Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 82, Saul Asks The Medium To Call Up The Spirit Of Samuel

King Saul, who strayed far from the Lord long ago and has remained estranged from Him, is terrified by the approaching Philistine army. Without humbling himself before the Lord or being sorry for his sins, he asked prophets and priests to consult the Lord regarding how to handle this invasion. But the Lord remained silent. I think probably He remained silent because the only words the Lord wanted to hear from Saul were words of repentance. Now that's a prayer He would have answered immediately! But since Saul is living in rebellion toward God, the Lord answers him with silence, and we've noted before that it's often easier to get someone's attention with silence than with words. For example, those who find it easy to ignore our advice or our concern for their wellbeing will sometimes pay no attention to us until we stop trying to reason with them. If Saul had responded appropriately to the Lord's silence, he would have sought Him diligently and wholeheartedly. He would have recognized and acknowledged his sin and repented of it. He would have come to a saving knowledge of the Lord and would have had his heart and his character changed by Him.

Instead of seeking the God of his fathers, Saul seeks counsel from someone else who went silent on him: the prophet Samuel. For a number of years prior to Samuel's death, these two men who were formerly friends were estranged from each other because of Saul's repeated rebellion against the Lord. The prophet Samuel is dead but Saul thinks that will be no barrier if he can find a medium able to call Samuel up from the dead. Upon being informed by his servants that there is a medium at Endor capable of doing just such a thing, he makes a visit to her under cover of darkness. 

"So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. 'Consult a spirit for me,' he said, 'and bring up for me the one that I name.'" (1 Samuel 28:8) In my background study for this passage I saw the question asked several times: In spite of the disguise, how did this woman not know this is the king of Israel whom we were told was a head and shoulders taller than any other man in the country? Some scholars have concluded that she just wasn't very bright but I'm not sure how successful she would have been as a medium if she were of low intelligence. At the very least she would have had to have been rather crafty because most mediums are charlatans. They are in the occult field of business to fleece people out of their money. There is a case in the Bible where a young lady truly was communicating with the unseen realm but that's because she was inhabited by a demon (see Acts 16:16-18), but the vast majority of mediums, psychics, and fortune tellers are frauds who prey on the bereaved or the gullible. So if the psychic Saul visits is as shrewd as we would expect her to be, how does she not know this is the king? I think, based on what she says next, that she suspects he is the king and thinks he's come undercover to her as a setup to catch her doing something against the law.

"But the woman said to him, 'Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?'" (1 Samuel 28:9) We were told in verse 3 of our current chapter that at some time in the past, Saul had "expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land". This is why he had some difficulty in locating one when he wanted one and it's why he had to travel to Endor to see one, which was risky considering how close Endor was to the current location of the Philistine army. The woman doesn't deny that she's ever acted as a medium; she just tries to decline performing this service for him, saying something like, "Oh no, I couldn't possibly consult the spirit world for you! His Majesty the king has forbidden any medium or spiritist to practice their trade within the borders of Israel. I could not possibly go against his edict. Breaking this law is a capital offense. Why would you ask me to perform a service that might mean my death? No, I cannot do it!"

Saul guarantees the woman's safety and underscores this guarantee by making an oath to her in the name of the Lord. "Saul swore to her by the Lord, 'As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.'" (1 Samuel 28:10) On Saul's lips, an oath made in the name of the Lord is probably no more reliable than an oath made in any other name, but the woman is convinced by the emotion in his voice that he genuinely and desperately wants her to call up a spirit for him and that he is not there to entrap her into breaking the law. "Then the woman asked, 'Whom shall I bring up for you?' 'Bring up Samuel,' he said." (1 Samuel 28:11)

In tomorrow's passage, someone will indeed appear to the woman from the spirit world, or so she says. This person will be Samuel, or so her description of him indicates. Saul himself will see and hear no one, so we need to take some time tomorrow discussing whether or not this is a true appearance of the prophet Samuel and, if so, why he would answer the summons of someone who deals in occult practices. It does not seem likely that the soul of a child of the Lord could be compelled to answer the call of a medium; therefore we must consider whether or not the woman sees anyone at all or, if she really does see someone, whether it's the prophet Samuel or, if it's really the prophet Samuel, why he sends a message to Saul from beyond the grave. The message will not be one that Saul wants to hear, not from Samuel or from anyone else.

