4. Waiting on the Lord (2 Samuel 2:1-5:5)
The longest and most difficult delay of my life was waiting to drive . . . legally. My problem was that I started driving when I was about 12. Now before any of you that age get too excited, I must tell you that I grew up in the country where I could drive a great deal without ever getting on the highway. Even so, I could not enjoy the thrill of cruising down Shelton’s main streets, a town of about 6,000 people. I found waiting for this great moment in my life most difficult. When preachers spoke about the rapture and the “soon return of our Lord,” I was terrified -- not because I was a lost sinner -- but because I, as a believer, would be taken before I could legally drive.
I must confess I have not gotten a lot better about waiting. I am writing this sermon on a reasonably fast computer (though not as fast as I would like -- I can hardly wait to get a faster one). Because the main processor chip runs so fast, some of the other components cannot keep up; thus a certain number of so-called “wait states” are used. A “wait state” (in my limited grasp of the inner workings of the computer) is like having to “pass” in a card game when you have no card to play. When I buy ram (random access memory) for my computer, I will not accept 70 nanosecond memory; it must be 60 nanosecond memory. If not, it costs me a “wait state,” meaning a delay of a very small portion of a second.
Having admitted to you that I do not like to wait, I may now remind each of you that you don't like waiting either. Why do we have so many “fast food” chains? Why are microwave dinners so popular? It is all because we don't like to wait. Several years ago, someone had the bright idea of how congestion on North Central Expressway could be improved. They installed a computer system to monitor traffic flow, and then metered the entrances to the expressway. At the beginning of the entrance ramp was a little traffic light, which would turn green when you were allowed to enter the road. This had nothing to do with whether there was room to get on the expressway, only that the computer now thought the expressway could handle you. Those lights are not there today. There may be other reasons, like road construction, but I believe one reason was that people simply refused to wait. If the way was clear and the light was red, people entered the expressway anyway. How foolish to wait! We must all confess that we are not a nation of waiters.
As I study the life of David, I find he spent a great deal of his time waiting. David had to wait something like 15 years from the time he was first anointed by Samuel to the time he became king over Judah (as recorded in our text). It was another seven years before David was anointed king over all Israel. This means David waited over 20 years of his life to be made king. How David handled this more than two decade delay is the subject of this message. David's life during the days we have been studying can teach us a great deal about “waiting on the Lord.”
Our first two messages on this text focused on two prominent leaders: (1) Abner, cousin of Saul and commander of the armies of Saul, of his son Ish-bosheth, and thus of Israel; and (2) Joab, nephew of David, brother of Abishai and Asahel, and eventually commander of David's army, the army of Judah. This message will focus upon David, upon the lengthy, often twisting, path to becoming king of all Israel, and upon his character and conduct as he awaited his time to rule as king of all Israel. Our previous lesson covered chapters 2 and 3 of 2 Samuel. This message covers these same chapters once again, but now with a focus on David. I have added one more chapter -- chapter 4 -- plus the first 5 verses of chapter 5, for it is in these additional chapters that David actually becomes king of all Israel.
From the Sheepfolds of Bethlehem to the City of Hebron:
A Brief Review of 1 Samuel 15:1--2 Samuel 1:27
God is finished with Saul. He has disobeyed for the last time. His kingdom is doomed. And so Samuel is dispatched by God to Bethlehem to anoint Saul's replacement. When Samuel arrives, David is not even present, because no one ever dreamed David was a contender for king. He was doing what young lads his age do -- tending a small flock of his father's sheep (1 Samuel 16:11; 17:28). When Samuel has David summoned and then anoints him, David must wonder how long it will be before he becomes king. The answer is that it is much longer than he imagines, and much more difficult, too.
