10 “When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security, 11 then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God shall choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the LORD. 12 “And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. 13 “Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, 14 but in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you” (Deuteronomy 12:5-14).
To force David to flee from the land of Israel was to force him to flee from the place where God dwelt in a special way; it was to force him to leave the place where God had provided for men to worship Him. Thus, to force one to flee from Israel was as much as to say, “Go, serve other gods.” Do you remember the story of Ruth? In the Book of Ruth, Naomi and her husband left Israel during a time of famine and went to the land of Moab. When her husband and two sons died, Naomi decided to return to the land of Israel. Her two daughters-in-law were Moabites. Naomi fully intended to leave these two women in their own land, while she went on alone to Israel. Notice what Naomi tells them, and how Ruth responds:
12 “Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me. “ 14 And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:12-17, emphasis mine).
In effect, by urging her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab rather than return to Israel with her, she was urging them to serve other gods. To leave Israel is to leave the land where one can worship God (because of His special presence there, particularly in conjunction with the ark of God and eventually the temple).
In the Book of 2 Kings, we read of the healing and conversion of Naaman, the Syrian. When Naaman was about to return to his own country, he made a very unusual request of the prophet Elisha:
17 And Naaman said, “If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules' load of earth; for your servant will no more offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD” (2 Kings 5:17).
Naaman realized that the God of Israel was the only true God. He also recognized that He dwelt in a special way in Israel, and that He was to be worshipped there. What was Naaman to do? He asked for some Israelite soil to take back to Syria with him, so that He could worship the God of Israel on Israelite soil.129
Later in Israel’s history, God would send His people into captivity, outside the land. This was a devastating blow, as can be seen by one of the Psalms written during the Jewish captivity in Babylon:
1 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion. 2 Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. 3 For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” 4 How can we sing the LORD'S song In a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. 6 May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy (Psalm 137:1-6).
David fled to Gath in Philistia (21:10-15) and then to Moab (22:3-4). I believe David was outside the land of Israel when the prophet Gad appeared to him, instructing him to leave the stronghold and to return to the land of Judah (22:5). We are not told why in that text, and I am inclined to think that David was not told either. But now I think he has figured it out. David has grasped a very important truth – that Israel is the special place in which God has chosen to dwell in a special way, and where He can be worshipped. It is indeed, the place where heaven and earth meet, just as in Jacob’s dream. David has also grasped the implications of this truth as it applies to his pursuit by Saul and his men, forcing him to flee the country. Those who have incited Saul against David have forced him to flee the country, and thus may might as well have said to him, “Go, serve other gods.” This is a crime worthy of death:
6 “If your brother, your mother's son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods' (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. 9 “But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 “So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you” (Deuteronomy 13:6-11; see also verses 12-18).
This accusing and pursuing of David is indeed a most serious matter. It is wrong because David is innocent. Those who pursue David have now placed themselves in a most dangerous position. On whose side do these men suppose God is? David has been able to come and go in their camp. He is able to reach Saul’s side and take his spear, without any resistance. If he had chosen to do so, he could have killed Saul. And yet it is David who saves the king’s life, and not the king’s own men. They have failed to protect their king! They, not David, are worthy of death. And since all these soldiers of Saul have failed to protect their king, they are guilty of a capital offense. They deserve to die. Not only do they deserve to die at the hand of Saul, they deserve to die at the hand of God. By accusing David and forcing him to flee the country, they are promoting the worship of false gods. They are condemned men. They are in a lot of trouble, with their king and with their God. This incident shows that it is not David whose life is in danger as much as those who pursue him, or who falsely accuse him to their king. Those guilty of this sin seem to be present on this very night. Saul’s spear is not thrust that night, but David’s words pierce the very heart of every man.
In verse 20, David pleads with Saul that his blood not be shed outside of the land, away from the presence of the Lord. There is no need for Saul to pursue him so vigorously. Searching for David is like searching for a single flea, like hunting a partridge in the mountains. It is a whole lot of work with very little benefit. It is a futile, if not a dangerous, task. Let the king forsake his pursuit and cease listening to those who pit him against David.
21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.” 22 And David answered and said, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. 23 “And the LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORD'S anointed. 24 “Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the LORD, and may He deliver me from all distress.” 25 Then Saul said to David, “Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.
David does not use Saul’s spear against him, but Saul gets the point. Saul recognizes his own sin in his dealings with David. But the most significant word is “return”. Has Saul been a part of the sin of driving David out of the land, away from the opportunity to worship his God? Then he would now confess his sin, and give up his pursuit of David so that he may safely “return” to the place of worship. Because David regards Saul’s life as precious, Saul promises to regard David’s life as precious. Saul confesses that he has sinned, and that in his sin, he has been guilty of the very serious error to which David refers.
In response to Saul’s confession and promise of amnesty, David shouts, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it.” It does appear, as some have observed, that the spear was a symbol of authority in the ancient world.130 David does not presume to keep the symbol of authority that belongs to Saul, and so he calls for one of Saul’s men to fetch it.
Would some say David is a sinner, a traitor, and an enemy of Saul? David concludes his defense by asserting his righteousness in verses 23 and 24. It is the Lord who will repay each person for his righteousness and faithfulness, David reminds his pursuers. This He does individually (“each man”). Although the Lord delivers Saul into David’s hand, David does him no harm, because he is the Lord’s anointed. David therefore looks to the Lord to reward him for his deeds this night.
While Saul and his men put themselves in jeopardy by accusing and pursuing David as a sinner and a criminal, David is assured that his life is safe in the hands of his God. As David has highly valued the life of Saul, he knows that God will highly value his life, and thus he is assured God will indeed deliver him from all his distresses (verse 24).
Saul’s final words are a pronouncement of blessing on David, with the assurance that he will accomplish great things and that, in the end, David will prevail (verse 25). With these words, the two men part company for the last time. They shall not meet again because the time of Saul’s death draws near. Saul returns to his place, but David goes on his way. David knows better than to think Saul’s repentance will last.
There is a message here to those, like Saul and his men, who wrongly accused David. God defends His own. There is no way that God’s anointed can be removed before God’s time. This was true of Saul; it was also true of David. God defends the innocent, and He will bring about justice for the afflicted. In this brief period of time, God turned the tables on the enemies of David. It was not David who was in grave danger, but those who opposed him. Let the enemies of God’s chosen ones take note, and let His chosen ones take courage.
For David, the events of this chapter are a high water mark for David’s grasp of God’s truth, and for the application of it in his life. David stood tall outside that cave in chapter 24, but he stands even taller here in chapter 26. He is confident of God’s protection and care, and of Him as the one who will reward his righteousness and judge his accusers. If in chapter 24 we see David gently rebuking his king, in chapter 26 we see him rebuking those who have set the king against him. David now sees his flight from his enemies in terms of its spiritual implications.
If David has grown spiritually after the events of chapter 24, and this growth is evident in chapter 26, we must conclude that Abigail plays a significant role in this. The things David affirms as true in chapter 26 are the very things about which Abigail assures him. If David has any doubt that he will become the next king, Abigail assures him he will reign over Israel (25:30). Though David wants to take vengeance on his enemies (i.e. Nabal), Abigail reminds him that God will better handle such matters, and that leaving this to God will keep David from any regrets (25:31). Does David fear for his life? Abigail assures him that his life is safely in God’s hands (25:29). It is said that behind many great men, there is a great woman. Certainly that was true of David and Abigail.
Do some scholars agonize that chapter 26 is too similar to chapter 24? It is similar, because it is a kind of replay of chapter 24. When God wants to teach us a lesson, if we fail to learn that lesson through one experience, God will continue to bring experiences our way which confront us with the same basic test. I think the reason there is a second incident in chapter 26, so similar to the one described in chapter 24, is that God wanted David to retake the same test so that he received a higher score.
Years ago I remember talking with a friend who was going through some problems in his life. As we talked, my friend mentioned that in addition to his current problems, he had faced many problems before. As I probed with a few questions, it became apparent that in each situation, the problems and the issues were very much alike. I then asked my friend, “Has it ever occurred to you that God keeps bringing you back to the same problem because you have not yet dealt with it as you should?” He acknowledged that this was probably the case. I think maybe it was also with David, and it may be the same for us. When we fail to deal with certain matters as we should, God persists at giving us further opportunities to do it right.
Finally, I believe there is something for us to learn about the “place of blessing” for Christians today. For the Old Testament saint, as we have seen, dwelling in the land of Israel was a privilege and a source of blessing. Here, one could offer sacrifices and worship God freely and fully. Elsewhere, God could be worshipped and served, but with certain restrictions. One could, of course, be in the land and still distant from God due to unbelief and disobedience. And, one could be in a distant land and still have an intimate walk with God. But ideally, living in the land of Israel was to be in the place of God’s presence and blessing.
What does that mean for us who are New Testament Christians, who live far from the promised land? The answer of the New Testament is very clear on this matter. In John 1, Jesus presents Himself as Israel’s Messiah. Jesus calls Philip to follow Him, and Philip then finds Nathaniel, telling him that the promised Messiah has come and that He is Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:43-44). When Nathaniel comes to Jesus, the Lord tells him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (1:48). Nathaniel is convinced and says to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (1:49). Our Lord’s words to Nathaniel are incredible:
50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:50-51).
With these words, Jesus takes Nathaniel, and us, all the way back to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28. In this dream, Jacob sees angels ascending and descending upon a ladder that goes to heaven, but rests on the earth. Jacob is most impressed with where the ladder stands – in Israel – and with the special nature of this place as the dwelling place of God. Jesus now takes up this imagery as He speaks to Nathaniel. Nathaniel has just objected to Peter’s assessment of Jesus, based solely on the place Jesus has come from – Nazareth (John 1:46). Jesus now informs Nathaniel that while he is concerned about the place where the ladder was resting, Jesus is the ladder! The place is important, but the Person of Jesus is even more important. It is Jesus Christ whom God appointed as the means to join heaven and earth, to provide men with an access to heaven. It was not Israel, the place, but Israel, the person, who would save men from their sins and lead them to heaven.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of the birth of our Lord Jesus, and then of the flight of Joseph and Mary and the child to Egypt. After the death of Herod, Joseph brings his family back to the land of Israel. When he does so, Matthew writes,
14 And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON” (Matthew 2:14-15).
These words, “OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON,” are found in Hosea 11:1. They refer to the fact that God brought Israel, His “son” (see Exodus 4:22-23) out of Egypt. Now, by inspiration, Matthew applies them to the baby Jesus. Just as Israel was God’s “son,” whom He brought out of Egypt, so the baby Jesus is God’s “Son,” whom He also brought up from Egypt. In one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, God has summed up all of Israel, and all of Israel’s hopes. Israel is the place where God meets with men, but Jesus is the “Son,” the person by whom God saves men. Israel is the place where the person of the Messiah came. And now that He has come, it is He that is to be preeminent, and not the place.
When Jesus meets with the Samaritan woman, the matter of the “place” to worship God arises. I want you to take special note of what the woman says to Jesus and what our Lord says in response to her:
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. 22 “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:19-26).
The Samaritan woman knows well the differences between the Samaritans and the Jews over the proper place of worship. She brings this matter up in her discussion with Jesus. But Jesus does not talk with her about the “proper place” at all. He tells her that the issue of worship now centers on a Person, not a place. Those who would worship God “in Spirit and in truth” need to worship God through the coming Messiah. With this the woman agrees, but she mistakenly assumes He has not yet come. Jesus tells her, “I . . . am He.” Those who would worship God must worship Him through Jesus Christ. Worship is therefore no longer a matter of being in the right place, but of worshipping by means of the right Person.
Since the coming of Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, worshipping God is no longer a matter of being in the right place, but of being in the right Person. In John 15, Jesus speaks to His disciples about abiding in Him in terms of a branch abiding in a vine. In chapters 14 and 16, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the Holy Spirit who is to come. By means of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ promises to abide in every true believer. And so it is in the New Testament epistles that we find salvation, sanctification, and spiritual blessing described as the result of being “in Christ.”
23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24, emphasis mine).
11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11, emphasis mine).
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23, emphasis mine).
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, emphasis mine).
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, . saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2, emphasis mine).
4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4, emphasis mine).
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30, emphasis mine).
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22, emphasis mine).
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14, emphasis mine).
17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17, emphasis mine).
4 But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage (Galatians 2:4).
I end this message on a bitter-sweet note. My friend and fellow-elder, Lee Crandell, died during the week after I preached this message. I remember his last words to me. He remarked how much he liked this message, and especially the application. I know what he meant. Lee loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and he loved hearing and proclaiming the message of the Gospel. He knew what it meant to be “in Christ.” Lee died, “in Christ”. What a comfort:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, emphasis mine).
To be “in Christ” is to be forgiven of your sins. To be “in Christ” is to be a new creation, to have old things pass away, and all things to become new. To be “in Christ” is to have eternal life. To be “in Christ” is to be assured of resurrection from the dead, to spend eternity in the presence of Jesus Christ. My friend, Lee, was “in Christ.” If he were here today, he would ask you a simple question, “Are you ‘in Christ’?” Being saved, being a Christian, being assured of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, is not a matter of being in the right place, but of being in the right Person. The way to be “in Christ” is to acknowledge your sin against God, and to trust in Jesus Christ alone as the means God has provided for your salvation. By faith in Him, His suffering and death pays the penalty for your sins. By His righteousness and resurrection from the dead, you are made righteous and raised to newness of life. If you have never trusted in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on your behalf, I urge you to do so this very moment. To be “in Christ” is to be in God’s appointed place of salvation and blessing forever.
125 One could easily assume that David and all his men went to Saul’s camp, but the text does not really say so. We are told that spies were sent out and found the place where Saul was camped (verse 4). Then we are told that David arises and comes to the place (verse 6). Only Ahimelech, the Hittite, and Abishai are mentioned as being with David. Were these two men the “spies”? It is not hard to reason that David would leave his troops behind. After all, sneaking up on Saul, and then disappearing into the night, is much easier for a couple of men than for 600 men. And since David did not intend to fight with Saul’s men or to kill Saul, there was no reason to take them along. Furthermore, he would only have to argue with more men about not killing Saul (see 24:4-8).
126 A friend of mine quipped after this message that this is the first time in the text Saul has finally hit his target. If I had been Abner, I would have waited to lie down close to the king until after he had actually hit his mark.
127 There is a certain subtlety here in David’s response to Abishai. He says, “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed. . . .” It is as though Abishai has said to David, “All right, so you can’t find it in yourself to kill Saul; then let me do it.” And David responds in a way that sends the message to Abishai, “Even though you were to kill Saul, it would be my responsibility for letting you do so.” If David, as the commander in chief of his 600 men, allows anyone to kill Saul, it is really David who is held responsible.
130 “The spear was the symbol of authority in place of the scepter. This is the reason that the spear (‘javelin’ – A. V.) was at hand in the royal court of Saul (cf. 1 Sam. 18:8ff.; 19:9). This traditional sign of authority still exists among some bedouin Arabs today. A spear stuck in the ground outside the entrance distinguishes the tent of a sheik.” John J. Davis & John C. Whitcomb, Israel: From Conquest to Exile (Winona Lake, Indiana, BMH Books, [combined paper edition], 1989, p. 244.
24. One Step Forward and Two Backward (1 Samuel 27:1-28:2)
“What’s a Man Like You Doing in a Place Like This?”
This past year, I found myself doing things I never dreamed I would be doing. The health of our neighbor of many years was rapidly declining. We would look out the window one moment and see her sitting in her chair at the kitchen table. The next moment, the chair was empty. We knew she was on the floor and that I would need to go next door to help. As time went on, our neighbor’s “home base” became a recliner, and then a hospital bed. I found myself at the grocery store, buying things of which I had hardly even heard.
One day, the hospice nurse came by for her regular visit. I saw her car and stepped outside to ask how things were going. She informed me that things were getting worse, and that we would now have to employ the “full transfer.” I gave her a puzzled look, not knowing exactly what she meant. Without hesitation she responded, “Here, I’ll show you.” Before I knew what was happening, I was standing there on my neighbor’s front porch with the nurse demonstrating a “full transfer.” She locked her legs outside of mine, and then locked her arms around my neck. I now knew what a “full transfer” was, which I would likely need to use to transfer the patient from one point to another. My problem was that I was standing on the front porch in a position which could have appeared very different from what it actually was. I could imagine every neighbor peering out their front window, then rushing for the binoculars or telephoto lens! How could I possibly explain? What was I doing in a situation like this?
When I read the account of David’s flight to Gath and his alliance with Achish, king of Gath, I must ask this same question. By the end of our text, we find David in the army, going out with his king ready to do battle. The problem is that David is in the Philistine army, and he is going out to do battle with the Israelites. We read that David assures this Philistine king that he is ready and willing to show what he and his men can do, against the people of God. What is a fellow like David doing in a spot like this?131 We hope to learn the answer to this question as we study this perplexing passage. Let us look to the Spirit of God to illuminate our hearts and minds, so that we may understand the lessons God has for us here.