Monday, May 30, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 81, David Paints Himself Into A Corner/Saul Seeks The Services Of A Psychic Medium

As we closed Chapter 27 yesterday we found David and his men and their families living in Philistine-held Ziklag with the permission of Achish, the king of the Philistines. David and his men were making raids on small villages occupied by the tribes of Canaan, killing all their people and taking all their goods, and returning to Achish with the goods claiming they were stolen from the Israelites. David is pretending to have turned his back on his own people Israel due to having to live in exile from them; this also allows him to gain the trust of Achish so Achish won't throw him out of Philistia again and put him back within reach of the murderous King Saul. But David's raids and his deception have been too successful. Achish makes it clear that he expects David and his men to go out with the Philistine army to fight against Israel.

"In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, 'You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.'" (1 Samuel 28:1) It may be that when David appealed to the king for asylum he did not expect the Philistines to welcome him and his six hundred men into their army. The Philistines, generally speaking, harbored a great deal of resentment and racial prejudice toward the Israelites. David must not have imagined any of these soldiers wanting to march out shoulder to shoulder with him. Right now I bet he's thinking, "What have I done? I've put on such a good show of being an enemy of my own people that none of Achish's soldiers still harbor any suspicions against me. It no longer enters their minds that I might be a spy, as they thought on my first trip to Philistia. Now they think I'll be a valuable asset in their army since I'm so familiar with Israel's military tactics. How am I going to get myself out of this predicament?"

I think David's mind is racing a mile a minute but he doesn't allow his thoughts to show on his face. Instead he boldly proclaims he will do his best for King Achish and confidently asserts that the king will be proud to have him in his army. "David said, 'Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.' Achish replied, 'Very well, I make you my bodyguard for life.'" (1 Samuel 28:2) David is not only expected to go out with the army and make war against Israel, but his particular job is to guard the life of a king who would love to see the nation of Israel destroyed and its every citizen killed. He does a good job of holding it together on the outside but I believe he is in deep distress all the way to his soul.

David isn't the only man in deep distress in Chapter 28. King Saul learns that the Philistines are mobilizing their forces to invade Israel. We are going to be told that "terror filled his heart" at the prospect of all-out war with this huge army. "Now Samuel was dead, and Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land. The Philistines came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, 'Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.' 'There is one in Endor,' they said." (1 Samuel 28:4-5) 

It appears that at while the prophet Samuel was still alive, most likely during the time when he was still a friend and mentor to Saul, Saul did something right: he rid the nation of those who were known to operate as mediums. This was in obedience to the command of the Lord, who said, "Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:31) "I will set My face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people...A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads." (Leviticus 20:6, 27) "Let no one be among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12a)

When Saul sees the enormity of King Achish's army, his heart nearly fails with fear.  He does something that the political and military leaders of Israel have done before him when facing enemy armies: he seeks the advice of the Lord regarding his battle strategy. He doesn't ask the Lord directly, for he has no personal relationship with Him as far as we can tell, but he asks priests and prophets to call upon the Lord on his behalf. Saul formerly had the high priest of Israel and all the priests residing at Nob put to death, falsely accusing them of being involved in a plot with David to stage a coup, and I imagine that the priests and prophets called to intercede for Saul are shaking in their shoes. They dare not refuse his summons but probably expect to be struck down by the sword if they don't produce an answer from the Lord. At the same time, they dare not falsify an answer from the Lord because to their credit they still respect the Lord more than they fear the king. They will not pretend to receive an answer from the Lord even if it means their death.

If the Lord won't answer Saul, he reasons that maybe a medium can contact a person from the unseen realm who will. He falls to yet another spiritual low by deciding to seek counsel from a psychic medium---the type of person the Lord says He despises, the type of person whose occupation makes them guilty of a capital crime in the Lord's book. Upon learning that there is a medium at Endor, Saul makes haste to visit her at once. "So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman." (1 Samuel 28:8a)