We are still in 1 Samuel 16 when we read of David's selection as Saul's private musician and armor bearer (16:14-23). There he is in the king's palace. Surely he can't be far from ruling over Israel now. David is still too young to go to the front lines and fight Philistines, it seems, and so he continues to tend his father's sheep, as well as comfort Saul with his music. When the Philistines attack Israel, Goliath, their champion, dares any to fight him. He promises that the winner of this one-on-one contest will take all. So it is that David comes to stand up to Goliath and to kill him. This makes David an instant national hero. The people love David, and so does the king (16:21; 19:5). If it is David's music that calms Saul’s troubled spirit, it is other music, about David, which pushes Saul over the edge. After David's victory over Goliath, the women begin to sing this song:
“Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7).
At first Saul keeps his jealous rage to himself. He seeks to bring about David's death in a way that will make it look like an accident. He throws his spear at David, but people probably write this off to “temporary insanity.” Then Saul seeks to be rid of David by having him killed in battle.19 He appoints him commander of a thousand (18:13), thinking that the same zeal which prompts David to take on Goliath will cause him to engage in a military effort that is “over his head,” thus getting him (not to mention his men) killed. Everything Saul does to destroy David serves to elevate him in power and in popularity. Saul also offers David one of his daughters for a mere 100 Philistine foreskins. Instead of getting himself killed, David kills 200 Philistines, gains a wife who loves him (more than her father), and further admiration and respect from all but Saul.
Then Saul's jealousy becomes public. He gives orders to Jonathan and all his servants that David is to be put to death (19:1). Jonathan appeals to Saul and receives a short-term reprieve for David (19:2-7), but when another conflict with the Philistines arises and David once again finds great success in battle, Saul attempts to pin David to the wall with his spear (19:8-10). Then Saul sends men to arrest David in his own home, but his efforts are foiled, largely by his own daughter (19:11-17). From this point on, David keeps his distance from Saul, turning first to Samuel (19:18-24), and then to Jonathan (20:1-42).
It becomes evident to David that he must no longer attempt to get along with Saul, living and working beside him. He must flee and become a fugitive, until God brings about some remedy. And so David flees first to Nob, where he is given assistance by Ahimelech the priest (21:1-9). This act of kindness costs Ahimelech his life, along with the other priests and their families at Nob (22:6-19). David flees next to Gath, and then to the cave of Adullam, where family, friends, and other people out of favor with Saul join with him (22:1-5). David has a number of close calls, but God always delivers him from the hand of Saul. During these times, David twice puts himself at risk by attempting to reconcile with Saul. In spite of momentary repentance, Saul persists in pursuing David as an enemy. While Saul makes promises to David on these occasions that he does not keep, David makes a commitment to Saul that he will keep:
16 When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” Then Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 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 “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 “Now, behold, I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will 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 David swore to Saul. And Saul went to his home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold (1 Samuel 24:16-22).
One might think that while fleeing from Saul, David is unable to serve his people, but this is not the case. David delivers the people of Keilah from the Philistines (23:1-5). During the days David spends at Ziklag, he continually carries out raids against the enemies of Israel. And David shares a portion of the spoils with the people of the cities of Judah (27:1-12; 30:26-31). It is no wonder that the people of Judah are the first to receive David as their king.
While it appears David may end up fighting for the Philistines and against his own people, God takes him out of the picture at the last moment (29:1-11). David returns to Ziklag to discover the city has been sacked by a band of raiders, their wives and families kidnapped, and their goods plundered. This takes David on a mission to the south, where he defeats the Amalekites and recovers all that is lost. It puts David and his men far to the South, while the Philistines wage war with Saul and the army of Israel far to the North. It is in this battle that Israel is defeated, and Saul and three of his sons are killed (30:1--31:13).
David and his men have been back in Ziklag for two days when a young Amalekite arrives, breathless from his journey from the camp of Israel, where he manages to escape the Philistines. He tells David the sad news of the defeat of Israel and of the death of Saul and Jonathan. When David presses this young man for more details, he claims he was the one who “mercifully” put Saul out of his misery. He presents David with Saul's crown and bracelet, expecting David to be most grateful and generous. After David and his men mourn over the defeat and death of their countrymen, David has this young man executed for raising his hand against the Lord's anointed (2 Samuel 1:1-16). David then composes a psalm of mourning, which memorializes Saul and Jonathan as heroes. It is a song which all the sons of Judah are to be taught, and which they are to sing in honor of their king and his son Jonathan (1:17-27).