David is anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel in chapter 16. In chapter 17, he stands up against Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, and kills him. By chapter 18, Saul begins to get nervous about David’s popularity with the people and sets out to bring about David’s death. At first, he wants to make it look like an accident, but eventually he gives orders for David to be put to death. Eventually David is forced to flee for his life, living as a fugitive from justice.
David’s flight from Saul begins with his unexpected appearance at Nob, where he gives Ahimelech the priest a phony story to explain that he has come without his men. At David’s request, the high priest gives David some of the sacred bread and the sword of Goliath. From Nob, David flees to king Achish at Gath. The king is willing to provide sanctuary for David, until some of his servants remind him that David’s reputation is not to be taken lightly. Knowing he is in danger, David pretends to be insane, going about the city scribbling on the gates and dribbling in his beard. Achish does not feel threatened by a mad man, but neither does he see the gain in providing him sanctuary, so he drives David out of Gath. From this point on, David begins to gather a following of mal-contents and is forced to hide out in the remote regions of Judah, especially since the exhortation of Gad (22:5).
In chapter 24, Saul and David happen to seek the solitude of the same cave. David’s men interpret this “divine encounter” as a sign that God wants them to kill Saul and end their troubles. David does not. Even cutting off a portion the king’s robe causes David pangs of conscience. David lets Saul leave the cave and then reveals his presence, gently rebuking the king for seeking his life without cause. David assures Saul he has no intention of doing him harm, and that he has left dealing with Saul to God. Saul seems to relent, and the two men part peacefully.
In chapter 25, David is insulted by Nabal, a foolish descendant of Caleb, who does not at all live up to his heritage. David sets out fully intending to take not only Nabal’s life, but the lives of every male in his household. Only because of the wise, self-sacrificing intervention of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, does David turn from hot-headed revenge. In this encounter, Abigail assures David he will become the next king, and that leaving vengeance to God is the best course of action. David agrees, and these two part peacefully.
Chapter 26 seems to be a spiritual high point for David. Once again, Saul is in pursuit of David. David learns of Saul’s presence and sends out spies, who pinpoint the exact location of his camp. David and Abishai then enter the camp as the soldiers of Saul sleep the deep sleep of a divine sedative (26:12). David does not allow Abishai to kill Saul, as he clearly intends to do (26:8-9, 15). Instead, only Saul’s spear and water container are taken, as proof of how close they were to the king, yet unhindered by any of Saul’s men.
In this confrontation, David begins by rebuking Abner, and then the rest of the soldiers with Saul for allowing an assassin to approach their king. This is a crime worthy of death, David reminds them all, and then informs them it was he who saved the king’s life, not any of them. How can it be, David wonders, that the one who saves the king is hunted as though an assassin, while those worthy of death are the ones who seek his life?
David also has a word for his king, Saul. He once again affirms his loyalty to Saul and asks again why Saul is seeking his life. He indicates to the king that there must be those stirring him up against David, and wrongly so. He is no threat to the king. But in pursuing David, the king is driving him out of the land, and thus out of the place of worship and divine blessing. It is as though the king is telling David to worship other gods. David pleads with Saul not to force him to leave this land so that his blood would be shed on foreign soil (26:17-20). Saul confesses his guilt and acknowledges that David will “accomplish much and surely prevail” (26:25). He indirectly promises David he will cease pursuing him, and thus he invites him to “return” (26:21). I take it he is encouraging David to “return” to worship, without fear for his life.
Yet, in spite of all the confirmations that David is to be Israel’s next king, in spite of all of David’s own affirmations of faith, we find David leaving the land and returning to Gath. This is indeed most amazing.
Better in Gath than in the Grave
1 Then David said to himself, “Now I will perish one day132 by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.” 2 So David arose and crossed over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath. 3 And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, each with his household, even David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal's widow. 4 Now it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, so he no longer searched for him.
The “then” of verse 1 seems to suggest a fairly close proximity between the events of chapter 26 and those of chapter 27. No significant span of time is indicated, and neither are any crisis situations described which would explain David’s sudden change of heart.133 David, who was so confident that God would protect his life (24:15) and who has been assured of this by Abigail (25:29), now speaks of his death as a certainty if he does not flee to the land of the Philistines where he is assured of his safety (27:1). David, who in the previous chapter said it was Saul who would perish (26:10),134 now says it is he who will perish. And David, who pleads with Saul that he not be forced to leave the land, now feels compelled to leave even though Saul has given him some assurance of safety. This is most amazing.
The word David employs here (rendered “perish” by the NASB) is significant, especially since David should have known the Law of Moses. The word is employed some 18 times from Genesis to Judges – that is, until David employs it in 26:10 and 27:1. Three of those times it is used to refer to God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies. Eleven times it refers to God’s judgment on Israel as His enemy, for disobeying Him and disregarding His Law. Is it not interesting that David, who has just spoken of himself as innocent and of others as guilty, now uses this term to express his fear that Saul will destroy him? David has really lost it here. Dale Ralph Davis writes that, “. . . the thinking that led David to this move points to one of faith’s fainting fits (as H. L. Ellison calls them):
‘Then David said to his heart: ‘Now I am going to be swept away one day by the hand of Saul; I have no good (here), but I must escape to the land of the Philistines – Saul shall despair of me, of searching any more for me in all the territory of Israel; so I shall escape from his hand.’ [27:1]”135
It has not been that long ago since David sought sanctuary in Gath the first time. That was a miserable disaster for David. He did survive, but he was driven out as a scribbling, slobbering lunatic. One would have thought that as David left the gates of Gath, he would have muttered to himself, “I’ll never do that again!” And yet, here he is, but this time he is not alone. This time, David has his 600 followers, plus all their wives and families (27:2-3).136 David’s two wives are with him as well.137
David is right about one thing. When Saul hears that David has fled to Gath, he no longer searches for him. Does this mean Saul would have tried to hunt David down had he remained in Israelite territory? It isn’t really surprising that Saul would not seek to capture David in Philistine territory. After all, he was never really aggressive in fighting Philistines anyway. It was his son Jonathan who was aggressive in this matter. Being “right” about Saul giving up does not mean that David is right in fleeing to Philistine territory, however, as I think the author makes clear.
A Place of His Own
5 Then David said to Achish, “If now I have found favor in your sight, let them give me a place in one of the cities in the country, that I may live there; for why should your servant live in the royal city with you?” 6 So Achish gave him Ziklag that day; therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. 7 And the number of days that David lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months.
You can imagine that David, his 600 fighting men and all their families, must have made quite an impact on Gath. It is not out of consideration for Achish or Gath that David makes a request of the king, however. David approaches Achish with a request. He asks if he can be given a city where he and his followers and families can live that is not under foot. It seems a reasonable request, and so Achish gives David the city of Ziklag. This city is 25 miles or so to the south and east of Gath. It is somewhat out of the way, from a Philistine perspective, and not all that distant from Israelite cities. It gives David and his followers a “place of their own,” in an area where David’s activities will not be monitored by Achish. It is something like moving far enough away from your in-laws to have a life of your own. David dwelt in Philistia a year and four months, but the town of Ziklag becomes a permanent possession of the Israelite kings (verses 6-7).
Pulling the Wool Over Achish’s Eyes
8 Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites and the Girzites and the Amalekites; for they were the inhabitants of the land from ancient times, as you come to Shur even as far as the land of Egypt. 9 And David attacked the land and did not leave a man or a woman alive, and he took away the sheep, the cattle, the donkeys, the camels, and the clothing. Then he returned and came to Achish. 10 Now Achish said, “Where have you made a raid today?” And David said, “Against the Negev of Judah and against the Negev of the Jerahmeelites and against the Negev of the Kenites.” 11 And David did not leave a man or a woman alive, to bring to Gath, saying, “Lest they should tell about us, saying, 'So has David done and so has been his practice all the time he has lived in the country of the Philistines.'“ 12 So Achish believed David, saying, “He has surely made himself odious among his people Israel; therefore he will become my servant forever.”
David and his men are given a place in which to live. They also need a means of livelihood. David’s solution to this problem is indeed ingenious. David uses Ziklag as his headquarters, his base of operations. From here, David and his men go about the area raiding the cities and camps of Israel’s enemies. We know some of these people, such as the Amalekites. But of others, like the Girzites, we know nothing. We do know in a generic sort of way that these are the peoples who inhabited the land from ancient times. It may be safe, therefore, to conclude that all of these peoples are “Canaanites,” who are under the ban (see Exodus 23:23; Numbers 21:3; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; Judges 1:17).
If this is the case (we may have a small element of doubt in the case of the Girzites, for example), then the wholesale slaughter of these “Canaanites” seems justified. I must point out, however, that although David kills all of the people whose villages he raids, including children, he does not kill all of the cattle. He “took away the sheep, the cattle, the donkeys, the camels, and the clothing” (verse 9). If David is attacking these peoples in order to obey God’s command, then he is no more obedient than Saul, who left only the king and the best of the cattle alive. It seems, therefore, that David attacks these peoples for more pragmatic reasons, such as providing food for their families. He kills all the people, leaving no survivors, not because this is God’s command, but because it is the only way he can continue his deception (see verse 11).
David may be doing the right thing (i.e., annihilating those God put under the ban), but for all the wrong reasons. God often accomplishes His will by means of self-serving men who only unwittingly do what God has purposed. This was true of Joseph’s brothers (see Genesis 50:20), and it seems so with David in Philistine territory.
David may not be wise in fleeing to the Philistines for safety, but he is certainly cunning and clever. King Achish may think himself to be shrewd, but I am inclined to think he is nave and gullible.138 David comes to this Philistine as a “defector,” whom Achish is inclined to view as a real prize, a real “feather in his cap.” David’s presence among the Philistines looks like a real asset to Achish. After all, from all appearances David is fighting for the Philistines against the Israelites (27:10). This must mean the Israelites would never take David back, and certainly not as their king (compare 21:11; 27:12). Rather than consuming the resources of Achish, David is a contributor. After every raid, David seems to come to Achish to report and give a portion of the spoils (27:9). Achish thinks he has David in the palm of his hand and that he can continue to “use” him to his own advantage.
Achish is not very perceptive. David is not really killing off Israelites at all, but the enemies of Israel, and all from his sanctuary in Ziklag. While we are not told so in this text, it will not be long before we are told that David shares some of the spoils of war with the very people he is supposed to be killing – his kinsmen:
26 Now when David came to Ziklag, he sent some of the spoil to the elders of Judah, to his friends, saying, “Behold, a gift for you from the spoil of the enemies of the LORD: 27 to those who were in Bethel, and to those who were in Ramoth of the Negev, and to those who were in Jattir, 28 and to those who were in Aroer, and to those who were in Siphmoth, and to those who were in Eshtemoa, 29 and to those who were in Racal, and to those who were in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, and to those who were in the cities of the Kenites, 30 and to those who were in Hormah, and to those who were in Bor-ashan, and to those who were in Athach, 31 and to those who were in Hebron, and to all the places where David himself and his men were accustomed to go” (1 Samuel 30:26-31).
Do you see the dramatic contrast between the way David represents his activities to king Achish and the way David is actually conducting himself? He tells Achish he is fighting with fellow-Israelites, leading the Philistine king to conclude he is “making himself odious among his people Israel” (27:12). The truth is he is killing the enemies of the Israelites, and then sharing some of the spoils with them, making frequent visits to their cities (30:26-31). David is ingratiating himself with the Israelites, while living under the protection of the Philistines. We might say David is “playing both ends against the middle.”
About this time, David must be mentally patting himself on the back: “It can’t get any better than this.” David does not have to hide out in the desolate “God forsaken” wilderness areas of Israel; he can freely go anywhere he wants, with respect. He can even drop in on the king. He does not have to “beg” for a handout for his men, but rather can live high on the spoils of his raids. He does not have to fear that the Israelites will betray him; he frequents Israelite villages and towns, bringing their leaders presents from the spoils of war. And if Saul will not deal with the enemies of Israel who surround this nation, David will. David seems to have the best of both (Israelite and Philistine) worlds. And so it appears, but not for long. The chickens, as we say, are about to come home to roost.
1 Now it came about in those days that the Philistines gathered their armed camps for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Know assuredly that you will go out with me in the camp, you and your men.” 2 And David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” So Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”
In the last several months, several families have chosen to have their children sit with them in the 11:00 a.m. teaching hour, where this message is delivered. One of my young friends contributed the title for the message a couple of lessons back. He also presented me with a cartoon version of the lesson for that Sunday. When I was delivering this message and reached this point in the text, a very young member of the family blurted out, “Oh, oh!” She was right. It was not a good time for David. And so I have entitled these first two verses in chapter 28, “Oops.”
The Philistines are continually at war with Israel, as we have seen throughout 1 Samuel. It seems the Philistine commanders conclude that it is time for yet another military campaign against Israel. Achish informs David of the plan, and “honors” him by informing him he has decided it is time to take David and his men as a part of his division. I don’t know how much of a surprise this is to David, but his response to the king certainly comes as a surprise to the reader: “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.”
This sounds like male macho talk. “Hey, Dude, I’m taking you to the war with me.” “Right on, man, you haven’t seen anything yet.” Does David mean what he says? Does David know for sure whether he means it? I wonder. David may be so taken by surprise he hardly knows what to say. He certainly tells king Achish what he wants to hear, because the king then responds to David’s braggadocio by telling him he intends to make him his bodyguard for life. How amazing! David, who once served as Saul’s armor bearer (16:21), now has been appointed the bodyguard of a Philistine king, and he is about to go to war with the Philistines against Israel. Surely the reader is compelled to ask the question, “What in the world is a guy like you doing in a place like this?”
In concluding our study of this text, the first thing we should say is that it’s not over yet. The author skillfully leaves us scratching our heads, taking us to yet an even more perplexing story (Saul consulting the witch of Endor in 28:3-25). The story that starts here in chapter 27 is concluded in chapters 29-31. But we are not given quick, easy answers; we are left with troubling questions, which we are expected to ponder. The author will not tell us a “happily ever after” fairy tale; he tells us a true story, one that boggles our minds. Do we want the Bible to tell us everything, so that we don’t have to agonize or think for ourselves? We won’t get that, even if it is what we prefer. The Bible often tells us troubling things, and then leaves us to ponder them. The Bible does not do all of our thinking for us; it seeks to stimulate our thinking. We are not to think independently of God’s Word, but to think in terms of God’s Word. What does the rest of the Bible teach us to make of this story here?
We can also learn from our text (and many others) that the Bible does not seek to make us into hero worshippers. In Christian and non-Christian circles alike, people are inclined to have their heroes. This is what Hollywood provides for many of our youth. We adults like to think we are more sophisticated. Televangelists are often the heroes of many who watch them and faithfully send their gifts to support them. When one of our Christian heroes fails, we are devastated. We are inclined to throw in the towel, totally devastated by the realization that our heroes are not all they are chalked up to be. If our leaders can’t live up to our standards, we say to ourselves, how can anyone expect us to live up to them? The failure of some public Christian leader often has a domino effect on the Christian community.
The Bible does not give us such heroes, men or women who have the Midas touch, successful in all they do, who never seem to fail. The Bible gives us men and women with all their flaws, men and women just like us, or as James calls them, men “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). Abraham, the man who was willing to offer us his son, Isaac, was also willing to “offer up” his wife Sarah by passing her off as his sister (and more than once, see Genesis 12:13; 20:10-13). Jacob was a man who would not meet the requirements of salesman for a mob-owned used car lot, even if his “uncle” was the mob boss.139 We are beginning to see David’s weaknesses, and we certainly know about men like Gideon, Jonah, and Peter. In the Bible, there are no perfect husbands, no perfect fathers, and no perfect wives.140 God does not want us to “worship” men or to make them our idols. He wants us to worship Him. When we idolize men , we are not only foolish, we set ourselves, and the one we idolize, up for trouble.
Now we come to the bottom line. What does the author intend this passage to teach the readers of his day, and what does this text say to us? Let’s begin with the message for the author’s day.141 We don’t know exactly when this book of 1 Samuel was written, but we do know it was written some time after the events it describes. This is why, for example, we have to be told that one who was called a “seer” in the early days of 1 Samuel would be called a “prophet” in the reader’s day (1 Samuel 9:9). We are also told that Ziklag, the city given to David in 1 Samuel 27, is a city that remained a possession of Israel’s kings to the day of the reader (1 Samuel 27:6). It would seem that the events of our text would be highly instructive to the “kings” alive in the days when 1 and 2 Samuel were written and first read. Did they see the danger of foreign alliances? They should have, for this was a constant danger in Israel’s history. The lessons David learned as Israel’s “king-to-be” were lessons for every king and “king-to-be.”
There are also lessons for the common people at the time of its writing, and these lessons apply to us today as well. Surely as we come to the first two verses of chapter 28, we must ask, “How in the world did David get himself into a predicament like this?” Where did David go wrong? Where did he fail? Let us ponder these questions carefully and prayerfully, for my contention is that Christians fail today in the same way they failed centuries ago. The problems and the solutions of those days are the same today. Let me suggest some of the ways David failed.