Saul isn't at all bothered by the fact that he's committing a sin worthy of the death penalty in Israel. He disguises himself but not because he's ashamed of his sin. He's also not disguising himself because he fears being stoned to death according to the law; although he is not actually above the law, as the king he considers himself above the law, and his subjects fear him too much to take up stones against him. No, he disguises himself so the medium won't realize he's the king. During the early days of his administration he declared that anyone caught acting as a medium would be put to death. If the woman realizes he is the king, she won't consult the spirit world for him. She'll think it's a trap to catch her breaking the law. In fact, in tomorrow's passage she'll try to refuse the request anyway, feeling in her heart that something isn't right with this whole situation. She'll end up recognizing him as king after all but Saul---a lawbreaker himself!---will coerce her into acting as a medium for him anyway, promising by an oath in the name of the Lord (whose law he is breaking) that she will come to no harm. Saul is going to get an answer from his visit to the medium but it won't be an answer he wants to hear.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 80, David Pretends To Be An Enemy Of Israel

In yesterday's text we found David asking the Philistines a second time for asylum. The first time he attempted this, in Chapter 21, he was rejected. But an unknown number of years have passed since then and it has become well known that David is living in exile since King Saul turned on him. King Achish of the Philistines was more than happy to receive David the second time he showed up in Gath, believing David when he swears allegiance to him, hoping David will be as mighty in battle for him as he once was for King Saul. The fact that David is bringing six hundred troops with him likely sweetens the deal, for Achish is gaining not only a successful military commander but a whole new army unit.

Achish has been most generous to David, to his men, and to all their wives and children. He invited them to make their home in the royal city. But David asked, in what I believe was an attitude of false modesty, to be allowed to live at a distance from the king. To paraphrase his conversation with the king, he said something like, "Your servants are honored by this offer but we don't want to be a bother to you or to your people. You don't need us underfoot, crowding you, since there are so many of us. We ask only for space to dwell in the corner of your kingdom. There we can still be of service to you but will not be in your way." Achish was pleased with David's answer and graciously granted him the area known as Ziklag, which lay at the southernmost tip of the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah. Ziklag was part of the inheritance of Judah as described in the book of Joshua but it was either part of the region that the Israelites had not yet conquered or else they had conquered it in the past but it has been reoccupied since then by the Philistines. It is certainly under Philistine control at this time; otherwise it would not have been within Achish's power to give it to David.

Why do I believe David was feigning a humble spirit when he asked to be allowed to live in some out-of-the-way place? Because we will see that he wants to live at a distance from the king in order to carry out a deception. He will be forced to demonstrate loyalty to the king by raiding those whom the king considers his enemies. This means Achish expects David to attack the Israelites and their allies. David will pretend to be raiding outlying settlements of Israel when in reality he's raiding those who have historically been the enemies of Israel: tribes who inhabited the land of Canaan prior to the Israelites' arrival there, pagan people whom the Lord instructed the Israelites to drive from and destroy from the land. The Israelites had not, by David's time, taken all the land the Lord assigned to them. David will attack these people, bring the spoils back to the king, and tell the lie that these goods were taken from the Israelites.

"Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish." (1 Samuel 27:8-9) Some Bible scholars condemn David's violent actions in this passage while others defend him, asserting that he is only operating within the command given by the Lord to the people of Israel regarding the promised land. The Lord instructed the Israelites: "When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess." (Numbers 33:51-53) David is justifying his actions by saying to himself and to his men, "These are people we were supposed to have destroyed when we first moved into the land of Canaan, but our forefathers didn't finish the job. We're only doing what they should have done." Is he right or is he wrong? He's right in saying that their forefathers didn't do everything the Lord told them to do, but whether or not he's operating within the will of God by attacking these people now and in this way, I am not so confident. 

The reason I am not so confident he's in the right is because he should not have been living among the Philistines to begin with. He's experiencing a crisis of faith and is suffering from doubts about whether the Lord will keep on protecting him from Saul. He said in yesterday's passage, before appealing to the Philistines for asylum, "One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul." David hasn't stopped believing in the Lord but he's perhaps begun thinking the Lord has stopped believing in him as the best candidate for king of Israel. I think maybe David started relying on himself to stay strong and that, when he fell prey to exhaustion from so many years on the run, he didn't fall to his knees before the Lord to have new strength poured out on him. If David or anyone else relies solely upon themselves for strength---if they keep trying to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, as the saying goes---they will falter. Human strength can only last so long. A person can only encourage himself or herself so much. David fell prey to doubts and fears because his own strength gave out. That's why he's someplace he shouldn't be and that's why I think the things he's doing are things he shouldn't be doing. 