David's Response to the Events of 2 Samuel 2:1--5:5
And so it is that David has been designated as Saul's replacement -- Israel's next king -- approximately 15 years before the events in our text. David has risen from a lowly shepherd boy, tending a few sheep his father owns, to a beloved member of Saul's own household and family, a man of great courage and military prowess. This does not quickly bring about the demise of Saul or the appointment of David as his replacement. David falls from Saul's favor, due only to his trust in God, his loyalty to his king, and his successes. David ceases to be the “rising star” in Israel with whom all are eager to be associated, and he becomes a fugitive with whom most Israelites are now afraid to associate lest they too incur Saul's wrath. David has gone through many different experiences, all of which will make him a better king for having endured them. He is now much better prepared to reign as Israel's king. But God is not yet ready to make him king. David is here a lot like Jacob, who rejoiced in obtaining his wife after laboring for Laban, only to learn that he still had seven years to serve before he could have all for which he had hoped. Even after David is anointed as king of Judah, he must wait a full seven years to be anointed king of all Israel. Let us consider the events leading to the fulfillment of Samuel's prophetic anointing, years earlier, and see how David has learned to “wait on the Lord.”
After nearly 15 years of waiting, most spent fleeing from Saul, David learns of Saul's death and the death of three of his sons. After mourning their deaths, David inquires of the Lord, seeking to learn what he should do in response to Saul's death. God indicates that David and his men should return to the city of Hebron in the land of Judah. It is there that the men of Judah anoint David king of Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-4a).
David's first recorded act as king of Judah is described in 2:4b-7. David may be seeking more information about Saul's battle with the Philistines and his death. One way or the other, it is reported to David that the men of Jabesh-gilead have acted courageously in retrieving the body of Saul and giving him a proper burial. David responds as a king should do. He responds by executing the Amalekite who, by his own admission, raised his hand against God's anointed. Now David responds by commending the men of Jabesh-gilead for honoring Saul, at great risk to themselves. Like the granting of a presidential medal of valor, the righteous deeds of noble men are rewarded.
I must also point out that David does include in his message to the men of Jabesh-gilead the fact that he has been anointed king over Judah by the people of Judah (2:7). This may well be an indirect way of indicating his availability to be anointed as king over Israel also. I doubt this thought is offensive to the people of Jabesh-gilead, or anyone else in Israel (except Abner -- see 3:17-19). But David is not about to try to make this happen, and indeed it does not.
The reason David is not anointed king of all Israel is Abner, the cousin of Saul, and commander of the armed forces of Israel (2:8-11). Abner's actions can hardly be justified. He knows God has designated David as the next king of Israel, and so do the people (3:8-10, 17-19). Abner is either attempting to avoid or to delay David's reign in the place of Saul (and his descendants). Abner installs Ish-bosheth as Saul's replacement. Few would argue the point with Abner, a man who is personally intimidating, not to mention that he has the armed forces under his authority. Who would dare oppose Abner or Ish-bosheth?
David does not oppose either of these men, not because he is afraid of them nor because he cannot do so. He does not oppose them because he will not, out of principle. Ish-bosheth is a descendant of Saul. David seems to embrace the principle laid down centuries later by the apostle Paul:
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Romans 13:1-2).
One would be hard pressed to say Ish-bosheth has been installed as king over Israel by popular demand, or out of the godly motives and intentions of Abner. Abner seems to be seeking his own interests in appointing Ish-bosheth king. Nevertheless, David grants the fact that he is, indeed, king, and thus that it is God who ultimately put him in this position of power and authority. He will not resist the king, even to become king in his place. Furthermore, David made a promise to Saul, a promise not to cut off his descendants, and not to destroy his name from his father's household. David will not remove Ish-bosheth because he cannot do so and keep his word to Saul. Here is a man of principle, a man who will wait seven more years just to keep his word, just to wait on the Lord.