First of all, David fell into the “solitary syndrome” (sin-drome). David is the benefactor of ministry to him by others. There was Samuel, who not only anointed him as Israel’s next king, but to whom David could flee when Saul was pursuing him (1 Samuel 19:18-24). There was also Abiathar, the only surviving heir of Ahimelech, who joined David, along with the ephod (1 Samuel 22:20-23; 23:6). Then there was Jonathan, who constantly stood behind him, assuring David he would be the next king (1 Samuel 20:12-17, 41-42; 23:15-18). And there was also Abigail, who greatly encouraged David to do right as Israel’s next king (1 Samuel 25:26-31).
Even though David was accompanied by many, he seems somehow to have withdrawn into himself. His conversation in 27:1 is with himself (literally, the text informs us he “said to his heart”). David suffers from what I call the “Lone Ranger syndrome.” It is that false sense of “being alone” in your spiritual struggle, pain, or suffering. Even the prophet Elijah was struck with this malady:
9 Then he came there to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:9-10, emphasis mine).
13 And it came about when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:13-14, emphasis mine).
Whenever we think we are alone in our spiritual struggles, we are self-deceived and ripe for a spiritual fall. David seems to be in that “Lone Ranger” frame of mind. He is certainly not seeking wise counsel or the will of God here, means available to him if he but wished to avail himself of them.
Second, David seems to have forgotten things he should have remembered. This is a very serious malady indeed. The nation Israel constantly forgot how the Lord had faithfully led them and provided for them in their past, even their very recent past. In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is constantly urging the Israelites to “remember” all that God had done for them, and warning them not to “forget” these things. David has forgotten far too much in choosing to flee from the land of Israel and seek protection and safety in the land of the Philistines. David has forgotten the words the Lord spoke to him through Samuel and others. He has forgotten how the Lord saved him time and time again from Saul. He has forgotten the instruction of the prophet Gad to leave the stronghold (apparently outside the land) and return to Judah (1 Samuel 22:5). He has forgotten his own words, spoken not that long ago, about the blessedness of being in the land, and the curse of being forced to leave it (chapter 26). David even appears to have forgotten the disaster it was for him to flee to king Achish in Gath (21:10-15). Forgetfulness (of God’s commands, promises, and faithfulness) is often the starting point for serious failure.
Third, David seems to have closed his eyes to the implications and consequences of his actions, while minimizing the seriousness of his error. David does not purpose to fail. He does not intend to end up in the Philistine army, headed for battle with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelite soldiers. All he intends to do is to leave Israel for a short time, just long enough for Saul to lose heart and give up his pursuit. But one sin has a way of opening the door to another, and then another. This is the way it is with David. The situation just keeps going from bad to worse, and David gets in so deep it doesn’t look like there is any way out. It all starts with what appears to be a minor lapse in faith, but it ends in a most serious situation in which David finds himself ready to take Goliath’s place against king Saul and Israel.
Fourth, David’s decision is based upon “sight” rather than on “faith.” David is not viewing his circumstances through the eyes of faith, but through human sight. His assessment of the situation is merely human. It ignores God’s previous provisions, His promises, or His prophetic declarations. David is looking through human eyes, and all he can see is certain death, if he stays in Israel. His only “hope” is in the benevolence, power and provisions of a pagan king. It is not faith, but fear, which triumphs here.
Fifth, David’s failure does not come as his response to a crushing defeat, an irresistible temptation, or a major crisis. I think we would all be much more comfortable if David’s decisions in this chapter were made in panic, in the face of monumental troubles, opposition, or temptation. The simple fact is that our text indicates nothing of the kind. In fact, David’s failure in chapter 27 follows immediately on the heels of his “successes” in chapter 26. This is not unlike Elijah, who virtually caves in (pardon the pun) after a great victory on Mount Carmel.
What then explains David’s failure here in chapter 27? I think I know. It is one of the greatest enemies the Christian ever faces – weariness. Listen to these exhortations about weariness:
And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary (Galatians 6:9).
But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13).
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:3).
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary (Revelation 2:1-3).
I think David simply grows weary of well doing. Think of it. David has now been on the run for some time. Saul has a price on David’s head. Now even those from his own tribe, the tribe of Judah (i.e. the Ziphites) are betraying him to Saul. David is indirectly responsible for the deaths of the priests and their families. He has alienated Saul from his son Jonathan and his daughter Michal. David has endangered his own family, so that he feels he has to place them in the care of the king of Moab. David has now accumulated a following of 600 men, and they all have wives and families to worry about. This kind of burden tends to wear one down. David does not “blow out” here, so to speak; he “burns out.” David simply gives up.
It is wrong, but this is the way many of God’s people have failed throughout the centuries. But it need not be this way. Those of us who are weary simply need to come to God for strength. We need to understand that it is through our weaknesses that God demonstrates His strength:
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. 29 He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary (Isaiah 40:28-31).
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
7 And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me-- to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
I know of many young people who have committed themselves to Jesus Christ and purposed to live their lives in a way that pleases God. Young men and women like this have said no to pornography, no to premarital sex, no to compromising relationships, no to drugs. And then one day, they become weary, and in a moment of time, they cast aside their restraint and their commitment to follow God. It may not be an instant collapse, but rather a compromise, a concession, which leads to disaster.
I know of numerous marriages at this very moment on the brink of disaster. Husbands or wives have become frustrated with their mates and with their marriages. Like David, they have affirmed their commitment to biblical principles and reaffirmed their marriages are forever. They have recognized and accepted the fact that their marriages are an earthly picture of Christ and His church. And then, they grow weary of the struggle, and simply give up, casting aside their commitments to each other, and even their commitments before God and His church. Many of the Christian marriages I have watched dissolve have crumbled as the result of weariness, on the part of one or both partners.
The same thing happens to Christians in business. These believers know they march to the beat of a different drum than their competitors. They seek not only to obey the laws of the land, but to live within the principles of the Word of God. When they bid a job, they give accurate numbers, knowing that their competition will hedge, only to gouge the customer later on. And then that Christian in business becomes weary of losing contracts, or losing profits, and starts to reason and to conduct their business on human terms, rather than by faith and obedience.
My friend, let us learn from David that even those with a sincere heart for God are never far from the possibility of failure. The good news is that even when our faith fails, God remains faithful:
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
Let us cast ourselves on Him who is faithful, and who gives strength to the weary. Let us acknowledge our weakness, and rely on His strength.
131 The question is not new or novel. We could certainly ask Abraham what he was doing in Egypt, passing his wife off as a mere sister (Genesis 12). It is what God asked Elijah, as He found him sulking at Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:9). We would want to ask the same question of Peter, as he sat warming himself by the fire along with those who were about to crucify our Lord (Mark 14:66ff.).
134 Dale Ralph Davis makes a point of the repetition of the word, “perish:” “It is the verb sapah, which David uses in 26:10 when he tells Abishai that Yahweh would surely dispose of Saul in his time; for example, Saul might go down into battle ‘and be swept away.’ Now, however, David is convinced that he himself will be ‘swept away’ by Saul if he does not exit Israel. It is a revealing reverse. Contrary to Yahweh’s record of protection, contrary to Yahweh’s promise via Jonathan and Abigail, David is certain he will now be swept away.” Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart: Expositions of the Book of 1 Samuel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), vol. 2, p. 140.
136 Did these dependents play a significant part in the decision to seek sanctuary in Gath, even as David sought sanctuary for his parents in Moab (22:3-4)? I doubt that this whole group was in the cave in chapter 24. The families of David’s men may have been in danger from Saul (remember Ahimelech, chapter 22). The longer David and his men had to hide out (especially after David refused to take Saul’s life when he had the chance), the more eager these men must be to be reunited with their families.
137 One has to wonder what Abigail thought of David’s plan to flee to Achish. One also wonders if he asked her opinion or considered her counsel. Abigail may not have been as bold here as she was earlier, and perhaps for good reason.
138 In David’s first flight to Achish in chapter 21, it was the servants of this king who pointed out the danger of keeping an Israelite among them who was renowned for killing Philistines (21:11-12). In chapter 29, it is the other Philistine commanders who refuse to let David come to war with them against Israel (29:1-5). Achish is all too easily taken in by David.
139 Okay, I confess. I am exaggerating, but only a little. It’s hard to tell who is the more crooked of the two, Jacob or his uncle Laban. In the New Testament, I don’t hear any Jews bragging about Jacob being in their family tree.
25. Finding God’s Will, Any ‘Witch’ Way You Can (1 Samuel 28:1-25)
Recently millions of people were exceedingly angry with America On Line. Right around Christmas time, AOL commenced a new program. For $19.95 a month, a person could get unlimited internet access through AOL. The problem was that everyone thought this was a “good deal.” The people already connected to AOL began to use this service a lot more – after all, it didn’t cost any more to use this internet provider 15 hours a month than it did for 5 hours. And many others, hearing of such a good deal, became new subscribers. The result was disastrous for nearly everyone. There were simply too many people trying to use AOL at the same time.
One of our computers at home is connected to AOL, and many times over a period of weeks we were unable to log onto the system. We were not even able to check our e-mail. For several weeks, there were a whole lot of unhappy customers, some of whom were more than just unhappy. They made sure AOL knew about it. Lawsuits were filed, threats were made; all in all, it was pretty ugly for a few weeks, and all because people could not do as quickly or as well what they had been doing the past few months. Few seemed to recall that a few years ago, nobody even dreamed they might ever be able to do such things.
If such a furor arose over the partial failure of an internet provider, imagine what it would be like to lose one’s connection with God. This is exactly what happens to King Saul. In our text, a series of events occurs which leaves Saul frightened to death. Saul gets a good case of “foxhole religion.” He seeks to “inquire of the Lord” to learn what he should do to get himself out of the mess he is in. In spite of numerous attempts to inquire of the Lord, every one of his efforts fail. God is there, but He is silent. In contemporary terminology, Saul tries desperately to get “on line,” but every one of his “providers” fail to respond. Saul is in trouble, and yet he cannot obtain divine guidance that might be the key to his victory. What will he do? The answer: he will do something he has never done before nor will ever do again.
By far, these are the darkest days of Saul’s life. We will soon see just how dark they are and why he finds himself in this dilemma. Let us seek to discern the lessons found here for the ancient Israelites and for us as well. Prepare yourself, because this is one of the most troubling chapters in 1 Samuel. It is not a “happily ever after” story; indeed, it is just the opposite. Let us listen and learn, lest we cause ourselves to follow in Saul’s footsteps.
God Is There, But He Is Silent
1 Now it came about in those days that the Philistines gathered their armed camps for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Know assuredly that you will go out with me in the camp, you and your men.” 2 And David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” So Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” 3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists. 4 So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. 6 When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.”
All of us have had one of those days when absolutely everything that can go wrong does go wrong. This is such a day for Saul. (Incidentally, David’s day isn’t going too well, either.) Saul’s problems are staggering. First, the Philistines are waging war against the Israelites, and this time they are very serious about it. The Philistines have continually harassed the Israelites throughout the reign of Saul.142 But this time, it appears the Philistine kings have determined to break the back of Israel’s military might once and for all. This they intend to do by combining all of their armed forces at Aphek (29:1). From there, they will march northward, up through the Plain of Esdraelon to Shunem (28:3-25). Their strategy seems to be to “divide and conquer” Israel by separating the nation in the middle and then working on the northern and southern halves independently. While the Philistines will fight with their full forces, the Israelites cannot. Saul’s scouts inform him of the size and location of the Philistines’ forces. The numbers are staggering. On top of all this, they are sticking to the lower ground to make full use of their chariots. I can almost hear Saul mumble under his breath, “We’re history.”
Second, Saul may well have heard that David is among the Philistines who have assembled to attack Israel. If Saul dreads facing off with this massive Philistine army, he may also be shaken to learn that David is among these Philistines. Our chapter begins with the account of the Philistine king, Achish, informing David that he and his men will go with him to fight against the Israelites. David assures Achish that he will prove himself a worthy ally, to which Achish responds by informing David that he will be his bodyguard for life. We know from chapter 29 that David and his men are with Achish at Aphek, and it is here that he and his men will be instructed to go back home to Ziklag. It may be that Saul’s scouts spot David and his men among the Philistines gathering at Aphek. You can imagine how Saul feels about going up against David, especially after he himself has said to David:
“And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand” (1 Samuel 24:20).
Then Saul said to David, “Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place (1 Samuel 26:25).
Third, Saul is aware of the danger he is in and is desperately afraid. You may will remember that Saul seems to have been a fearful (or at least retiring) person from the very beginning. He wanted to give up the search for his father’s donkeys (9:5). He would not tell his uncle (Abner?) what Samuel had said to him (10:14-16). He hid with the luggage when lots were drawn to identify the king (10:22). So far as we read in 1 Samuel, he never initiates an attack against the Philistines, even though ridding Israel of Philistine opposition is a significant part of his calling as Israel’s king (9:16). After the evil Spirit from the Lord came upon him, he became fearful, and at times terrorized (see 16:14; 17:11; 18:12). This full-scale, all-out attack by the Philistines has all the signs of a devastating defeat for Saul and his army, so the author informs us that Saul is scared to death (verse 5).
Fourth, although Saul now desperately seeks to “inquire of the Lord,” he is not able to get any response from God. Saul is not really very experienced in seeking God’s will, as our text has shown up to this point. Unlike David (see 1 Samuel 22:10, 15), Saul is not accustomed to seeking divine guidance.143 It was not Saul’s idea to inquire of a “seer” to learn where his father’s lost donkeys might be (1 Samuel 9:5-9). When lots were drawn to learn who God had chosen as Israel’s king, Saul was not a part of that process; he was hiding (10:22). Saul did not seek divine guidance regarding when to wage war with the Philistines. There was no need, since Jonathan was usually the one who started the fight by attacking the Philistines (such as when he attacked the Philistine garrison at Geba -- 13:3). Later on in chapter 13, Saul “forced himself” to go ahead and offer the burnt offering, rather than continue to wait for Samuel. In doing so, Saul disobeyed the command Samuel had given him in chapter 10, a command pertaining to divine guidance:
“And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do” (1 Samuel 10:8, emphasis mine).
Saul is instructed to wait for Samuel to obtain divine guidance, but he does not.
In chapter 14, Jonathan’s secret attack on the Philistines brought about an earthquake and great confusion among the Philistine warriors. Saul watches all this from a distance, then calls for the ark of God to be brought to him (14:18). The priest is in the process of consulting God when Saul observes that the Philistines are in flight, so he stops the priest in the middle of his inquiry into God’s will and begins to pursue them (14:19f.). Saul’s foolish edict greatly hinders Israel’s pursuit of the Philistines, causing many of the soldiers to sin by eating the blood of the animals they devour in their famished state (14:24-35). After the men eat, Saul is ready to begin his pursuit of the Philistines, but the priest strongly urges that they first “draw near to God” to inquire into His will (14:36). When no answer is forthcoming that day, Saul concludes it is due to (Jonathan’s) sin and orders lots to be cast between all the Israelites on the one hand, and Jonathan and himself on the other. Saul and his son are indicated. Lots are then cast between Jonathan and Saul. Jonathan is indicated; Saul fully intends to use the casting of lots to justify putting his own son to death and would have if the people had not refused to allow it. Saul is far from a model of how one seeks divine guidance.
On this occasion as well it does not seem that Saul’s motives are pure in his efforts to inquire of the Lord. It does not seem as though Saul is truly “inquiring of the Lord” in the sense that he is seeking to learn God’s will in order to do it. This also seems to be the conclusion of the author of 1 Chronicles:
13 So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, 14 and did not inquire of the LORD Therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse (1 Chronicles 10:13-14, emphasis mine).
We are told that Saul “inquired of the Lord” (28:6), but it is not a genuine inquiry. Instead, it is Saul’s desperate attempt to get God to bail him out of the trouble into which he has gotten himself. A similar effort to inquire of the Lord is described in the Book of Jeremiah:
1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchijah, and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, 2 “Please inquire of the LORD on our behalf, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is warring against us; perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all His wonderful acts, that the enemy may withdraw from us” (Jeremiah 21:1-2, emphasis mine).
Saul’s uneasiness progresses from fear to terror to sheer panic. He must do something drastic, now! It is as though Saul is reliving the events of chapter 13, only this time Saul’s sense of impending doom is even greater. The Philistines are camped in Shunem, and Saul and his army are camped in Gilboa (verse 4). The Philistines are poised to attack, and Saul knows he doesn’t stand a chance. He must act, and quickly -- or so Saul supposes. And so he makes a very desperate and dangerous decision. Since he cannot seem to get God’s attention in any of the conventional ways, he decides that he must inquire of a medium.
A Voice From the Dead
7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.” 8 Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, “Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.” 9 But the woman said to him, “Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?” 10 And Saul vowed to her by the LORD, saying, “As the LORD lives, there shall no punishment come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul.” 13 And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid; but what do you see?” And the woman said to Saul,” I see a divine being coming up out of the earth. “ 14 And he said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage.