To add further credence to the theory that he's probably not operating within the will of God when he attacks some of the tribes of Canaan at this time, he lies about it, as we'll see momentarily. When a person is doing right, they don't have to lie about it. David repays the kindness of King Achish with deception. In doing so, he's setting a poor example of faith for his own men and their families who are looking to him not only as their military/political leader but as a spiritual leader as well. 

"When Achish asked, 'Where did you go raiding today?' David would say, 'Against the Negev of Judah,' or, 'Against the Negev of Jerahmeel,' or, 'Against the Negev of the Kenites.' He did not leave a man or a woman to be brought to Gath, for he thought, 'They might inform on us and say, 'This is what David did.'" (1 Samuel 27:10-11a) Here we find the real reason David kills every inhabitant of the settlements he attacks. He doesn't want any survivors to expose his lie that he's attacking the Israelites and the allies of Israel. He may be telling himself that what he's doing is okay because the people he's killing are enemies of Israel. He may be justifying the slaughter by referring to the command the Lord gave the Israelites when they entered Canaan. But at its core, the reason for this wholesale slaughter is to protect himself and to preserve his lie of loyalty to King Achish. 

David didn't only do this once or twice. He operated in this way and kept telling this lie the whole time he lived among the Philistines, which according to yesterday's text was a year and four months. "And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory. Achish trusted David and said to himself, 'He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for life.'" (1 Samuel 27:11b-12) King Achish says, "David will never betray me and return to his people. He couldn't do that even if he wanted to because his people will never allow him back."

David hasn't betrayed Israel or the God of Israel in the way Achish thinks he has but David has betrayed some of his own principles. He's living someplace he shouldn't be living and he's doing and saying things he shouldn't be saying. I've been guilty of being places I shouldn't be and of doing and saying things I shouldn't be doing and saying. You can likely say the same. If we are going to point out any of David's faults we must be willing to acknowledge our own. If David's mistakes seem bigger than ours (the slaughtering of whole villages full of people) that may only be because we've never found ourselves in David's circumstances: running for our lives with a bounty on our heads, attempting to hide out among the enemy and pretending to be on their side so they don't kill us. I've never walked in David's shoes but I've made mistakes that began with putting myself in places and in situations where, as a child of God, I should never have been. It's a slippery slope and in today's passage we find David sliding down that slope. But God is gracious! God is forgiving! David will have a chance before long to stand up and man up in the faith. He will not fail on that occasion.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 79, A Crisis Of Faith Leads David Back To The Philistines

In today's passage David goes back to the Philistines---the enemies of Israel---seeking shelter from Saul. We already found David attempting to live among the Philistines in Chapter 21. But he failed to find asylum there because at that time he was newly estranged from King Saul and the Philistines did not trust him. They hadn't yet heard that the king of Israel was accusing him of plotting treason against him. They didn't know David had been forced to flee for his life with nothing but the clothes on his back. But now some time has passed and it has become widespread knowledge that the man whom David once served faithfully as an army commander and son-in-law wants him dead at any cost. King Achish of the Philistines, who had David thrown out of his house and out of the city gates in Chapter 21, will welcome him this time because, as the saying goes, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." The king hopes David (and the six hundred armed men he didn't yet have on his first visit to King Achish) will be valuable allies for him against King Saul.

Why does David go back to Philistia? Because he's suffering a crisis of faith. "But David thought to himself, 'One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will escape out of his hand.'" (1 Samuel 27:1) The Lord has preserved David's life from the wicked king many times already. Just a few verses ago He sent a deep sleep on Saul and his three thousand soldiers so David could slip unnoticed into the king's army camp. David had the confidence to go into the camp because he knew the Lord would protect him and keep His promise that David would someday be king. David also had the confidence that he didn't need to kill King Saul, though he could have, because the Lord would deal with Saul at the right time and in the right way. In the meantime David believed the Lord would continue to protect him from Saul. What happened between the end of Chapter 26 and the beginning of Chapter 27? 