David is plainly absent in 2:12--3:11. His name may be mentioned, but he is not one of the central characters. The central characters are Abner, commander of Israel's armies, and Joab, one of David's men and one of the commanders of Judah's military force. These two men agree upon the “contest,” which not only gets the 24 contestants killed, but brings about open war between the people of Judah and the people of Israel. All appearances are that it is a senseless contest, a projection of the ego-centered competition of Abner and Joab. This war drags on, undermining the unity of Israel, causing needless suffering and death, and leading to the murder of Abner by Joab.
In many ways, it is a rather sordid story. The two sides met for a contest, and blood was shed, leading to all out war. In this fighting, Asahel, brother of Abishai and Joab, is hot on the heels of Abner. Abner does not wish to kill Asahel, but knows this young man is not about to give up the chase. Finally, after failing to talk Asahel out of his pursuit, Abner kills him. It is not murder, because it is an action which takes place during war. It is almost an act of self-defense, but Joab will never accept this. He is intent upon revenge.
The problem is that David and Abner ended the war. Abner has been getting more and more bold. He always was the real power behind the scenes, but he eventually casts aside all pretenses by taking Saul's concubine for himself. This act is symbolic, virtually announcing that he is taking over Saul's place (see 1 Kings 2:13-25; compare Genesis 35:22; 49:3-4). Ish-bosheth finds this action too much to handle, and so he works up the courage to confront Abner. When Abner is rebuked by Ish-bosheth, he blows up. He scolds Ish-bosheth for ingratitude and reminds him who is really in charge. He chooses this opportunity to change sides. The house of David is steadily prevailing over the house of Saul (3:1); in Abner's mind, it is time to switch to the winning side. He tells Ish-bosheth he is now going to throw his support to David, thus making him king. Abner, the king-maker, has made Ish-bosheth king; now he will make David king. Ish-bosheth is duly impressed and frightened. It is the last protest he will ever register with Abner (3:6-11).
Abner then approaches David with the offer to make him king. He claims to be “in charge,” that the land is really his. If David will but make a covenant with Abner, Abner will handle the rest. He promises to bring all Israel over to David. It seems that if he had lived, he would have done as he promised. Before his death, Abner meets with the leaders of both sides. There is an agreement in principle. All that has to be done is finalize it.
Abner's “untimely” death brings things to a screeching halt. What Abner promised David he would do, and what it looks like he almost finished doing, is suddenly interrupted by his own death. Abner comes to David with a delegation of men. The deal has been made. A truce has been declared, and the war between Israel and Judah is formally ended. Twice in our text we are told that Abner left “in peace” (3:22, 23). I understand this to mean that the war has ended. This means that Joab cannot kill Abner legally; to kill Abner now would be murder, because it is not in a time of war (see 1 Kings 2:5).
While David had been “making peace” with Abner, Joab has been out “making war.” He has conducted a very successful raid. We are not told who this raid is against, but it is certainly possible that Joab's raid is against Israelites. When Joab returns from this raid, he is told that Abner has been there, meeting with David, and that he has been sent away in peace. Joab is furious. How can David be so foolish to be taken in by Abner? Does he not know that this is a ploy? David does not give in to Joab, and when Joab leaves David, he secretly sends to have Abner brought back to him. Deceitfully, Joab manages to get Abner to a place where he can kill him, and this he does.
When David learns of the murder of Abner by Joab, he acts quickly and decisively. He publicly renounces the actions of Joab as reprehensible. There is no excuse for what he did. David condemns the murder and calls down divine judgment on Joab and his family (3:28-29). David then mourns the death of Abner, seeing to it that his burial is honorable, even if his death was not (he died the death of a fool). David not only walks behind the bier, weeping loudly and chanting a lament for Abner, he refuses to eat all day long. It is obvious to all that David has no part in the death of Abner. Everybody knows it and likes it (3:31-39). David's standing with the people continues to increase.