As he is not able to make any connection with God in the conventional ways, Saul decides to seek it in a very different way. Samuel is the only prophet we know of who gave Saul directives from God. There may have been others, but they are not mentioned in the text. Samuel is now dead (verse 3), but Saul comes upon an idea. Maybe he can still speak with Samuel. Maybe he can persuade a medium to conjure him up, so that he can speak with him. Saul instructs his servants to find a woman who is a medium. They know of such a woman living at En-Dor.
This plan to inquire of a medium has its own set of problems, which we can see from the text.
First, God has strictly forbidden the use of mediums. A number of Old Testament texts forbid the presence of mediums and other spiritists in the land of Israel and also forbid the Israelites to consult such persons. Consider these prohibitions in the Law of Moses:
“‘Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God’” (Leviticus 19:31).
“‘As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people’” (Leviticus 20:6).
“‘Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them’” (Leviticus 20:27).
10 “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 “For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. 13 “You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. 14 “For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so” (Deuteronomy 18:10-14).
The second problem is that, for once, Saul has done something right: “Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists” (verse 3b). This is truly amazing. For once, it seems, Saul did something right. Now, in the crunch of an imminent Philistine attack, Saul wishes he could locate a medium and do what the Old Testament law forbade. The biggest obstacle in doing so is his own obedience which removed these people from the land. Get this: Saul now regrets doing one of the few things he seems to have done right.
There is yet a third problem, a logistical one. The Philistines are camped in Shunem; Saul and the Israelite army are camped in Gilboa. En-dor is approximately eight miles north of Gilboa, and to get there, Saul has to go around the Philistines.
There is a fourth problem: Saul cannot afford to be identified. Saul dares not be identified by anyone whom he might encounter on the way. To kill the opposing king is to be half way to victory over one’s enemy, and thus the king is the primary target. A king could, in caution, disguise himself (see 1 Kings 22:29-36). In addition, Saul does not wish to be recognized by the medium. If she knows who he is she certainly will not agree to conjure up a dead man, knowing it was Saul who put the mediums and spiritists out of the land (see verse 9). His solution is to travel by night, disguising himself by his apparel. He will not wear his royal attire on this mission.
When Saul arrives at the home of the medium, he gets right to the point. He first seeks a commitment from the medium that she will conjure up whomever he names. She resists, fearing this might be one of Saul’s “sting” operations. She does not want to be caught directly disobeying the king’s orders. After all, these men are strangers, or so she supposes. Ironically, Saul swears to her by the Lord that she will not be punished for doing what he asks of her (verse 10). He then asks the woman to conjure up Samuel for him. She does not need to ask for further clarification. When the woman sees Samuel, she shrieks. She not only recognizes Samuel, she now recognizes that the one asking her to conjure up Samuel is none other than Saul himself. I can almost hear her exclaim to herself, “I’m history.”
Saul again assures the woman he will not harm her, and then asks her to describe the person she sees before her.144 Her response to seeing Samuel and her description of him seems to indicate that this is no ordinary conjuring. She tells Saul that she sees a “divine being” (NASB; KJV renders it “gods”). The Hebrew text uses the word “elohim” (gods), and the Septuagint uses the Greek word “theous” (gods). This is not just a “spirit being,” but a “divine being” whom she sees. No wonder she is frightened. This “divine being” she describes to Saul as one looking like an old man, wrapped with a robe. By her description of this “divine being” Saul recognizes him as Samuel. And so Saul bows down with his face to the ground “doing homage” to him (verse 14).
15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” And Saul answered, “I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and answers me no more, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has departed from you and has become your adversary? 17 “And the LORD has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. 18 “As you did not obey the LORD and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the LORD has done this thing to you this day. 19 “Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the LORD will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!”
During the years Saul and Samuel were both alive, Samuel spoke candidly to Saul for God. Samuel did not tell Saul what he wanted to hear. In fact, Samuel at times feared for his own life, when he did what he knew would infuriate Saul (see 16:2). In chapters 13 and 15, Samuel rebuked Saul for his sins, and told him frankly that he was going to lose his kingdom. In light of these things, what in the world does Saul expect Samuel to say to him now? If he expects anything different because a medium had conjured up Samuel from the dead, Saul is in for a very rude awakening.
I have five daughters, and some of them are not what you would call a “morning person.” (Frankly, I am not a “morning person,” either.) Saul learns that conjuring up Samuel from the dead is like waking up one of my daughters early in the morning. It can be like rousing a she-bear. I used to joke about going into the bedroom and poking such a sleepyhead with a stick, without getting too close. Anyway, Samuel seems pretty “grumpy,” if that is the right way to describe him: “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” He could have said this because he didn’t like being disturbed by Saul. (Incidentally, he seems to feel much more free to “snap” at Saul now than he did when he was alive. No need to fear that Saul will kill him now!) Or, he could have said this as a rebuke to Saul, for doing something that he should not have done – conjuring up the spirit of one who is dead. Either way, Samuel’s disapproval is clearly indicated.
Saul sounds like a schoolboy, who has just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and has had his knuckles rapped. He seeks to justify his actions by telling Samuel he is greatly distressed. He adds that the reason is the Philistines are waging war against him and that God has departed from him, answering his inquiries no more. It is as though Saul is saying, “I just had to call you, Samuel. You have to tell me what to do. I know its against the rules, Samuel, but this is an emergency.”
Samuel is not impressed. He does not tell Saul what to do. In fact, he rebukes Saul for asking him to do what is impossible. Asking Samuel to speak for God, once God has departed from him, is like asking Balaam to curse the people of God, once God has chosen to bless them. Samuel cannot and will not tell Saul what to do. Saul is on his own. But, since Saul has gone to the effort of having him conjured up, Samuel will tell Saul how things are between him and God, and what tomorrow holds. The situation Saul now finds himself in is precisely that which Samuel announced to Saul when he spoke for God in chapters 13 and 15. Saul is now experiencing the fulfillment of Samuel’s earlier prophecies.
Samuel, in very concise words, tells Saul what will happen to him and why. As Samuel indicated to Saul earlier, God has torn the kingdom from Saul’s hands. He is giving that kingdom to David, Saul’s “neighbor.”145 This is because of Saul’s disobedience in failing to fully carry out God’s instructions concerning Amalek. The words of Samuel’s prophecy, spoken to Saul in chapter 15, are now being fulfilled, Samuel tells the king. On the following day, God will give Israel, Saul, and his sons over to the Philistines. Saul and his sons will be killed. Samuel says it as bluntly as it can be said, “Tomorrow, you and your sons will be with me.” Now this is very troubling news. It certainly is not what Saul hoped to hear. He conjures up a prophet, and he gets one. Even from the grave, Samuel will not change his tune.
Saul’s Last Supper
20 Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel; also there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day and all night. 21 And the woman came to Saul and saw that he was terrified, and said to him, “Behold, your maidservant has obeyed you, and I have taken my life in my hand, and have listened to your words which you spoke to me. 22 “So now also, please listen to the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you that you may eat and have strength when you go on your way.” 23 But he refused and said, “I will not eat.” However, his servants together with the woman urged him, and he listened to them. So he arose from the ground and sat on the bed. 24 And the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly slaughtered it; and she took flour, kneaded it, and baked unleavened bread from it. 25 And she brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they arose and went away that night.
What happens next is not a very pretty sight. Saul came to the medium at En-dor that night a very fearful man. After what has just happened to Saul, he literally comes unglued. Saul’s knees buckle at the words of Samuel. He falls to the ground, paralyzed as though he has been zapped full-power by a stun gun. In part, this is the result of his having had nothing to eat for some time. In addition, he is fatigued from traveling those eight miles or so from his camp in Gilboa to En-dor. But a good bit of it is due to sheer terror. I can well imagine that by now the medium is getting a little concerned herself and very eager for Saul to be on his way.
The woman now appeals to Saul to listen to her and take her advice. After all, this is the least he can do for her when she has risked her life for him. She pleads with the king to let her fix him something to eat, something to give him strength enough to be on his way. He refuses. His appetite is gone. Both the woman and Saul’s servants prevail upon him to eat, not because he is hungry, but because he must regain his strength to return to his camp. Like the father of the prodigal son, the medium of En-dor kills and prepares the fatted calf (see Luke 15:22-24, 29), but it is not for a feast of celebration, nor because the prodigal has repented and returned. It is more like a wake. She slaughters the calf and prepares it, along with some bread. The king eats, and then goes out into the night. It is the darkest day of Saul’s life so far, but an even darker day is yet to come -- the next day -- when Samuel’s prophecies are fulfilled.
We have an expression that goes: “All’s well that ends well.” If this is true, all is not well, at least so far as Saul is concerned. Dale Ralph Davis entitles the chapter of his commentary on this text of Scripture, “And It Was Night.”146 This title is certainly prompted by the two-fold reference in our text to these events taking place in the darkness of night (28:8, 25). It also seems to be a play on the words of John 13:30, where we are told that Judas left our Lord and the disciples to consummate his betrayal of our Lord. John there very cryptically tells us, “and it was night.”
Without a doubt, this is the darkest day of Saul’s life – so far. The next (and last) day will be even darker. Here is the king of Israel, so weak with hunger and terror he cannot even stand up. He is dressed in a pathetic attempt at disguise, but that also has failed. He is at the house of a medium, seeking to inquire of her. And when he manages to speak with Samuel, the prophet tells him only an ancient version of “I told you so.” He tells Saul further that he and his sons will die in battle the following day. He offers him no encouragement, no hope, no chance to repent. It is simply too late. What a tragic picture of Saul we see here.
Forty years earlier, Saul was a promising young ruler and a marvelous physical specimen, who stood head and shoulders above his fellow-Israelites (9:1-2). He started his military career liberating the people of Jabesh-gilead by decisively defeating the Ammonites (chapter 11). How then did things go so wrong for Saul, so that he ends up trembling mass on the floor of a forbidden medium? The answer according to Samuel is quite simple – disobedience. Saul’s first major failure (so far as the biblical text informs us) is at Gilgal, where he fails to wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifices, as he was instructed to do (see 10:7-8). Rather than wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifices and then tell him what he should do (for divine guidance), Saul had gone ahead and offered the sacrifice147 himself.
His second major failure is hardly a straw, but it does so to speak, break the camel’s back. Samuel gives Saul a very clear divine directive. As Israel’s king, it is Saul’s duty to annihilate the Amalekites for the way they have treated Israel at the exodus. Every Amalekite is to be killed, including the king. In fact, Samuel makes it clear that the king is not to be spared (15:1-3). No children or cattle are to be spared, either. In spite of this command, Saul and the people spared King Agag and the best of the cattle. Samuel presses Saul hard to take personal responsibility for his sin. When Saul seeks to minimize his sin by claiming he was saving the best of the Amalekites’ cattle to sacrifice to God, Samuel sets down a principle that will echo throughout the rest of the Old Testament and the New:
22 And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
Saul seems to think men’s sacrifices are what He most values, even if it means disobeying God to do so. Samuel sees it exactly the opposite. God delights in man’s obedience, more than in his sacrifices. Obedience to God is the highest good. Disobedience therefore is the greatest evil. Does Saul suppose God will look favorably on the disobedience which made such sacrifices possible? He will not. In fact, God look upon such rebellion as the sin of divination, and upon insubordination as iniquity and idolatry. Saul thinks God will look with pleasure on what he and the Israelites have done in regard to the Amalekites. Samuel tells Saul that God looks upon his actions as though they are the most wicked thing he could do.
Though I had not thought about it in such terms before, I am now inclined to understand 1 Samuel 15:22-23 in the light of 1 Samuel 28:3. Here, the author tells us that Saul has previously rid the land of Israel of those who are mediums and spiritists. As I now look back on chapter 15, I am inclined to understand it as follows. Saul has already removed the mediums and spiritists from the land. He probably feels pretty good about this, because he has done that which the Law of Moses commanded.148 But then some time after he is commanded to rid the land of the Amalekites. This he does only partially, and as suggested earlier, partial obedience is actually disobedience. When God rebukes Saul through Samuel, He tells the king that his disobedience is just as offensive to Him as idolatry and witchcraft. Does Saul feel somewhat smug about removing the mediums and spiritists? Does he agree that these people and their practices are evil? His disobedience is viewed on the same level as witchcraft and idolatry. The magnitude of his sin in partially obeying God regarding the removal of the Amalekites is the same as that of the sin of witchcraft.
I think Samuel’s words of rebuke in chapter 15 go even further. Samuel is inferring that if Saul’s disobedience and rebellion is not repented of it will actually lead to witchcraft and idolatry. In other words, if Saul does not repent of his sin with regard to the Amalekites, Samuel is prophesying that Saul will be guilty of the very “sins” he has just condemned by removing the mediums and spiritists.
The events of chapter 28 come to pass, with uncanny certainty because Saul fails to take his own sin and Samuel’s rebuke seriously enough. I find a significant similarity between chapters 13 and 15. In both chapters, Saul sins by willfully disobeying God’s command. In both cases, when Samuel confronts Saul, he tries to lay the blame off (at least in part) on someone else. In chapter 13, Saul pardons himself by claiming that Samuel is late (it is his fault), and the people are leaving him (it is their fault). In chapter 15, Saul again seeks to duck his personal responsibility. He first claims to have fully obeyed God; Samuel makes short work of this claim. Then he blames the people, as though they alone kept back the good cattle. Eventually, Saul admits to being afraid of the people, but he still does not assume the responsibility that is his as king. In both chapters 13 and 15, Saul sees his actions as required by an emergency situation. He has mentally declared a “state of emergency” in which his own form of “martial law” sets aside the laws of God. Finally, after all of Saul’s flimsy excuses are set aside, his “repentance” barely meets the standard for “regret.”
Thus we see why things must happen as they do in chapter 28. Saul started out all right, but very quickly became careless about obeying God’s commandments. Even when rebuked for his sins, he does not fully repent, and thus a repetition of his sins is inevitable. Given Samuel’s prophetic declaration in chapter 15, we should hardly be surprised to find Saul seeking divine guidance by means of a medium. If a person finds God’s commands repulsive, he also finds them easy to cast aside. Is it any wonder that such a person eventually turns to witches, mediums (or any number of other means of obtaining guidance), when such people “direct” them in the way they really wish to go in the first place (compare 2 Timothy 4:3-4)? We see that the end of Saul’s life is tragic, but it should not be surprising. It is the logical outcome of the path he has chosen to walk.
As we read this story of Saul’s humiliation in the home of the medium of En-dor, we would like to comfort ourselves by thinking this is a strange, bizarre situation, a fluke. I strongly maintain it is no fluke at all. Indeed, I believe what we see here is the norm. Saul is a living demonstration of “the rule,” rather than “the exception.” Saul is a kind of prototype of the nation Israel.149 We see, in the life (and death) of Saul, a microcosm, a miniature version of Israel’s history. Israel, like Saul, was not chosen because of his high standing, but in spite of the fact that he was of less than noble stock (compare Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 1 Samuel 9:21; 10:22; 15:17). Like the nation Israel, God raised up Samuel to “utterly destroy” the Canaanite nations (compare Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 1 Samuel 15:1-3). Samuel, like the nation Israel, was to trust in God and keep His commandments, and not to imitate the heathen (compare Deuteronomy 7:2-5, 9-16; 1 Samuel 15:20-23). And, like Israel, God would destroy Saul for his flagrant, consistent rebellion (compare Deuteronomy 7:4; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14). Notice how these two themes are intertwined in chapter 12:
14 “If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. 15 “And if you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers. 16 “Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. 17 “Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king.” 18 So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. 19 Then all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.” 20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 “And you must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. 22 “For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. 23 “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. 24 “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. 25 “But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king shall be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:14-25).
Finally, the nation Israel was chosen by God to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), but their rule as God’s “sons” did not last long, due to their disobedience (see Exodus 4:23). Then it was Israel’s kings who were to be God’s “sons,” ruling over the nation (see 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:4-9). Ultimately, there is only one good and perfect “King,” one “Son of God,” in whom we can be saved from our sins, and in whom we can reign (John 1:12; Romans 8:14-25).
Saul is not only a prototype of the nation Israel, he is a tragic example of what can happen to each and every one of us. Those who desire to know and do the will of God will know it, for God will reveal it to them (see John 7:17). But if we stubbornly rebel against God, He will not listen to our prayers, and He will cease disclosing Himself and His will to us (He will not “cast His pearls before swine;” see also Psalm 68:18; John 2:23-25; Mark 4:20-25). Eventually, those who resist and disobey God’s will and His Word (which can hardly be distinguished) begin to look elsewhere for teaching which is still represented as “Christian,” though it is not (see 2 Timothy 3:1-13; 4:1-4).
There is, I believe, a “point of no return” in a person’s life. There is a point in time where God ceases to convict the sinner, but rather hardens their heart, due to persistent rejection of the gospel. There is a point in time when it is, humanly speaking, too late. Those who foolishly suppose they can continue to live in sin and reject the gospel, thinking God will always “be there for them,” are wrong.
1 And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain – 2 for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU”; behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).