The Bible doesn't tell us but I have an inkling David has just simply become exhausted. I think he's physically exhausted from continually having to move himself and all his men and all their families from place to place. I think he's mentally exhausted from his mind working overtime planning how to protect and provide for himself and all these people for whom he is responsible. I think he's emotionally exhausted by the hurt he's experienced from Saul's betrayal; Saul was once a father figure and mentor to him. He's suffering emotionally from the knowledge that his wife Michal, who loved him and was loyal to him earlier in the book, is now in the arms of another man. He can't even resort to his parents for emotional support because he had to send them to his kinsman, the king of Moab, where they are being  protected far from Saul's grasp. These things are bad enough but he's been religiously disenfranchised too, as he pointed out to Saul in Chapter 26, because since he's been declared an enemy of the state he can no longer go up to worship at the house of God. I believe David could have dealt stoically with any one of these problems for quite a while longer before giving in to discouragement. I think he could even have dealt admirably with several of these problems combined. But having to deal with all of these problems at the same time for years, and not being able to avail himself of the comfort of the Lord's house and the godly encouragement of the priests there, has caused him to temporarily become dispirited. He's fallen prey to doubt, telling himself that if he doesn't get out of Israel he will end up dead by the hand of Saul. 

We have to keep in mind that it's not just his own life he's worried about. The six hundred men and their families who have joined up with him have been a comfort to him, I am sure, but they are a liability to him. It's a lot harder for hundreds of people to hide from the king than for just one man to hide from him. If Saul's soldiers ever manage to surround and capture David and the people with him, Saul will have them all put to death as enemies of the crown---including the women and children. If Saul didn't have a problem with the women and children being put to death at Nob when he falsely declared all the priests there guilty of treason, he'd be even less bothered by the idea of killing the people who are openly showing their support for David by following him wherever he goes. 

David is tired. He's tired in every way a person can be tired. It's natural that he would be tired. The problem is that he doesn't handle his exhaustion in the right way, by calling upon the One about whom it is said: "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:29-31) I believe the Lord would have answered David by giving him the boost to his energy and his faith that he needs, keeping him from teaming up with the heathen enemies of Israel. But I can't really criticize David for handling his exhaustion in the wrong way because there have been times when I've handled my exhaustion in the wrong way, when I have become discouraged because a big problem has lingered on and on with no resolution in sight or when I'm constantly being beset by a series of smaller problems. Things like that can really wear us down in our human strength, and if we don't get alone with the Lord enough to let Him refresh us in spirit we can easily start saying discouraging things to ourselves like David is saying to himself. When we start saying discouraging things, we start believing discouraging things. And when we start believing discouraging things, we start making bad choices.

David makes a choice in his discouraged state that he would not have made at any other time. "So David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish son of Maok king of Gath. David and his men settled in Gath with Achish. Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives: Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel, the widow of Nabal. When Saul was told that David had fled to Gath, he no longer searched for him." (1 Samuel 27:2-4) David's decision has had the desired effect on Saul, but at what cost? He was correct in thinking Saul won't seek him by bringing his army into Philistia to engage the enemy in battle on their own home turf. But living in Philistia means living among people who have rejected the one true God. It means residing among idolaters and witnessing all manner of pagan religious rituals and unrighteous modes of living. This cannot have had a positive effect on anyone, spiritually speaking. It cannot have set a good example for them to have David, their leader, falling into such doubt that he'd team up with an enemy of Israel.

Achish, who threw David out of town in Chapter 21, is more than pleased to have him come back. David was once a very powerful and effective warrior for King Saul. But now that King Saul has made himself David's mortal enemy, Achish expects David to become a very powerful and effective warrior for him. David knows Achish is pleased to have him and his men as allies so he asks for a place where they and their families can make their home. "Then David said to Achish, 'If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be assigned to me in one of the country towns, that I may live there. Why should your servant live in the royal city with you?' So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since. David lived in Philistine territory a year and four months." (1 Samuel 27:5-7) David says, "Why should we be a bother to you in the royal city? It is kind of you to offer us lodging here, but we are your servants and not people of your own nation. We don't ask for or expect any special treatment. We will be perfectly happy to reside in some out-of-the-way place."