I am inclined to think God providentially removes Abner so that David will not become king thanks to Abner, the king-maker, but rather thanks to the King-Maker. Abner's reasons for switching his allegiance from Ish-bosheth to David are questionable. In some ways, Abner's approach to David seems similar to Satan's approach to our Lord in His temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). Like Satan, Abner claims that the kingdom he offers is really his (compare 2 Samuel 3:12; Luke 4:5-7). Abner wants David to enter into a covenant with him (2 Samuel 3:12), but when David does become king of all Israel, he enters into a covenant with them (the people) “before the Lord” (2 Samuel 5:3). Somehow, I see Abner's offer as a shortcut, an easier path to what God wants to give David another way. If so, Abner's death and the resulting delay in David becoming king make sense.
When David initially accepts Abner's offer of the kingdom, he agrees, but with one condition. That condition is that he be given back his wife, Michal (2 Samuel 3:13-15). Merab is first offered to David, but David does not accept this offer. He does, however, accept Saul's offer with regard to Michal. This woman was given to David, and this marriage was certainly consummated. Nevertheless, after David fell out of favor with the king and fled for his life, Saul took Michal and gave her to a man named Laish for a wife (see 1 Samuel 25:44).
Why is David so insistent about the return of his wife? First and foremost, I believe it is because she is his wife. David does not take Michal with him when he flees from Saul, but he has married her and lived with her as his wife. The fact that Saul has given her to someone else does not make her less than David's wife. David believes in the permanence of marriage. She is still his wife, and he wants her back. Secondly, David insists that Ish-bosheth give Michal back to him. His father, King Saul, has taken Michal away from David; let the one who rules in Saul's place right this wrong. Thirdly, as the “contest” between Abner's 12 men and Joab's 12 set a war in motion, so the reuniting of David and Michal will symbolically join the house of David with the house of Saul. David wants Michal back because she is still his wife and he loves her, but also because it is what is best for his own people.
With the death of Abner at the hand of Joab, Ish-bosheth loses all his courage. He is hardly able to stand up to Abner, let alone even think about standing up against David. Now Ish-bosheth is on his own, knowing that Abner has already set up David to rule in his place. As our author informs us, Ish-bosheth is “scared spitless” (as we say), and Israel is troubled. What will happen now?
Two men think they are the solution. These men are fellow members of the tribe of Benjamin and commanders of divisions of Israelite soldiers (4:2). Their names are Baanah and Rechab, both sons of Rimmon. To put the matter bluntly, Ish-bosheth is a lame duck. He cannot really rule on his own because Abner provides the brains and the brawn (soldiers) of this puppet-king's administration. But there he is, a token king who is a weak man, ruling an ever-weakening nation. David is destined to be the king of all Israel, and everyone knows it, but no one knows how to turn this situation around to make it happen. And so these trusted leaders come to the king's house in the middle of the day, pretending to get wheat. The king is taking his midday nap when the two enter his bedroom and kill him in his sleep. They then cut off his head and travel all night to reach David at Hebron. They proudly present the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, “David's enemy.”
They do not understand at all. They do not understand David's submission to God and his refusal to raise his hand against God's anointed (or even one who has in some less noble way been made king). They do not understand David's love for Saul, or his commitment to protect the lives of his offspring and the honor of his name (1 Samuel 24:16-22). They do not learn from David's previous actions that David is not so eager to gain the throne that he will wink at the wickedness of those who seek to kill God's anointed.
9 David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said to them, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress, 10 when one told me, saying, 'Behold, Saul is dead,' and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him in Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. 11 “How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood from your hand and destroy you from the earth?” 12 Then David commanded the young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hung them up beside the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron (2 Samuel 4:9-12).