I believe there is also a “point of no return” for a Christian who is living in constant, willful rebellion. It is not that this person will lose their salvation, but they will lose the “joy” of their salvation. They may very well lose the assurance of their salvation. They certainly will lose the sense of intimacy and fellowship they could and should have with Christ and His church. They may even lose their lives, even as Saul did (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 1 John 5:13-17).
Though it may not be a comforting thought, we are more like Saul than we would like to believe. There is a lot of “Saul” in every one of us. This is why we must abide in Christ and in His Word. This is why we must pray for strength, and that we will not fall into temptation. This is why we need “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves” and the encouragement of Christian brothers and sisters, and we must beware of persistent, willful sin (Hebrews 10:19-31).
It is very clear that our text is no fairy tale. Saul does not live “happily ever after,” as fairy tale people do. Neither does anyone who fails to trust and obey God. Let us be sobered and humbled by Saul, and let us acknowledge our weaknesses, and rely wholly on His strength.
142 In tracing through the history of Saul’s encounters with the Philistines in 1 Samuel, Saul has good reason to feel uneasy about this confrontation, based upon past experience. Although Saul was made king to deliver Israel from the Philistines (9:16), his victories were not glorious or complete. In chapter 13, it was Jonathan who precipitated a large scale Philistine attack on Israel, because he attacked a Philistine garrison at Geba (13:3). Saul did not inspire courage, and so most of those he summoned to war deserted. Once again, it was Jonathan’s secret attack on the Philistines that precipitated a victory over the Philistines, thanks to a divinely sent earthquake (14:15). During the pursuit of the Philistines that followed, a foolish command given by Saul seriously hindered the Israelite’s cause, and nearly cost Jonathan his life. Just as Jonathan overshadowed his father in fighting Philistines, David does as well. His victory over Goliath and the Philistines made David more popular than Saul. All in all, Saul did not do well when dealing with the Philistines. One can see why he would fear their latest attack.
144 This certainly seems to suggest that the woman “saw” Samuel, but Saul did not. Why else did she have to describe to Saul what Samuel looked like? Saul will indeed converse with Samuel, but there is no clear indication that he actually “saw” him.
Related Topics: Cults/Magic
26. From “Playing Both Ends Against the Middle” to “Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place” (1 Samuel 29:1-30:6)
I have a number of younger friends whom I enjoy a great deal. One of my friends was visiting recently as I was in my study finishing the previous Sunday’s sermon in print. My nine-year-old friend, Luke, strolled into the study to see how I was doing. “What’s that on your screen?” he asked. “That’s my sermon from last week,” I responded. “Kind of long, isn’t it?”, he asked. “Well, I guess maybe it is,” I responded. As I continued to work on the message and scrolled down to page 10, Luke chatted and looked on with casual interest. “Hold it, Uncle Bob!,” he said, “I thought I saw something. Could you scroll back just a bit -- just a little more?” Walking over to my monitor, Luke pointed to a sentence in my sermon where I had written, “Saul commander of a thousand, hoping David would be killed.” “Is this what you really meant to say?” he asked. “No,” I admitted, a little embarrassed and quite amazed. I fixed the sentence to Luke’s satisfaction and mine by changing it to read, “Saul appointed David commander of a thousand, hoping David would be killed.” As Luke lost interest and sauntered out of my study, I said to myself, “How did he do that?”
Sometimes we receive help from unexpected places. That most certainly is the case with David in 1 Samuel 29. David manages to get himself into a real jam. After being delivered from the hand of Saul on numerous occasions, David becomes weary of living like a fugitive. In a moment of despair, he reasons that his only hope is to flee from Saul into the land of the Philistines. David is convinced that once Saul learns where he is, he will give up his pursuit. David and his 600 men, accompanied by their wives and children, found refuge in the land of the Philistines. David persuades Achish, the Philistine king, to allow them to leave Gath and settle instead in the more remote city of Ziklag. From this base of operations, David stages a number of raids against the enemies of Israel. In each case, David deceives Achish by telling him that he has just raided another one of the Israelite villages or cities nearby. To assure that no one will be able to inform Achish of what has really happened, David is careful to kill off every person, leaving no survivors. David seems to share some of the spoils of war with King Achish (see 27:9), while also taking a share (at least on one occasion) to his Israelite brethren (see 30:26-31), the very people Achish thinks David is killing off. In short, David is playing both ends against the middle.
David seems to be getting away with his deception. Suddenly things take an unexpected turn, and David now appears to be caught in the middle. King Achish informs David that the Philistine commanders are joining forces to stage a massive attack against Israel. He then tells David he and his 600 men are going to have the honor of fighting with and for him. David unnerves the reader of 1 Samuel 28 by assuring Achish that he will fight valiantly for the Philistines. He promises to show Achish his full capabilities as he goes to battle with him. Achish responds to David’s assurances by offering him what he believes to be a great reward for his faithful service – a lifetime job as his personal bodyguard. Who would have ever imagined that David, who once served as Saul’s armor bearer, would now be appointed the bodyguard of a Philistine king?
The author leaves us in shock at this turn of events, as he turns his attention to King Saul and the account of his visit to the medium of En-dor. In chapter 29, we come upon a terrified, panic-stricken King Saul. He can no longer get God’s attention or receive divine instructions to deliver him and his army from certain defeat at the hands of the Philistines. In sheer desperation, Saul seeks counsel through a medium living at En-dor. When he learns that God is not going to rescue him, but is going to give him and his soldiers over to the Philistines, Saul loses all his courage and strength. He is virtually paralyzed with fear. Finally, after being persuaded to eat, Saul gains enough strength to go out into the night and return to his men and to the battle. He now knows how that battle will end.
All through the gut-wrenching experiences of Saul at En-dor, our minds have continually strayed back to David, who has gotten himself into a most precarious situation. He seems to be in an almost “catch 22” situation, with no way out for David and his men. If David truly fights for Achish, with the rest of the Philistines, he will be fighting against his own people (the Israelites), his king (Saul), and his beloved friend Jonathan. If David does not fight with the Philistines, he will almost certainly have to turn against them in battle. This also poses almost insurmountable problems. It is God’s intention to give the Israelites over to the Philistines and to take the lives of Saul and his sons in battle. If David fights against the Philistines, he will be fighting (as it were) against the purposes of God. What is David to do? Going over to the Philistines seemed like such a smart move to David in the early part of chapter 27. He managed to get safely out of Saul’s reach and succeed at ingratiating himself with both the Philistines and the Israelites. But now, in a brief moment in time, David finds himself caught in the middle with no apparent way out. It is at this point in time that help comes from a very unlikely source – four Philistine commanders.
Before trying to follow the events of the story which our author so skillfully tells, let us take note of several things that should help us better understand this text.
First, notice we are not told why David does what he does. Under divine inspiration, our author is fully able to inform us of David’s motives and intentions. For example, earlier in 1 Samuel we are told why Saul gives David promotions in leadership and offers David his daughters in marriage. The reason may not be immediately evident to those around Saul, but the author of 1 Samuel informs his readers of Saul’s motivation and intention: he is jealous and threatened by David and fully intends to kill him, thus being rid of him as a rival for the throne. In chapter 27, we are told why David flees to King Achish for sanctuary from Saul: David is afraid and does not believe there is any way to save himself other than by seeking asylum in Philistia. Now, at a time we would very much like to know what David plans to do and why, we are not told.
We know one thing for certain: the author purposely withheld this information from us. The author does not wish us to know what David intends to do or why for several reasons. (1) The author seems to want us to wonder what David is thinking, which enhances the element of mystery and suspense. A good writer holds our interest as much by what he withholds as by what he reveals. (2) The author is not trying to nominate David for sainthood, but portray him as a “man of like passions,” who has doubts and fears and makes mistakes, just as you and I do. (3) Had we been told what David intended to do and why, we would go more easily with David. We would tend to make excuses for him.
We live in a day when situational ethics are common. Situational ethics do not judge an action – say immorality, for instance – as wrong, but seeks to discern “rightness” or “wrongness” on the basis of motives. If a man commits adultery, but out of a “loving,” “caring” concern for the other party, then his actions are not wrong. While there is a certain element of truth here, some things are just plain wrong, and our motivation and attitude in so doing won’t make them right. The author does not seem to want us to “understand” why David acted as he did, but rather to agonize over why David acted this way.
Second, the author departs from a strictly chronological order in these chapters. In chapter 28, we find the Israelites encamped at Gilboa, while the Philistines are at Shunem (28:4). This is quite far to the north and the scene of the actual battle between these two armies (see 31:1). But in chapter 29, the Philistines are gathered at Aphek, while the Israelites are at Jezreel. This is considerably south of the sight described in chapter 28, which means that the events of chapter 29 precede those of chapter 28. The author has purposefully departed from the chronological order of events to a more thematic order. He is more interested in making his point than providing us with a chronological time line. It would seem that the author’s intent is to alternate between Saul and David so as to continually contrast these two men.
Third, the author does not make a point of explaining much to us, or even of openly giving credit to God for what is taking place. This would spoil the intrigue of the story the author is telling and the purpose for which he is telling it in this way. There is very little “God talk” in this passage, and what “God talk” we find comes from pagan King Achish, rather than from David. I believe the author does not wish to insult his readers by telling them what they should be thinking at every point in the story. He expects us to read this story as sacred history, with the theological framework set out in the Law of Moses. He wants the reader to think for himself and reach biblical conclusions.
Fourth, while David is the dominant personality – the “star” – of this story, he is not the most prominent speaker. David speaks little in this text. Most of the speaking is done by Achish and the other Philistine commanders.
A Fly on the Wall of a Philistine Tent
1 Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek, while the Israelites were camping by the spring which is in Jezreel. 2 And the lords of the Philistines were proceeding on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were proceeding on in the rear with Achish. 3 Then the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “ Is this not David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, who has been with me these days, or rather these years, and I have found no fault in him from the day he deserted to me to this day? “ 4 But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him, and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Make the man go back, that he may return to his place where you have assigned him, and do not let him go down to battle with us, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For with what could this man make himself acceptable to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of these men? 5 “Is this not David, of whom they sing in the dances, saying, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands'?”
The Philistines have chosen Aphek as a staging point for the consolidation of their armies in preparation for their attack on Israel. Here, each of the five Philistine lords (see chapters 5 and 6) come with the men under their command. (It appears each of these commanders is also the king of one of the five principal Philistine cities. Achish is the king of Gath, and thus the commander of the troops from that area.) The troops are passing by (their commanders) in review, by hundreds and thousands. Four of the five Philistine commanders are shocked and angered by what they see.
Sometimes a person will say, “I wish I could have been a ‘fly on the wall’ to hear what went on when . . . .” They mean that they would very much like to have been present to hear or see what happened at a certain place and time. By divine inspiration, we are allowed to become a virtual ‘fly on the wall’ of a Philistine tent – the tent in which the five Philistine commanders hold a heated discussion.
The “rear guard” of the entire Philistine army is none other than David and his men. It has taken a while (and a bit of prompting) for me to grasp the significance of this, since I have no military experience. You recall that Achish “honored” David by making him his lifetime bodyguard. I take it that of the five divisions of soldiers who pass by that day, the fifth division is that led by Achish. David is at the back of the entire army.151 This is a most crucial position, for if at all possible, the opposing army will try to flank their enemy and then attack them from behind, as well as from in front. Those stationed at the back are some of the finest, bravest, and most highly skilled warriors. David and his men are given this honor.
What Achish regards as an “honor” is perceived as a “horror” to the other Philistine commanders. While we are not told what David is thinking or planning to do here, we are allowed to overhear the exchange between Achish and his four commander colleagues as this top level military summit takes place. The other four commanders are livid. They cannot imagine how Achish could be so nave as to take David into battle with them, and to do so by placing him in a very strategic position. They are not at all happy with the situation and waste no time calling Achish to account for his folly. What in the world are David and his 600 warriors (these Hebrews) doing in the Philistine army?
Achish has a ready explanation. Is this not David, Saul’s servant, Saul the King of Israel? Achish sees things exactly opposite from the other four commanders. He looks upon David as an asset, precisely because of who he is. David is a turncoat, a man who is faithful to him rather than to Saul. Who cannot see the value in having one of Saul’s most trusted men as an ally, after it becomes apparent that David has indeed changed sides? David is now one of them. He cannot possibly go back to Israel. There is absolutely nothing to worry about, he assures his colleagues. In all the time since David has deserted Saul, Achish has found no fault in him. “Trust me, fellows, David is one of us, and he can do us a lot of good.”
The four fellow-commanders are not impressed in the least by the confidence of Achish or by his assurances. If anything, the answer Achish gives them makes them even more angry with him. How can this man be so taken in by David? How can he be so stupid? How can he fail to see what David is really up to? David is a Hebrew. He is a Hebrew in exile. He will do anything he can to win the favor of King Saul. How better to accomplish this than to feign loyalty to the Philistines, and then turn against them in the heat of the battle?152 Has Achish forgotten David’s military genius and might, and his popularity among his own people? Let him hear the poem one more time: “Saul has killed his thousands; David his ten thousands.”
The four commanders do not give Achish any choice. They instruct Achish to send David home – back to Ziklag. He is not going to battle with them, or perhaps more accurately, they are not going into battle with David. If Achish wants to continue to offer David asylum in Ziklag, good enough. That is a place remote enough that David can do little harm there. Let David be sent back to Ziklag, but he will not be going to war with the Philistine army. That is final!
Achish Apologizes to David and Sends Him Home
6 Then Achish called David and said to him, “As the LORD lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the army are pleasing in my sight; for I have not found evil in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, you are not pleasing in the sight of the lords. 7 “Now therefore return, and go in peace, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.” 8 And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant from the day when I came before you to this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” 9 But Achish answered and said to David, “I know that you are pleasing in my sight, like an angel of God; nevertheless the commanders of the Philistines have said, 'He must not go up with us to the battle.' 10 “Now then arise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who have come with you, and as soon as you have arisen early in the morning and have light, depart.” 11 So David arose early, he and his men, to depart in the morning, to return to the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel.
Achish now has the unpleasant task of “disappointing” David, and telling him he must go home. He does so, using language unbefitting a true pagan: “As the LORD lives, . . .” (29:6). This is not the pagan term for “gods,” but the Hebrew term Yahweh, for the one true God, the God of Israel. Later on in verse 9, this Philistine king tells David he is “like an angel of God.” These are strange words indeed. It is not David who is talking “God talk,” but Achish. It may be that he is carefully choosing words to accommodate David’s faith. It may be that David’s faith is having an effect on Achish.
It is almost amusing to read the nice things Achish says about David. They are so flattering to David, and so false. Achish tells David he has been pleasing in his eyes, that from the day he first arrived to stay with him, he has done no wrong against him. Would Achish feel the same way and say the same things if he knew what David had really been doing, whom he had been raiding and killing, and that his reports to Achish were false? I think not! But Achish has more good things to say of David. He tells him that he is “like an angel of God” in his sight (verse 9). Achish is completely taken in by David, and the immensity of David’s deception is evident in the words of praise of this pagan king. Achish not only flatters David, he apologizes to him. He explains to David that while he wants David to accompany him in the coming battle with Israel, his four colleagues will have no part of such a plan. David and his men will return to Ziklag in the morning.
David never ceases to amaze me. If I were in David’s sandals, I would be dancing in the streets after hearing what Achish has just said. Here he is, in a seemingly hopeless situation, caught between a rock and a hard place. The four Philistine commanders refuse to allow David to go into battle with them, and Achish sheepishly gives David the “bad news.” Bad news? This is fantastic! David does not need to fight with the Israelites, with Saul, or with Jonathan. Neither does David have to fight with Achish or any of the Philistines. All he needs do is go home to his own place in Ziklag. Rather than humbly submit to these orders from Achish and the Philistine commanders, David protests, as though he would talk them out of their decision, as though he is bound and determined to go to war. Given a “way of escape,” it seems that David turns it down.
Dale Ralph Davis does not miss the humor in this interchange between Achish and David, writing:
“There is more than a little humor in this scene (vv. 6-8). Achish stands there, apologetically emphasizing how he thinks David should go with him in this campaign and extolling David’s faithfulness, which he has no reason to extol. On the other hand, David with disbelief on his face and exasperation in his voice protests the rejection he has no reason to protest. The deceived defends his deceiver, and the relieved disputes his relief!”153
If David’s words of protest are an act, David is a magnificent actor. Gratefully, the minds of these four Philistine commanders cannot be changed. David will return to Ziklag in the morning.
Early the next morning, both David and the Philistine warriors arise to get on their way. The Philistines set out for Jezreel, where the Israelites are encamped, and David heads back for Ziklag. David has been saved, and this by the angry reaction of four Philistine commanders who overrule the plans of Achish.
Trouble at Home
1 Then it happened when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negev and on Ziklag, and had overthrown Ziklag and burned it with fire; 2 and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone, and carried them off and went their way. 3 And when David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters had been taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. 5 Now David's two wives had been taken captive, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. 6 Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.