David is being deceptive, as we will learn later on. He wants to live far enough from the king that the king can't keep close tabs on what he is doing. But Achish takes his words at face value and is happy to give him and his people a place to dwell outside of the royal city of Gath---a place called Ziklag. Having Ziklag bestowed upon him will at first seem like a blessing to David. Later it will seem like a curse when a terribly upsetting thing happens there. But that upsetting thing will serve to put David back into the right spiritual frame of mind. He will, at that time, encourage himself in the Lord as he should have done at the beginning of our current chapter. The situation at Ziklag will be so devastating that the Lord will be the only one in whom he can encourage himself because David's own men will turn on him. What seems like one of the worst things that could have happened will turn out to be one of the best things that could have happened. The One who "gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak" will come through for David and his men in a mighty way, restoring their energy just as the Scriptures say He can.

Friday, May 27, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 78, Saul Apologizes To David A Second Time

In yesterday's text we found Saul and his army in a deep sleep sent to them by the Lord. David and his nephew Abishai crept into the camp and took the spear and the water jug beside Saul's head. This was David's idea, not Abishai's; Abishai wanted to kill Saul. But just as David did when he cut off a corner of Saul's robe in the cave a few chapters ago, he spares Saul's life and takes only some personal items as proof that Saul's paranoid suspicions against him are unfounded. David is not out to kill Saul. If he were, he would already have killed him.

"So David took the spear and water jug near Saul's head, and they left. No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. They were all sleeping, because the Lord had put them into a deep sleep. Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the hill some distance away; there was a wide space between them." (1 Samuel 26:12-13) We were told in verse 3 of our chapter that Saul's camp was by the side of the road, so after David takes the spear and water jug he goes back across the road and climbs a hill from which he can face the camp while still being at a distance from it.

"He called out to the army and to Abner son of Ner, 'Aren't you going to answer me, Abner?' Abner replied, 'Who are you who calls to the king?'" (1 Samuel 26:14) The supernatural slumber the Lord sent upon the men dissipated as soon as David got away from the camp. Now Abner, the commander of Saul's army, and the other men immediately wake up at the sound of David's voice. It's still dark out and they can't see him but they can hear him. Abner is not as familiar with David's voice as Saul is and he does not recognize it. He says, "Who is this? What do you mean by disturbing the king's sleep?"

David knows it was because of the Lord that no one woke up while he and Abishai were in the camp but he takes this opportunity to taunt the army commander for not protecting the king. "David said, 'You're a man, aren't you? And who is like you in Israel? Why didn't you guard your lord the king? Someone came to destroy the lord your king. What you have done is not good. As surely as the Lord lives, you and your men must die, because you did not guard your master, the Lord's anointed. Look around you. Where are the king's spear and water jug that were near his head?'" (1 Samuel 26:15-16)  

There appears to be some animosity between the two men, perhaps because Abner has taken Saul's side in the absence of any proof that David has conspired against the king. Or perhaps, as an army general, Abner was jealous of David's victories on the battlefield and the fame that came along with such victories. If that's the case then Abner was likely quite pleased when Saul accused David of a treasonous plot and declared him worthy of the death penalty. Abner may have been enjoying the fact that David is on the run and can no longer lead any of Saul's troops in battle. David calls out to him and asks, "What kind of man are you? What kind of general are you? If you're supposed to be the best of the best, why didn't you protect your master? He'd be dead right now if I'd wanted him dead. The fact that he's still alive is no thanks to you. It's due only to my integrity that the king still lives."

Saul is awake enough now to have his wits about him. He knows David's voice. This is the voice of the man who vowed to kill Goliath in the name of the Lord. This is the voice of the man who commanded Saul's troops on many successful mission. This is the voice of the man who sang songs to the king when he was in his melancholy moods. This is the voice of the man who spoke wedding vows to the king's daughter. This is the voice of the man who used to dine at the king's table. "Saul recognized David's voice and said, 'Is that your voice, David my son?'" (1 Samuel 26:17a) David is no longer Saul's son-in-law, Saul having unlawfully dissolved the marriage between David and Michal while David has been forced to live in exile. But he calls David "my son", either in honor of their previous familial relationship or in the fatherly tone an older man might use when addressing a younger man.