Once again, David is no opportunist who will stoop to any means to gain the throne God has promised him. Neither will David look the other way when others do evil to facilitate his ascent to the throne. David is a man who understands what being God's king is all about:
A divine decision is in the lips of the king; His mouth should not err in judgment (Proverbs 16:10).
A king who sits on the throne of justice Disperses all evil with his eyes (Proverbs 20:8).
A wise king winnows the wicked, And drives the threshing wheel over them (Proverbs 20:26).
Take away the wicked before the king, And his throne will be established in righteousness (Proverbs 25:5).
In the first five verses of 2 Samuel 5, David is anointed king of all Israel, at last, at long last! It started many years before, when David must have been in his teens.20 Much to the surprise of David and his family, he is anointed as the next king of Israel. It is around 15 years before David is anointed king of Judah, and another seven before he is king of all Israel. But now, at long last, David is king. In the final portion of this message, I would like to take a step back from all the details and look at the big picture given to us by the author in 1 Samuel 16 through 2 Samuel 5.
Lessons to be Learned from David's Delayed Kingdom
(1) We should begin by observing that the promise God made to Israel and to David (implied when David was anointed by Samuel) took a long time being fulfilled. David becomes king of Israel after a considerable delay, and with a great deal of adversity. That is what 1 Samuel 16:1--2 Samuel 5:5 is all about. This period of David's life can be summed up by two words: “time” and “trouble.”
(2) The delay in David becoming Israel's king is not unusual, but it is typical of the way God brings about His promises and purposes. Stated concisely, God is not in a hurry. God has all the time in the world. In fact, God is bigger than time and certainly not limited by time. Throughout the Bible I find God promising things men must wait to receive:
- God promised Abram and Sarai a child, but they had to wait 25 years to get him.
- God promised Noah there would be a flood, but it was a long time coming.
- God made Jacob wait 14 years to get the wife he wanted.21
- Joseph had to wait a considerable time to see his father and family, and he did not get back home until after his death (they carried his bones back to the promised land).
- The Israelites had to wait 430 years in Egypt, before returning to the promised land.
- The writer to the Hebrews tells us that all the Old Testament saints had to wait for us (Gentiles?) before they could see the promised kingdom (Hebrews 11:39-40).
- For 2,000 years, saints have been waiting for the Lord's return and the coming of His Kingdom.
Waiting is a part of the divine design of things. Waiting is no accident, it is purposed.
(3) It is in times of waiting for God that many have failed in their faith and obedience. Waiting is a form of adversity, a test of our faith and endurance.
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 (Hebrews 11:13-16).
For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God (1 Peter 2:20).
Many of the failures we see in the Bible are failures related to waiting. I am inclined to believe this began at the very beginning, with Adam and Eve. The more I consider the story of the fall, the more I lean toward an interpretation that sees the temptation and the sin as that of taking a shortcut to a good thing. The knowledge of good and evil is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. If Adam and Eve would become “like God” in knowing good and evil, then how can knowing good and evil be bad? Is being like God bad? Is this not what God is doing in us now, conforming us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29)? Will we not be “like Him,” when we “see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2)? David is commended for “knowing good and evil” (2 Samuel 14:17). Solomon prays for wisdom to discern between “good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). Christians, by their obedience to God's Word, “have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). I believe, therefore, that God wanted Adam and Eve to know good and evil, but not by the quick and easy way of stealing a piece of forbidden fruit. It was not wrong to know good and evil, but it was wrong to know it in a way God had forbidden. I believe God had a better, slower, way, but they chose the shortcut. They refused to wait on the Lord for such knowledge.
Abraham and Sarah had to wait for the promised son, and at least one of their failures was in the area of patience, of waiting on God to fulfill His promise. Is this not why Abram spoke of Eliezer of Damascus as his heir (Genesis 15:2)? Is this not why Abram gave in to Sarai's suggestion that they have the promised seed through Hagar, her handmaid (Genesis 16:1-2)?