While David and his men are with Achish at Aphek, the Amalekites are plundering Ziklag. If we have learned anything, it is that failure to completely carry out God’s word has devastating consequences. Saul’s failure in regard to the Amalekites is bringing his reign as king to an end. It will cost him his own life and the lives of his sons. David’s raids, while based at Ziklag, are against the enemies of Israel, which include the Amalekites (see 27:8). Is this raid in retaliation? For whatever reason, the Amalekites take advantage of the military moves of the Philistines and attack virtually defenseless villages and cities. Among them is Ziklag. The city is destroyed, burned to the ground. Providentially, all of the people of Ziklag are spared, along with the cattle. David does not deal so kindly with the Amalekites.154
For David and his men, their trip from Aphek to Ziklag must have been light-hearted, something akin to the mood of a busload of college students on Spring break on their way to the mountains for a ski trip. I can imagine the relief David and his men must feel as they leave the ranks of the Philistines and turn back toward Ziklag. They have come through this awkward situation with honor, rather than with shame. Achish still thinks highly of David, and the four Philistine commanders still seem to fear him. They do not have to do battle with their fellow-Israelites, and neither do they have to turn against the Philistines. They have been rescued. No lives have been lost fighting. All they have to do is to return to Ziklag and enjoy spending a little time with their families.155 How do these men “spell relief,” as the television commercials say? They spell it “Z I K L A G.”
As they draw near Ziklag, they begin to see, and perhaps smell, smoke. A growing sense of dread falls upon this small army. One can imagine that puzzled looks become looks of alarm, and noisy chatter ceases, replaced by a chilling silence. The city is in shambles, burned to the ground. There is absolutely no sign of life. Neither are there any bodies lying about. Some may still be alive, but those who are alive may wish they were dead.
This may be the darkest day in David’s life to this point in time. At this moment, no one seems to be thinking of pursuing those who have done this, whoever they might be.156 David’s two wives have been taken, and so have all the families of his men. The men are grief-stricken. They could not have imagined anything worse. They all weep until they have no strength left to continue.
This is not a pretty sight, but it gets even uglier. As the apparent reality begins to set in, David’s men begin to think about what has happened. It is all David’s fault. David brought them to Gath and then to Ziklag. David had them bring their families along. David ordered raids on peoples like the Amalekites. David’s wheeling and dealing got them inducted into the Philistine army. Because of David’s relationship with Achish, they are all far away, in Aphek, while their own families are terrorized and kidnapped. They have had just about enough of David and his leadership. They are greatly distressed and ready to vent their anger. Talk begins to circulate among the men about stoning David.
It is now about as bad as David can possibly imagine. He had been rejected by Saul, and then by many of his fellow-Israelites. Some of David’s kinsmen were ready and willing to turn him over to Saul to be put to death. Rejected by Saul and the Israelites, David fled to Achish, who received him with open arms. But now David is rejected by the Philistines and sent home. And when he gets home, he finds his family and the families of his men gone, the cattle taken, and the city in ruins. To top it all off, David is now being rejected by many of his own men, who would like to see him dead as well. Everything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong.
As we pause in our study at this dark moment in David’s life, let us reflect on what has happened and what we can learn from it.
The first lesson we learn (or are reminded of) is that sin’s consequences are often delayed, but inevitable. What we read in our text is the result of a very bad decision on David’s part made over a year before. It was his decision to leave the land of Israel and flee to Achish in the land of the Philistines for safety and protection (27:1ff.). In the light of David’s words to Saul in chapter 26, one could hardly argue with his decision to take his men and their families to the land of the Philistines. At the very least, this decision was contrary to his own convictions, so clearly and passionately expressed to Saul. The immediate outcome seemed favorable. David and his men were able to be with their families. They were welcomed by Achish and lived comfortably while raiding and plundering their enemies. They even won the favor of many of their fellow-Israelites (30:26-31). They were playing both ends against the middle, and it was working well.
Then, as always, the consequences of sin begin to appear. David has become too popular with Achish. Instead of being a refugee, an exile, David becomes the bodyguard of a Philistine king and a leader of 600 in the Philistine army. David finds himself caught in the middle. The time for him to make good on all of his claims has come. Now he is obligated to wage war against the Lord’s anointed, and with his son Jonathan, David’s beloved friend. David’s flight to the Philistines, which was intended to “save” his men and their families and give them time together, has now brought about their captivity by an unknown raiding party. David’s men, for whose benefit he apparently acted in fleeing to Philistia, are now ready to stone him. The chickens (we say in a proverb) always “come home to roost.” They certainly have here.
God and Satan are vastly different here. God makes the consequences of sin very clear. Though there are many particulars, we can sum it all up by the statement: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Even when it comes to discipleship – to following Christ – our Lord wants people to know both the immediate price tag and the long-term benefits. God does not seek to “tempt” us to do good by putting the price tag in fine print. Satan does. He minimizes the cost of sin and often denies it all together (e.g., “You surely shall not die!” Genesis 3:4). But be assured that sin always has a very high price.
Years ago, while our family was at Six Flags Over Texas (an entertainment park) with another family I was reminded of the cost of sin. After paying a high price for admission and then waiting in line for our rides, we got to experience a highly promoted ride. After the ride, I turned to the father of the family and said: “This is a great illustration of sin. The price is high, and the ride is short!” So it is. For David, the ride is over. Now it is time to pay.
A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless (Proverbs 14:16).
Second, we should see from our text that the adverse consequences of our own sins extend beyond ourselves, and often cause pain and suffering to those we love most. I am sure David must have thought he was acting in his family’s best interests by taking them to the land of the Philistines. But his doing so, which was wrong for him (chapter 26), was also wrong for his family. We know this incident eventually turns out right. But during those days that these family members are terrorized and traumatized, a high price was being paid – by them! When Abram instructed his wife, Sarai, to lie about being his wife, both he and she spent some agonizing nights apart, all the price tag for his sin.
Asaph, the psalmist of old, wrote a psalm about a very critical point in his life, Psalm 73. He begins the psalm by his affirmation of a biblical principle:
“Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart” (Psalm 73:1).
He then goes on to tell us that as he looks around, this just doesn’t seem to be true. The righteous seem to be afflicted, and the wicked seem to prosper. All the while that the wicked prosper, they mock God. Asaph is just about ready to throw in the towel, but he realizes that if he sins, others will suffer:
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children (Psalm 73:15).
That is the way sin works. Not only does it have painful consequences for the sinner, it also adversely impacts many others. Among these “others” are those we may love the most. When a husband or a wife chooses to forsake their marriage vows and commit adultery, they cause great suffering, not only for their mate, but for their family as well. Sin never pays, it is never worth the price. But those who “pay” greatly for our sin are often those we love. For God’s sake, for your own sake, and for the sake of those you love, see sin for what it is, and what it does. The wailing we find in our text is a part of the price of sin, David’s sin. I have said it in the past to those contemplating willful sin, and I now say it again to those of us who may be toying with committing a certain sin (or planning to persist in it). I have yet to see the man who chooses to sin look back upon his sin with a smile on his face, as though it was worth the price.
Third, while our text underscores the high price of sin, it also gives us hope – it reminds us that there is a way of escape. I have a friend who says something like this: “I don’t just have feet of clay; I’m clay all the way up to my arm pits!”157 David was “clay all the way to his armpits,” too. But let us note the contrast the author draws between David and Saul. Both Saul and David have gotten themselves into a serious situation, one that appears hopeless. Both Saul and David are deeply distressed, so much so that they have little strength. When Saul goes out, he does so “at night.” When David departs from the Philistines, it is “morning.” It is as though the writer wants us to see the differences between Saul and David, even in the midst of their similarities.
The last part of verse 6 is a significant clue, not only to the difference between David and Saul, but as to the source of this difference:
But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God (verse 6).
Saul goes off to consult a witch; David strengthens himself in the Lord his God. There is the difference. Saul never seems to repent, never seems to have a heart for God. David does have a heart for God and does repent. David, like most of us, finds that many of his turning points are during times of suffering and sorrow, in the dark times of his life. But in this dark day of David’s life, when he has no one else to turn to, he turns to God.
How does he do it? How does he strengthen himself in the Lord his God? We should note that the author gives us little detail here. He does not give us a formula, a series of fail-proof steps. We live in a day when people want a quick fix with a sure cure, and often by the performance of a set of neatly laid out steps – a formula. In the final analysis, I do not think the Christian life is lived by formulas, but by truths and principles. There are do’s and don’ts, but these are not formulas. Let us note here that David finds his spiritual strength in the Lord his God.
Having said there are no formulas given here, we do find hints that may be profitable to those who would strengthen themselves in the Lord. We may very well recall a previous incident when Jonathan helped to strengthen David in the Lord:
15 Now David became aware that Saul had come out to seek his life while David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. 16 And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God. 17 Thus he said to him, “Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father shall not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you; and Saul my father knows that also.” 18 So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD; and David stayed at Horesh while Jonathan went to his house (1 Samuel 23:15-18).
If David strengthened himself in the Lord, we can probably infer that just as Jonathan did earlier, David must have reminded himself anew of the character of God and the promises of God. If God is who He is, in terms of His character (His attributes), we can be assured that what He promises, He will do. Paul put it this way:
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12; see also Jude 1:24-25).
Another factor related to David’s strengthening comes immediately after verse 6:
7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Please bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 And David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?” And He said to him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them, and you shall surely rescue all.” 9 So David went, he and the six hundred men who were with him, and came to the brook Besor, where those left behind remained (1 Samuel 30:7-9).
David not only strengthens himself in the Lord, David inquires of the Lord. He seeks after God. He seeks to know the will of God in this situation, and then he does it. How different David is from Saul in this regard. David’s strength then seems to come from contemplating who God is, what He has promised, and what He wants us to do. David may have gotten himself and others into a lot of trouble, due to a foolish decision, but he also turns back to the God to whom he has entrusted himself.
Fourth, this passage has some very encouraging things to teach us about God. This text reminds us of the faithfulness of God, even when we lack faith.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
God anointed David as Israel’s next king. God was going to see to it that David was Israel’s next king. Neither Saul, nor unfaithful Israelites, nor Philistine kings, nor his own soldiers, not even David himself could keep David from becoming Israel’s king. God’s purposes and promises are sure.
God is not only faithful, as we see from our text, He is also merciful. David has simply gotten himself into a real mess. How easily we could say that David made this mess, let him clean it up. How good it feels to let him simmer in his own sauce. God does allow David to experience the painful consequences of his sins, but He does not take pleasure in doing so; He takes pleasure in showing mercy. This He does by rescuing David, David’s men, and all their families and possessions. This we shall see accomplished shortly.
God’s sovereignty is so apparent in the rescue of David and his men from military service, service to the Philistines and against Israel. God uses David and even his sin to achieve His ultimate purposes. God does not cause David to sin, nor is this sin excused. But in the end, God’s sovereignty (absolute control) is so great that He can even employ the disobedience and sins of men to further His own purposes. He used the sinful betrayal of Joseph by his brothers to save the nation Israel. So God uses sinful men in our text. He used David, as we have seen. He uses the naivet of a king like Achish and the foresight and practical wisdom of the four Philistine commanders. He will even use the Amalekite attack for a good purpose. I love what Davis says about God’s use of His enemies:
“We see it again. What instruments does Yahweh use to rescue his servant from his dilemma? The commanding officers of the Philistine army. It was not the first time Yahweh had turned enemies into saviors (see 23:19-28). Philistines make such unwitting but effective servants! Who has ever been his counselor?! (Cf. Isa. 40:13-14).”158
“What our text does teach is that even in our folly and fainting fits, we are still no match for our God, who has thousands of unguessable ways by which he rescues his people – even by the mouths of Philistines. He can make the enemy serve us as a friend. He not only prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies but also has the knack of making the enemies prepare the table!”159
I think we sometimes unthinkingly assume God is a saving God only at the cross of Calvary. The fact is that God has been and still is a saving God. He has been saving men from the beginning of history. God is a rescuer. He rescued Noah and his family from the flood (Genesis 6-9). He rescued Abram from Egypt and from the hand of Abimelech in Gerar (Genesis 13, 20). He rescued Lot and his daughters from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). He rescued Jacob and his family from extinction as a separate nation (Genesis 37ff.). He rescued the Israelites from Pharaoh, and from the evil hand of many other kings and nations. He constantly rescued the Israelites from their surrounding enemies during the days of the judges. If God needed practice in saving men (which He most certainly does not!), He would be very good at it by now.
But all of these earlier deliverances do not hold a candle to the great and final act of deliverance that He brought about for men in the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died for our sins, bearing our punishment. He not only takes our sins upon Himself, He offers His righteousness to us so that we may have eternal life and dwell with Him for all eternity. And God accomplished this through the sinful betrayal of Judas, the jealousy and scheming of the Jewish religious leaders, the cooperation of Gentile Roman rulers (who sought to be politically correct), and the passivity (and even participation) of the people. This He did so that sinful men might be forgiven for their sins and receive the righteousness which God offers to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Have you been rescued yet? Have you come to see the plight into which your sin has put you? God provided a “way of escape” in a way no one would ever have expected or asked – through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, on the cross of Calvary. All you need to do is to receive this forgiveness, as a gift of God’s mercy and grace. What a wonderful thing it is to be freed and forgiven, to be rescued by God. To God be the glory.
150 Davis entitles this chapter, “Accepting the Philistines as Your Personal Savior.” Dale Ralph Davis, Looking on the Heart: Expositions Of The Book Of 1 Samuel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), vol. 2, pp. 159-166.
151 Another variation, suggested to me by my friend Marvin Ball, is that the five Philistine commanders stayed at the back of the formation so that they might be removed from some of the dangers of the battle, and might have a kind of “command post’ there. If this were the case, David would be protecting not only Achish, but all five of the commanders. Put in contemporary terms, the “fox” would have been placed in charge of the “hen house.”
154 Hugh Blevins, a friend and fellow-elder, pointed out that this sparing of the people of Ziklag is not an act of humanitarianism; it is an economically based decision. Joseph’s brothers did not spare his life out of compassion; they sold him into slavery for the money they would obtain, and perhaps for the “pleasure” they would get from knowing their brother would suffer throughout his life as a slave. There is no profit in dead bodies. But there is profit in selling slaves.
156 We are told that it was the Amalekites who raided Ziklag in verse 1 of chapter 30. It does not appear that David knew who it was until later, when they came across a young man who was left behind, probably to die (30:11-15).
27. From Tragedy to Triumph (1 Samuel 30:1-31)
I am reminded of a story in a fascinating book entitled Shantung Compound, written by Langdon Gilkey. The book is about how confinement affected the lives of those interned in Shantung Compound, an old church encampment hardly suited for the task, when the Japanese overran China during the Second World War and all western foreigners residing in China were interned there. Businessmen, diplomats, teachers, missionaries, and others were confined all together in substandard quarters. Not quite a P.O.W. camp, it was probably the equivalent of a minimum security prison. Conditions were such that Shantung Compound brought out the worse, and the best, of those interned there. The author was one of those interned at this facility.
When Christmas approached, a Red Cross vehicle arrived loaded with care packages for those confined at Shantung Compound. One would think the distribution of care packages would be an easy task, as they could simply divide the number of packages by the number of residents. If there were 600 residents and 1200 care packages, each resident would receive 2 packages. But this very simple “no-brainer” task proved to be quite a problem. You see, some of the American residents pointed out that these packages were from the American Red Cross, and reasoned the packages were specifically designated for American residents. They argued that the packages should be evenly divided among the American residents. If anyone wished to share some of their gifts with others, that was their prerogative.
Something very similar happens in the 1 Samuel in our text in chapter 30. David and his men pursue a band of Amalekite raiders, who have plundered and destroyed Ziklag and taken away their wives, children, and possessions. They are guided to the base camp of these raiders, where they utterly defeat them, recovering everything they lost. In addition, the spoils of this victory include all they had taken from the Israelite and Philistine towns and cities they had raided and plundered in addition to Ziklag. Some among David’s soldiers were unwilling to share any of these spoils with the 200 men who stayed behind with the luggage.
The lessons from our text are many. What seems at first glance to be an account of the “long ago and the far away” is of direct relevance and application to our own lives today. Since this message is being delivered on Easter Sunday, you surely must wonder why I am not teaching an Easter message. My response would be that our text is an Easter message. In fact, I dare say our text contains more than one Easter theme. Some may be skeptical, so I ask that you keep an open mind to what the Spirit of God is teaching us in this text.
1 Then it happened when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negev and on Ziklag, and had overthrown Ziklag and burned it with fire; 2 and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone, and carried them off and went their way. 3 And when David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters had been taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. 5 Now David's two wives had been taken captive, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. 6 Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters.
It doesn’t take long for word to get out that the Philistines are headed north to wage a major attack against Israel. The Amalekites, who seemed to make their living (not unlike David) by raiding Philistine and Israelite towns and cities in the south, could not have received better news. Since the men of fighting age had gone to war, few or none were left behind to defend the Israelite160 and Philistine towns, including Ziklag. While David and his men are passing in review with the Philistine army (29:2), the Amalekites were plundering Ziklag. These raiders take all the cattle and possessions, kidnap all the women and children, and burn the city to the ground.