The Israelites sinned in the making of the golden calf, as described in Exodus 32. Was their failure not a failure to wait 40 days for Moses to return from the top of Mt. Sinai? Was Saul's sin in 1 Samuel 13 not his failure to wait for Samuel to arrive? Were the disciples not constantly asking when the kingdom would come and trying to hurry up the plan? Did the 11 apostles and others not fail to wait when they went ahead to appoint Matthias as the replacement for Judas, when Jesus had instructed them to wait for “what the Father promised” (Acts 1:4)?
The church at Corinth had many problems. One of their problems was in the area of waiting. They could not wait for God to bring justice, and so they took one another to court (1 Corinthians 6). They could not wait for their brethren to arrive, so they went ahead with the meal, overindulging themselves with food and drink, and turning the Lord's Supper into a sham (1 Corinthians 11). They could not wait for the fulfillment of God's promises regarding full spirituality, and so they embraced teachers and teachings of triumphalism -- you can have it all now, not later.
No wonder our Lord devoted considerable time and attention to teaching His disciples how they should conduct themselves while they waited for His return:
40 “You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 “But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 “And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more (Luke 12:40-48).
(4) Satan often attacks by trying to capitalize on divine delays. Satan tries to put the unbeliever's mind at ease by pointing to divine delays as proof God either does not know, or does not care, when we sin:
1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. 3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:1-4).
Satan seeks to undermine the faith and obedience of God's children by deceiving us about God's goodness in divine delays. I believe he did this with Adam and Eve in the garden. I believe this is at the core of Satan's temptation of our Lord at the beginning of His earthly ministry. Satan was saying to our Lord, “Oh, sure. I know that you are God's King. But rather than deny yourself (by obeying God and being 40 days and nights without food), why not serve yourself? Why wait to eat? Why get to your kingdom through suffering? Why not worship me, and I will give you a kingdom now?” Isn't that the way Satan thinks and acts?
In times of waiting, Satan wants us to doubt that God's promises will ever be fulfilled. He seeks to get us to act independently of God to obtain these things on our own, rather than to wait for God to give them to us. He seeks to raise doubts about the goodness of God, as though He is withholding something good from us out of pettiness. He works at promoting distrust in God, and especially in His Word. He prompts us to disobey God and to follow our own judgment. He urges us to seize the moment, to use questionable means, to use others as means to our desired ends.
(5) Times of waiting on the Lord are designed to be those times when our faith is stretched and our intimacy with Him is enhanced. Have you ever noticed how many of the Psalms are written during times of waiting? The question, “How long. . .?” is found fairly frequently in the psalms, as is, “wait on the Lord.” David is often the author of such “waiting” psalms. Waiting on the Lord is good for us. It helps us to develop patience and endurance. It calls upon us to exercise faith in God's promises and to act on the basis of what God has said, rather than upon what we see. Waiting enhances our appetite for the good things God has in store for us. Waiting requires us to deny fleshly lusts and to set aside our desire for immediate gratification some easier way. Waiting is one of the ways that we “take up our cross and follow Him.”
(6) Waiting on the Lord is what sexual purity is all about. There is a lot of talk about “safe sex” today and very little about abstinence. This is because waiting for the pleasures of marital sex is taboo. Virginity is disdained as a curse, not a gift which one mate gives to the other. Waiting on God for the joys and pleasures of marital sex enhances the joy and pleasure of this gift, if and when God gives it. The point I wish to make here is that sexual purity is about waiting, and waiting is a good part of what the Christian life is about. Let us not look upon this matter as something God is cruelly withholding from us, but as a good gift, for which we are willing to wait upon the Lord so that we may enjoy it fully and without guilt.
(7) Some waiting is not pious. How often we are prone to wait when we should work and to work when we should wait. Waiting to do what we know to be right, what God has commanded us to do, is not pious; it is sin (James 4:17). Waiting to accept the offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ is a most dangerous thing (Hebrews 3:12-15). The waiting which pleases God is when He has made a promise, which we cannot bring about ourselves apart from unbelief and disobedience to His Word.