When David and his men approach the city of Ziklag, they are horrified to see that the city has been destroyed and their families taken captive. No one has been killed, but every living soul has been taken. It is little comfort that their families are still alive. Each man imagines what is happening (or would soon happen) to his wife and children. At best, they will become slaves, to be worked hard and cruelly treated. At worst . . . no one even wanted to consider this. David’s two wives also are taken.
These 600 fighting men are greatly distressed by what has happened to their city and their families. They weep until they have no sobs left. Then they began to think about how this came to pass. It had been David’s plan to bring them to the land of the Philistines (27:1-4); it was David’s request that they live in this remote city of Ziklag (27:5-6), and it was David who led them off to fight with the Philistines, leaving their families vulnerable to just such and attack. Some are so angry there is talk of stoning David.
Hot Pursuit; Cold Trail
But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.161 7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Please bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 And David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?” And He said to him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them, and you shall surely rescue all.” 9 So David went, he and the six hundred men who were with him, and came to the brook Besor, where those left behind remained. 10 But David pursued, he and four hundred men, for two hundred who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor, remained behind.
As Davis points out, not since chapter 23 has David sought God’s will by means of the ephod, and not since chapter 26 has he mentioned the name of the Lord.162 As is often the case, tragedy turns David’s heart toward the Lord. This chapter is another one of David’s finest hours. David first strengthens himself in the Lord, and then He turns to the Lord for specific guidance concerning their families and those who have kidnapped them. David asks the Lord to reveal whether he should pursue those who have taken their loved ones. Will he overtake them if he does pursue them? The answer to these questions is “Yes!” God assures David he will not only overtake this band, but he will also completely rescue all that has been taken.
We must remember the physical and mental condition of these men. They have just traveled nearly 60 miles from Aphek back to Ziklag, no doubt pressing hard to get home as soon as possible. They can rest up at Ziklag, once they arrive, or so they think. Then, finding their loved ones kidnapped, their cattle stolen, and their city destroyed by fire, they weary themselves weeping (verse 4). Now they are off in hot pursuit of the enemy. The enemy raiding party has a substantial lead, and the trail is getting cold. They can easily disappear into the wilderness. If they are to be overtaken in time to rescue their loved ones, David and his men must move quickly.
I imagine David and his men are marching double time. As time passes and the heat of the sun works on David and his men, they grow weary. When they come to the brook Besor, a third of the men simply cannot go on. They have plenty of motivation – their families are in danger, and they want to be there to rescue them – but they simply do not have the strength to continue on. Two hundred men collapse there by the brook, unable to press on. Even if they do go on, they will only slow the rest down. David and the other 400 men press on, leaving much of their gear behind with the 200 so that they can move faster and expend less energy.
A Man Left For Dead
Gives New Life To David’s Pursuit
11 Now they found an Egyptian in the field and brought him to David, and gave him bread and he ate, and they provided him water to drink. 12 And they gave him a piece of fig cake and two clusters of raisins, and he ate; then his spirit revived. For he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” And he said, “I am a young man of Egypt, a servant of an Amalekite; and my master left me behind when I fell sick three days ago. 14 “We made a raid on the Negev of the Cherethites, and on that which belongs to Judah, and on the Negev of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire.” 15 Then David said to him, “Will you bring me down to this band?” And he said, “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will bring you down to this band.”
The trail is indeed cold. It seems that David and his men do not even know who the raiders are. (We are told in verse 1, but David and his men seem to learn this information in verses 13-14.) David and his men must being to wonder what direction their pursuit should take. At this critical moment, they just “happen” to come across a man who has been left half-dead in a field. The man is so weak he cannot talk. It may seem to some that this is a “waste of time” for David and his men to stop and render aid to this man. Whether this is out of pure compassion (making David a kind of good Samaritan), their efforts are well rewarded. It takes bread and water, then a piece of fig cake and raisins to bring this man back to life, since he has gone three days and nights without either food or water.
When the man finally has sufficient strength to speak, David begins to question him. The answers to his questions must lift the spirits of David and his men, for the man tells them he is an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. His master left him behind three days before because he was sick and slowing everyone down. His master left him there to die, with no food or water. He then tells David he is with the Amalekite raiding party that plundered Ziklag.
David asks the young man if he would be willing to guide them to the Amalekite camp. Normally, I am sure he would not consider such a thing. But since his master and the others left him behind to die, he is willing to cooperate, in exchange for David’s assurance that he will not be killed or handed back over to his master. This half-dead servant gives new life to David’s search for the Amalekite raiders and their captives.
16 And when he had brought him down, behold, they were spread over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing because of all the great spoil that they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. 17 And David slaughtered them from the twilight until the evening of the next day; and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men who rode on camels and fled. 18 So David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and rescued his two wives. 19 But nothing of theirs was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that they had taken for themselves; David brought it all back. 20 So David had captured all the sheep and the cattle which the people drove ahead of the other livestock, and they said, “This is David's spoil.”
There was no longer any need to try to track this raiding party. Thanks to the Egyptian slave whom they revived, they would now be guided to the Amalekite camp. David and his men arrive at the raiders’ camp to find the Amalekites totally vulnerable. After all, the Philistines (along with David and his men, they suppose), and the Israelites are far away to the north at war. Who would come after them? They enjoy a successful mission, and now they are home where they can indulge themselves with the fruits of their victories. The Amalekites are “spread over all the land” (verse 16), implying that they are not tightly assembled, which would be the best defensive posture. (In the western movies, a wagon train always circled the wagons when under attack, placing the women and children inside the circle.) If the expression “divide and conquer” is true, these folks had already divided themselves by spreading out. On top of this, the Amalekites are eating and drinking and dancing. In short, they are too drunk to stand up straight, much less fight.
If this is the Amalekite base camp, then there be more people here than just the raiding party.163 David and his men are thus greatly outnumbered. But given the drunken state of the Amalekites, they are easy prey. David and his men attack, a slaughter that lasts for many hours.164 Not a single person escapes, except the 400 men who flee on camels.165 Everything and everyone the Amalekites had taken from Ziklag is recovered. David and his men suffer no losses at all (except for what had been burned at Ziklag). David’s two wives are among the hostages rescued. The author is very specific. Nothing is missing. David brings it all back. Just as God indicated, they have overtaken their enemy and prevailed. This could not have been a more successful mission.
Dividing Over the Spoils
A Victory Is Almost Spoiled
21 When David came to the two hundred men who were too exhausted to follow David, who had also been left at the brook Besor, and they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him, then David approached the people and greeted them. 22 Then all the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David answered and said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away and depart.” 23 Then David said, “You must not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us, who has kept us and delivered into our hand the band that came against us. 24 “And who will listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.” 25 And so it has been from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day. 26 Now when David came to Ziklag, he sent some of the spoil to the elders of Judah, to his friends, saying, “Behold, a gift for you from the spoil of the enemies of the LORD: 27 to those who were in Bethel, and to those who were in Ramoth of the Negev, and to those who were in Jattir, 28 and to those who were in Aroer, and to those who were in Siphmoth, and to those who were in Eshtemoa, 29 and to those who were in Racal, and to those who were in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, and to those who were in the cities of the Kenites, 30 and to those who were in Hormah, and to those who were in Bor-ashan, and to those who were in Athach, 31 and to those who were in Hebron, and to all the places where David himself and his men were accustomed to go.”
The victory is now won, and everything that was lost has been recovered. In fact, not only have David and his men recovered everything they lost, they gained a whole lot more. They gained the spoils the Amalekites obtained through their raids on the Philistine and Israelite towns. These spoils now present David with a major problem. Some of the 400 men who have defeated the Amalekites are refusing to share any of these spoils with the 200 men who stayed behind.
Only a segment of the 400 men who fought with the Amalekites are “wicked and worthless men.”166 Not all of the 400 are this way, just some of them. But these wicked, worthless men seem to be taking charge. Their reasoning goes like this: only 400 men did the actual fighting; the other 200 had no part in the battle or the victory that was won. The 200 should be given back what they lost. But they should not be given a portion of the extra spoils of war, the spoils the Amalekites took from the Israelites and Philistines. These extra spoils should be divided only among the 400 warriors.167 The refusal of these men to share any of their spoils with the 200 seems to be based upon these faulty assumptions:
(1) They assume the spoil is theirs to divide as they please, and they make it clear they are refusing to share any of “their” spoils with the 200.
(2) They assume that the 200 men have had no part in this battle or this victory, just because they were not with the 400 when they fought and won the battle with the Amalekites.168
(3) They assume that the victory was indeed their victory, something for which they could take credit, a victory for which they should expect a reward.
(4) These men are not asking for a bigger share of the spoils, they are demanding it. They are not asking for David’s leadership, either, they are usurping it, or at least attempting to do so.
David does not let these wicked men prevail. He takes the initiative in dealing with their demands and handles them very well.169 He refuses to allow these men to have their way, while showing them why they are wrong in what they demand. Consider David’s reasoning.
(1) They have not earned these spoils, as they suppose. The victory and the spoils are a gracious (and thus unmerited) gift from God. God gave these spoils, as He gave the victory. How then can these men claim the spoils, as though they earned them?
(2) The victory is a team victory, and the team is greater than 400 in number. When David employs the word us, it seems clear he includes all 600. “God gave the victory to us,” David argues, “to the whole 600 men, and not just to the 400.”
(3) David’s 600 men are all brothers (verse 23). This is not just a collection of individuals; it is a brotherhood. These 600 men are a family. When the Amalekite raiders return to their camp, everyone in the camp celebrates in the victory; everyone shares in the spoils. Should David’s men do any less?
(4) The battle is a team effort, with each member playing a different role. Just because 200 stayed behind does not mean they had no part in the victory. They stayed with the baggage (as I understand it, the baggage of the 600 men), and thus they contribute to the victory as well. Their victory is a collective victory, and so every man should have an equal share of the spoils.
David refuses to let these “wicked and worthless men” spoil the victory God has given. He sees to it that the spoils of war are evenly distributed among all 600 men. But the 600 do not get all the spoils of that victory. In verses 26-31, we see that David makes very good use of some of the spoils by sharing them with some of the Israelite towns he and his men frequented.
These towns may have been attacked by the Amalekites and suffered loss. If this is the case, some of the spoils may be their own property.
(1) These towns are towns David and his men frequented.
(2) These are some of the very towns David led Achish to believe he raided and plundered himself.
(3) Some of the men in these towns are elders; they are men of considerable influence.
(4) Some of the men in these towns are David’s friends.
(5) These towns are Israelite towns; indeed they are in the territory of Judah. Thus, they are David’s kinsmen.
(6) Very soon, these recipients of David’s generosity will be among the first to embrace him as their king.
David’s decision is far reaching, more so than he realizes at the moment. Many decisions are far reaching. He never imagined, for example, what the outcome would be for deciding to flee to the Philistines for safety. He never imagined the consequences of standing up to Goliath and killing him. In the heat of the moment, David had a decision to make. Should he give in to a few wicked and worthless men, letting them divide the spoils only among the 400? Or should he stand up for what is right? David chooses to stand for what is right, and in the process, he establishes a principle which outlives him. The good, or the evil, which we choose to do, sets a precedent for the future.
Lesson one: The Providence of God. How amazing is the providence of God! We see it so often and so clearly in 1 Samuel, and now in our text. The providence of God is His “unseen” hand in the events of life, assuring and achieving His purposes and promises. David had been chosen and anointed as Israel’s next king. God protected David and provided for him and his men in amazing ways, ways we would not necessarily recognize as such at the time they are happening. We read that David is ready and willing to accompany Achish and the our Philistine commanders into battle. He appears to be greatly disappointed at being rejected by the other four commanders and sent back to Ziklag. Yet we can now see this is what made it possible for David and his men to attack the Amalekites and regain all they lost to these plunderers.
God provided guidance for David and his small army by means of the priest and the ephod, directing them that they should pursue the raiders, assuring them they would overcome them and rescue everything lost to them. But in addition to this guidance, God providentially arranged for an Egyptian slave of an Amalekite master to become so ill he would be left behind to die. In so doing, this man would be found and revived by David and his men. This man would then serve as a guide to direct them to the Amalekite campsite.
But wait; there’s more! In the providence of God, the Amalekite raiders had seemingly attacked Ziklag last. They not only plundered Ziklag, but also a number of other Philistine and Israelite cities. David and his men not only obtained their own goods back, but also the goods of many others. David shared this spoil with a number of Israelite towns, thus ingratiating him to these kinsmen of David. Ziklag was burned to the ground, the only unrecoverable loss. Yet this “loss” was instrumental in causing David to return very quickly to the land of Judah, where he was made King of Judah. All things do truly work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Lesson 2: The Principle of Grace. This is a most important principle, one that forces us to rethink and revolutionize our ministries as members of the body of Christ. The victory David and his men won over the Amalekites was really God’s victory. Men played a part in it, of course, but it was God’s victory in the final analysis. Men dare not claim the credit (or the rewards) for what God has done. This is no minor point. Do you remember what happened to Herod when he allowed men to praise him as though he were a god? He was smitten of God and died, because he did not give God the glory (see Acts 12:20-23). Jesus taught, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). We ought not take credit for those things which are of God, but give Him the glory. Paul clearly taught this principle as it applies to the spiritual gifts and ministries God gives to individual members of the body of Christ:
For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Grace means that we do not have to work for God’s forgiveness, salvation, or blessings. All we have to do is receive what God, in grace, has provided for us. But grace also means that when we receive what we have not earned, we dare not take credit for it as though we earned it. The principle of grace means that men do not take credit for what God has done.
Lesson 3: The Principle of Plurality (or teamwork). While God has given the victory, David and his men are very much a part of the battle. They are all a part of the battle. The 200 men who stay behind guard the baggage. Had the 200 men come along, they would have slowed down the 400, because they were weary. Had the 200 men not guarded the baggage, the 400 men would have been laden down. The 200 staying behind served the best interest of the 600. But every single one of the 600 made a contribution to the cause. It was a team effort.
In the church at Corinth, there were many divisions. Some divisions seem to be based on the fact that the Corinthians possessed different spiritual gifts. Some of these gifts were valued more highly than others. Those who possessed gifts thought to be more important became proud, looking down on those with allegedly lesser gifts. And those with supposedly lesser gifts began to think they were not really needed, perhaps not even a part of the body (1 Corinthians 12). Paul points out that all the gifts are gifts of grace, so no one can boast in what they are given. He also emphasizes that every gift plays an important role, and that all are necessary. The church is the body of Christ, and every individual member has a gift or gifts that facilitate a vital function in the body. Every member of the body is dependent upon the rest of the members of the body. No one is unimportant. Everyone is a part of a team. The work of our Lord – the work of the body of Christ, the church – can only be carried on as a part of a body, as the member of a team. Those who think individualistically think wrong.
Lesson 4: Lessons about Easter. Earlier I mentioned that this passage contains at least one Easter message. It is now time to make good on this claim. How can our text possibly relate to Easter? It is because the Bible, Old Testament or New, is about faith, and biblical faith is resurrection faith.
For the New Testament saint, faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is a vital, inseparable part of the gospel message we must believe:
8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”-- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (Romans 10:8-10; see 1 Corinthians 15:1ff.).
It is a faith that believes we, like Christ, will be raised from the dead:
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
These things we know, and we celebrate them every Easter. The Christian’s faith is a resurrection faith. We know this is true for the New Testament saint. I remind you that the Old Testament saint’s faith was also a resurrection faith. We know this was true for Abraham:
16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” 19 And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore also IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:16-25).
As the writer to the Hebrews points out to us, it was also true of every Old Testament saint as well. Old Testament saints were saved by faith, and not by works -- this faith was a resurrection faith:
13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type. 20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. 21 By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:13-22, emphasis mine).
From the very beginning of human history, God has been demonstrating that He is a life-giving God, a God who raises men from the dead:
(1) In the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis, we read of God creating life.
(2) We have already seen that so far as having children was concerned, Abram and Sarai were “dead,” and yet God gave them a son (Romans 4:16-25). When God called on Abraham to offer up this son as a sacrifice, Abraham was willing to obey, trusting that God would raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).
(3) Joseph’s brothers hated him and put him in a pit, planning to kill him. He was as good as “dead,” but God providentially brought a group of Midianite traders along who bought him as a slave. It looked hopeless for Joseph as a slave, and then as a condemned man in prison, but God gave this dead man life, so to speak, by raising him to the second highest position in Egypt (see Genesis 37ff.).
(4) The Israelites became Egyptian slaves and were cruelly treated and abused. The Pharaoh issued an order that all male Hebrew babies be cast into the Nile to die. Moses was as good as dead. And yet God arranged for the Pharaoh’s daughter to take Moses out of the river, thus nullifying Pharaoh’s order to kill the Hebrew boy babies. Through this rescued infant, God delivered the entire nation from Egypt, and the very powers that threatened the Israelites were drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 1-15).
(5) Over and over again, neighboring enemies overran Israel, and their existence (life) was threatened; yet God raised up the judges (see the Book of Judges).