(8) Waiting is not necessarily a time of passivity. Have you ever watched what people do while they are waiting? Some do absolutely nothing. But I notice that some people (not just men) may crochet or do needle work while they wait. There are constructive things to do while one waits. David waited over 20 years to reign over all Israel, but that was a very busy time in his life. David did much more than merely flee for his life. David delivered the people of Keilah (1 Samuel 23:1-5), and he did good to the people of Judah (1 Samuel 30:26-31). One of the things we can do while we wait is to praise God and to pray, as David and others did in the psalms. While we may not be able to do what we would most like to do, we can do what God has given us to do, while we wait on the Lord to fulfill His promises and purposes.
(9) Waiting is a significant part of each of our lives. When I was young, I could hardly wait to get to my 16th birthday so I could drive a car, legally. I could not wait until I grew up and had all the privileges and liberties of an adult. When I was engaged, I could not wait until the day of our wedding. Every one of us is waiting for a number of things at this very moment. Let me mention just a few.
- Our youth are waiting to grow up and to enjoy the rights, privileges and responsibilities of adulthood. Teen-age rebellion and premarital sex are attempted short-cuts that often turn out to be a short circuit.
- Some couples are waiting for children. Most every parent has to wait at least nine months for a child, and a number of parents wait much longer.
- Many wait for recognition and rewards in their work, while others take short-cuts to get ahead.
- Almost every Christian has some form of pain or suffering, for which they await deliverance.
- All Christians have unsaved loved ones, relatives and friends, for whose salvation they wait.
- We all find ourselves waiting for God to change someone near, and perhaps dear, to us.
- All of us wait for the coming of our Lord and His kingdom.
- Strangely enough, a number of saints wait for death. There are those who will not wait for God's time, and choose suicide as the method for relieving pain. Others cannot bear to watch loved ones suffer, and choose euthanasia. We all know of circumstances where we wish the Lord would “take them” or “us,” but God calls on us to wait.
(10) Finally, be assured that God always makes it worth the wait. If you want to eat in a hurry, you can drive through McDonald's and buy a “Happy Meal.” But if you want a gourmet meal, you know you will have to wait a while. That is because great meals don't happen quickly, or easily, no matter what the TV commercials tell you. I have never once seen or heard of anyone putting food into a microwave oven because they thought that it would be tastier than something which comes out of the oven, or a crock pot. We make use of the microwave oven because we want to eat, fast. We use the oven when we want to eat well. God's plans and promises are not of the microwave variety. God slow cooks His plans and His people, to bring out the very best in them. You can almost always plan on the fact that God will make you wait for what is best. He is never late, but He is also seldom quick. But of this fact I can assure you: When God's plan is for you to wait, He will make it all worth the wait.
Let us learn from David that waiting is a part of the normal Christian life. We will be tempted to short-cut this waiting, but this would be sin. Others are often willing to help us with such short-cuts. But let us resolve in our hearts to be like David, and to wait upon the Lord to fulfill His purposes and promises in His good time. Let us be assured that while we wait, God is working in us to prepare us for the good things that lie ahead. Let us not doubt that we shall see them. And let us devote ourselves to doing the good we know to do and that we are able to do, while we wait.
20 This occurs to me now, a little late, but perhaps better said late than never. I have wondered why Saul reneges on his first offer to give one of his daughters to the one who would fight Goliath. I attributed Saul’s not doing so to his character. Is it possible that the reason David is not given one of Saul’s daughters at that time is that he is thought too young to marry? Later on, Saul makes the offer specifically to David, and David is willing to accept the offer of Michal. Anyone big and strong enough to kill 200 Philistines (I take it they would not give up their foreskins voluntarily.) must be old enough to marry.
21 I remember from my seminary days that some scholars attempt to show that Jacob didn’t have to wait the full additional seven years to get Rachel. Our efforts to try to shorten Jacob’s time of waiting may only betray our problem in waiting, or watching others wait. On the face of it, Jacob had to wait an additional seven years before getting Rachel as his wife.