(6) Hannah is childless and barren, though she desperately wants a child: “She’s dead” so far as bearing a child, and yet God gives her Samuel, and then other sons and daughters (1 Samuel 1& 2)
(7) The Israelites are at war with the Philistines. They take the ark with them. Israel is defeated, Eli’s two sons are killed, Eli dies, and so does his daughter in law: I can just hear an Israelite murmur, “We’re dead.” But God gave the nation new life. He so afflicted the Philistines that they not only sent the ark of God back, they sent it back with “interest” (i.e. the gold; see 1 Samuel 4-6).
(8) The Israelites gather at Mizpah to renew their covenant with God; the Philistines are told of this large gathering of Israelites and wrongly assume it is some form of military action. They send a large army, which surrounds the Israelites. The Philistines have iron chariots and spears. The Israelites were surely thinking: “We’re dead!” But God sends an electrical storm, and the Philistines are defeated (1 Samuel 7).
(9) The Philistines occupy Israel, and Jonathan provokes them by attacking a Philistine garrison. A very large armed force comes to teach Israel a lesson. Saul has but 600 men left with him, because the rest deserted him. Many of the rest are thinking of how they can escape, too. Saul must be saying to himself, “I’m dead.” God uses the courage and faith of Jonathan to stage an attack on the Philistines, and then He sends an earthquake, which results in an Israelite victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 13 and 14).
(10) The Philistines have come again to wage war with Israel. Goliath insults the Israelites and their God. Saul and his men are scared to death, and no one will stand up to Goliath. The Israelites, once again, are thinking, “We’re dead!” God sends them a young shepherd, who trusts in God and is not afraid to stand up to Goliath; through David God gives Israel new life (1 Samuel 17).
(11) David and his men are trapped by Saul on a mountain in the wilderness of Maon. Saul and his men are ready to spring the trap. As we read the account we cannot help but think, “They’re dead.” Suddenly, a messenger arrives to inform Saul that the Philistines have attacked, and he must leave. David and his men have new life (1 Samuel 23).
(12) Here in our text, David and his men have fled to Achish in Philistine territory to seek sanctuary from King Saul. David nearly has to go to war against Israel and for the Philistines; either that or he must turn against Achish. It seems there is no way out, and then, when David and his men are sent back home to Ziklag, we breathe a sigh of relief, only to learn that Ziklag has been raided by the Amalekites, and they have disappeared with all their families and possessions. “They’re dead,” we say to ourselves, “They’re history.” But God gives David faith, courage and guidance, and puts a half-dead slave in their path. By the end of this seemingly hopeless chapter, God has turned death into life.
(13) While Elijah hid from Ahab, King of Israel, he was cared for by a widow, who lived with her son. This son became sick and died, but through Elijah, God brought the child back to life (1 Kings 17:17-24). A very similar resurrection happened by the hand of Elisha, as described in 2 Kings 4.
(14) The prophet Jonah does not want to obey God and preach the gospel to the Ninevites, so he flees from Israel and boards a ship headed in the opposite direction of Nineveh. A violent storm threatens the ship Jonah is on, along with all its cargo and crew. Jonah tells them why the storm has come upon them and convinces the crew to throw him overboard. Jonah sinks below the waves for the last time and we, along with Jonah, say, “He’s dead.” But suddenly a great fish appears, swallows Jonah, and then later vomits him onto dry land. It is, as our Lord Himself noted, a prototype of His own resurrection (see Jonah; Matthew 12:38-40).
(15) Daniel and his three friends are Hebrew captives living in Babylon. They determine they will serve God, even if it means disobeying the most powerful king of their time. The king puts Daniel’s three friends in a fiery furnace and casts Daniel into a den of lions: “They’re dead,” we say to ourselves. But God gives the three men a companion in that furnace and keeps them from being harmed by the flames and the heat. He shuts the mouths of the lions, who normally would have devoured Daniel. God loves to give life to those who are as good as dead. From the Old Testament, we see that He has been doing it since the beginning of man’s history.
It is the same in the New Testament. God is constantly bringing life out of death:
(1) Elizabeth and her husband are elderly and cannot have children. God gives them a son, whom Zecharias names John. God brings life out of death.
(2) A young virgin named Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph, but is not yet married to him. She has never had sexual relations with a man. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God makes her pregnant with the promised Messiah. God brings life out of virtual death.
(3) A widow from the city of Nain has but one son, who dies and is being carried out to be buried. He is dead, literally. For those standing by, there is no hope. It’s over for this fellow. And yet Jesus stops the funeral procession and commands the young man to arise, which he most certainly does. Jesus gives life to the dead (Luke 7:11-15).
(4) Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha, all of whom are friends with Jesus. Lazarus becomes gravely ill, and Jesus deliberately delays. By the time Jesus and His disciples arrive, Lazarus is not only dead, he has been in the grave for three days. He is really dead. But Jesus calls Lazarus out of that tomb, and he comes to life (John 11).
All of these and many more “death to life” experiences depicted in the Old and New Testaments are but a prelude to the “big one,” the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth comes and claims to be the Son of God. He lives a perfect life and interprets the Old Testament Scriptures as God meant them to be understood and practiced. The Jewish religious leaders, along with the help of the Roman officials, conspire against Jesus and crucify Him on the cross of Calvary. He is pronounced dead and buried in a tomb. “Jesus is dead,” the disciples sadly admit. It is all over. And then on the third day, they find that the tomb is empty, and they see the Lord Jesus risen from the dead. They are never again be the same. God raises Jesus from the dead.
Finding the resurrection theme (God brings life out of death) in the Bible is about as hard as finding Christ in Paul’s Epistles. The resurrection is a part of the fabric of faith and of the Scriptures. The important question is this: “Have you personally experienced the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Have you been brought from death unto life, by trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and for the gift of eternal life? The Bible tells us that we are “dead in our transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) apart from faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot ever please God by keeping His commandments. We must acknowledge our sin and the fact that we deserve God’s eternal wrath as the just punishment for our sins. By simply accepting the gift of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, we are born again, we experience the resurrection of Jesus Christ personally. From that point on, we live; we have eternal life. Have you received this gift of life? That is what Easter is all about. God has been in the business of making dead men live for centuries, and He can certainly do so for you.
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
It is vitally important that you and I, at one time in our lives, come to faith in Jesus Christ, dying to sin and being raised to newness of life, in Christ. But this is not the end. The resurrection is more than a once in a lifetime experience. It is not enough to commemorate the resurrection of our Lord once a year. It is to be celebrated as a church every week (see 1 Corinthians 11:26; Luke 22:19; Acts 20:7). But even more than this, the resurrection is a way of life. The resurrection is to be lived and experienced daily by the Christian:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:1-11).
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:9-11).
There is yet one more Easter theme we should not overlook in our text. It should become clear in the light of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:7-16).
Paul is speaking here about spiritual gifts, which God gives to each and every believer in Jesus Christ. He is saying that these spiritual gifts – which are a divine enablement for ministry in and to the body of Christ, the church – are the result and expression of Christ’s victory over Satan and sin, through His death and especially His resurrection from the dead. When Jesus defeated Satan and sin, He gave gifts to His own, as a manifestation of His victory.
Paul draws our attention to the practice of military commanders as a result of their victory over their foes. He likens our Lord’s giving of spiritual gifts to His church to a military commander giving gifts to his men, because of their victory. I ask you, where in all the Bible is this more clearly done than right here in our own text? As David distributes the spoils of his victory over the Amalekites, he is foreshadowing the King of Kings, who gave “spiritual gifts” to His church as an indication of the magnitude of his victory.
Our God is a saving God, He is a life-giving God. And He gives life to those who are dead. No wonder He saves when we are yet “dead in our transgressions and sins.” No wonder we are to reckon ourselves dead, so that His life may be manifested in and through us. To God be the glory. He alone gives life to the dead.
“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes (John 5:21).
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; 9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).
160 I am assuming here that Israelites from the south were summoned to come fight with Saul against the Philistines, thus leaving the Israelite towns (especially those in the south) vulnerable to an Amalekite attack.
163 I am assume that this Amalekite camp is much like Ziklag. Not only do the soldiers live here, but also their wives and families and cattle (and servants, like the one who led David and the rest back here).
164 There is some scholarly discussion about just what expressions of time are used here, but all in all the author is telling us that the slaughter went on for many hours. Many of the enemy are killed.
166 I think if we had been there, we would often have seen the same wicked men involved in certain activities. Were these the ones who wanted to see Saul killed? Were these the ones who just a few days earlier talked about stoning David? I would not be surprised.
167 I should point out here that these wicked and worthless men may have also been challenging David, their leader. It seems that the same spoils in question here (whether they should be divided among 400 or 600) are the spoils which verse 20 calls “David’s spoil.”
168 I find it most interesting to compare our text with the account of David’s intended attack on Nabal and the male members of his household. There, David has the same 600 men with him. He takes 400 with him to fight against Nabal and leaves 200 men behind with the baggage. This strongly suggests that what happens in our text is not out of the ordinary at all. Would the 200 men in chapter 25 not share in the gift Abigail gave to David and his men? Most certainly!
169 I really like Davis’ observations here: “David stifles their scheme with an astute blend of warmth (‘You’re not going to act that way, my brothers, v. 23a), argument (‘. . . with what Yahweh has given us; now he has kept us and given this band that came against us into our hand,’ v. 23b), incredulity (‘Who will listen to you about this matter?,’ v. 24a), and authority (‘For the share of the one who goes down to battle and the share of the one who stays by the equipment will be the same—they will share together,’ v. 24b).” Davis, vol. 2, pp. 175-176.
Old Testament SalvationRelated Media
The prevailing consensus among religious pundits seems to be that there is an unbridgeable chasm between Judaism and Christianity. To be sure there are definite differences in the practice of the two religious systems, but they do have a significant number of common features. Christians worship the Messiah who was a practicing Jew during His life. All of the authors of the New Testament, with one exception, were practicing Jews. The Old Testament, which Christians revere as the inscripturated Word of God, is a distinctly Jewish writing. If this is the case, and God, Jehovah, never changes, then the plan of salvation, reestablishing fellowship between sinful persons and God should be the same.
This plan of salvation was formulated even before the creation of the material universe (1 Peter 1:20. “He (the Lamb of God, Christ) was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake”).1 While the manifestation was not given to those of Old Testament times, the principle, meaning, and efficacy of the plan of salvation were clearly known. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 10:11. “These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” While the examples referred to are manifestations of God’s wrath on Israel when they disobeyed or strayed from God, the remedy, a blood sacrifice, was experienced at the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). Of course in the Old Testament only one person, the high priest, was permitted access to the Ark of the Covenant and then only once a year during Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). This would lead one to believe that those not of the priestly class would not fully understand what was occurring during this sacrifice. However, it is reasonably clear from the Old Testament Scriptures that enough was understood about the character and nature of God to know His attitude about sin and the requirements to remedy the separation that sin imposed between the sinner and God. Even before the establishment of the nation Israel the need for a blood sacrifice was understood. Abel’s offering of the “firstlings” of his flocks met this stipulation. This is clearly implied if not specifically stated in the New Testament. In John 5:39. we read, “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me;” The testimony was certainly more than just the coming of the Messiah, it included His sacrificial death. In Luke 24:27. it is stated “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.” Since the statement includes all the scriptures, it, too, must include the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Again Luke states in Acts 17:11. referring to the Berean believers, “These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica; for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.” For Paul the “things” always included the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah.
There are over fifty references to the “scriptures” in the New Testament. Since these writings are not referring to themselves, they must be referring to the Old Testament. The single exception to this is II Peter 3:15,16. “15, And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, 16, speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.” The remainder of the New Testament references to the “scriptures” refer to the Old Testament Hebrew text.
The following examination of the Old Testament Scriptures will illustrate the plan of salvation, as recorded there, to those who may only be familiar with New Testament Scriptures and also to those who only use the Old Testament Scriptures.
The first thing that must be understood when considering the plan of salvation is the relationship between humans and the infinite, sovereign God. In Psalms, 11:7. we read, “For the Lord (Jehovah) is righteous, He loveth righteousness; The upright shall behold His face.”2 We might add “only” the upright shall behold His face. Who can claim to be “righteous” and “upright?” Consider what the prophet Isaiah, said in chapter 64:5. “And we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment; and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Take us away from what? From the presence and fellowship of God. Even those things, which appear to us as “good” or “righteous” works, cannot bring us into His presence. Ezekiel 33:12b. continues with the admonition that “The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression.” The context suggests that we cannot “build up” good works that will suffice to please God when we ignore or disregard His moral absolutes.
If we are trusting in good works to please God, we are in trouble indeed! Should we be reduced to a point of despair? Is there no way to please God? How can we be declared righteous in God’s sight? We must have a righteousness that He sees as righteous. Two things are required for this righteousness, faith on our part, and an atonement on God’s part. First, faith or belief in what God can do, has done, and will do. Genesis 15:6. very clearly states how this affects God. “And he (Abram) believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” This thought is continued in Habakkuk 2:4b. “But the righteous shall live by his faith.” This is a comprehensive, general standard for all time, applicable even today.
What is this faith? Isaiah gives the answer in chapter 26:3; “The mind stayed on Thee Thou keepest in perfect peace; Because it trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever, for the LORD is GOD, an everlasting Rock.” Faith is trust, trust in the actions and desires of the LORD. Many people would declare that they have “faith”, but when pressed to explain “faith” in what, it usually boils down to their own works, beliefs and actions. According to Isaiah this would be misplaced faith. Our faith cannot, indeed must not, be in ourselves. It would appear then that the basic issue in salvation is redemption or atonement. If there is no way that we can achieve this, what then must happen?
The cost of salvation is much too high for man to purchase for himself. The psalmist wrote in Psalms 49:8,9; “No man can by any means redeem his brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him—For too costly is the redemption of their soul, and must be let alone for ever…” These could be verses of despair, but there is hope as verse 16 states, “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the nether world; for He shall receive me.” God will do it! God will make atonement for our sin! The object of our faith is in God and His redemptive plan. That this plan was not hidden in Old Testament times is clearly seen in the Passover (slain lamb’s blood), the Day of Atonement, when the people’s sin is confessed over a pure animal and then the animal is slain. God declares in Leviticus 17:11; “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life.” A curious exchange took place when the animal’s innocent life was transferred to the people, and the people’s impure lives were transferred to the animal. This is known as the “exchanged life” principle. This was necessary because of God’s justice and sense of righteousness. According to Ezekiel 18:4; “Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” That God should choose to accept a substitution to die in our place is not only a matter of fact, but also a matter of faith. The sacrifice, made on our behalf, should cause us to detest our sin and have hearts full of repentance. This attitude is necessary to satisfy God. As much as some do not like the concept of bloody sacrifices, God even more so. In Psalm 51:18,19, we read “For Thou delightest not in sacrifice, else would I give it; Thou hast no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”
Since God is immutable, His method of redemption never changes. Believers today are redeemed through exactly the same system that was given to Israel in the past, a substitutionary blood sacrifice using the exchanged life principle. The current system is best shown by selected verses from Isaiah 53: 4. “Smitten of God, and afflicted.” 5. “But he was wounded because of our transgressions...” 6. “All we like sheep did go astray...And the LORD hath made to light on him The iniquity of us all.” 7. “As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, And as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; Yea, he opened not his mouth.” 8. “For he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due” (emphasis mine). 9,10. “Although he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him...” 11. “And their iniquities he did bear.” 12. “Yet he bore the sin of many.” These references are about Israel’s Messiah who exchanged His life for theirs. Who is this Messiah? What is He like? What are His credentials for being an acceptable sacrifice? Micah 5:1. gives an answer, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, Out of thee shall one come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days” (emphasis mine). The “ancient days” are from eternity past, without beginning, and the reference is to Deity Himself. Since the sacrifice had to be without spot or blemish, that is, perfect in regard to God’s moral absolutes, only God Himself would suffice.
In the New Testament Paul, a Jew fully conversant with the Old Testament scriptures, sums up the whole system in just one verse. In 2 Corinthians 5:21. he wrote, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” Christians, and Jewish people, the scattered tribes of Israel, should not view the plan of salvation in two distinct and separate ways. The Old Testament, just as clearly as the New Testament, presents the way of redemption and salvation. Israel was to look forward, in faith, to the coming, sacrificial Messiah, and the Christians look back, in faith, to the finished redemptive work of the Messiah. The single fact is clear; the Messiah of God, God Himself, came to earth to exchange His life for each one of us. We need only place our faith in Him to secure God’s forgiveness for our sin.
“...to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16b.) was not written to place a wall between the Jews and Gentiles. It only distinguished the sequence in which God chose to reveal His plan of salvation. Today Jehovah accepts both Jew and Gentile on the basis of their faith in the death and resurrection of His Messiah as a substitutionary sacrifice, suitable to completely pay the penalty due us for our sin.
1 All New Testament Biblical quotations taken from: New English Translation (NET), The Biblical Studies Foundation, www.bible.org, Dallas, 1998, unless otherwise noted.
Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)