David appeals to Saul to stop the madness. Surely he can see by now that David has no designs on his life. "David replied, 'Yes it is, my lord the king.' And he added, 'Why is my lord pursuing his servant? What have I done, and what wrong am I guilty of? Now let my lord the king listen to his servant's words. If the Lord has incited you against me, then may He accept an offering. If, however, people have done it, may they be cursed before the Lord! They have driven me today from my share in the Lord's inheritance and have said, 'Go, serve other gods.' Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the Lord. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea---as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.'" (1 Samuel 26:17b-20) He tells Saul, "If I sin against the Lord, He accepts repentance and offerings for atonement. He would not command you to hunt me down and kill me, so if you think you've received such a command, it's an invention of your own mind. And if our fellow man has been claiming to you that I'm plotting to kill you, it's a lie and you must not believe it. You know me to be a better man than that! I'm not guilty of doing you any harm and yet I've been driven from my home, from my family, from my work, and from being able to worship at the Lord's house in Israel. I'm the one who has been wronged! May the Lord judge my enemies."

As on the other occasion when David could have taken Saul's life and didn't, Saul is able in this moment to clearly see how much he has wronged David. "Then Saul said, 'I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.'" (1 Samuel 26:21) Is this a sincere and lasting repentance? I am not sure we can come to a definite conclusion because the Bible never mentions Saul and David having any further contact with each other. David will refuse to return with Saul to Gibeah, and who can blame him for that? David will move even further away from Saul in the coming days, living among Israel's enemies the Philistines. Saul will be so busy trying to repel repeated invasions by the Philistines that he won't have time to track David down. If David had been more easily within Saul's grasp, and if Saul had not been otherwise occupied, we would have been able to tell by Saul's actions whether or not he has truly and permanently stopped trying to harm David. I hope Saul's apology was sincere and that he never would have tried to lift a finger against David again, and I hope Saul got his heart right with the Lord sometime between Chapter 26 and the end of his life, but until we too have gone on to meet our Maker we will probably never know for sure.

David, like us, doesn't know whether Saul's repentance in this matter is permanent. But he knows the Lord knows and so he is going to leave Saul---and any judgment of Saul---in His hands. "'Here is the king's spear,' David answered. 'Let one of your young men come over and get it. The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness. The Lord delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the Lord's anointed. As surely as I valued your life today, so may the Lord deliver my life and deliver me from all trouble.' Then Saul said to David, 'May you be blessed, David my son; you will do great things and surely triumph.' So David went on his way, and Saul returned home." (1 Samuel 26:22-25)

The Lord knows who loves Him and who does not. The Lord knows who wants to do right and who does not. We can trust Him to reward faithfulness and to judge wickedness. We aren't always in a position to vindicate ourselves and clear our good names, but the Lord is. The Lord will sort things out on our behalf, rewarding us for our faithfulness and love toward Him, disciplining those who have done us wrong.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 77, David Spares Saul's Life Again

Two chapters ago Saul's conscience was bothering him about the way he treated David. But he's over that now and back to his old tricks. When the people of Ziph reveal David's location to him, he goes after him again hoping to capture and kill him.

"The Ziphites went to Saul at Gibeah and said, 'Is not David hiding on the hill of Hakilah, which faces Jeshimon?'" (1 Samuel 26:1) The Ziphites betrayed David's location to Saul on a previous occasion, in Chapter 23, even though both they and David are of the tribe of Judah.

"So Saul went down to the Desert of Ziph, with his three thousand select Israelite troops, to search there for David. Saul made his camp beside the road on the hill of Hakilah facing Jeshimon, but David stayed in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul had followed him there, he sent out scouts and learned that Saul had definitely arrived." (1 Samuel 26:2-4) These three thousand men are an elite force, the best of the best of all the soldiers of Israel in Saul's opinion. This proves to us just how much Saul wants David dead, that he would bring out his most highly trained soldiers to capture a man who only has six hundred men with him, many of whom were not originally what we'd call "career army men" but who had been farmers, shepherds, and tradesmen in their previous occupations.

David is dismayed when he hears Saul is on the hunt for him again. I think he is reluctant to believe it at first. He's been hoping that Saul's repentance in Chapter 24 was genuine and that he has come out to the Desert of Ziph for some other purpose. But David's spies confirm that the rumor he's heard about Saul is true. They ferret out Saul's current location and probably sneak up and listen to the conversations between the soldiers. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Saul has offered a great reward to the man or men who manage to take David into custody and, if that's the case, it would be natural for the soldiers to be discussing this among themselves just as they did when a great reward was promised to whoever who could kill Goliath. After learning that Saul and three thousand men are indeed camped nearby and that their intention is to capture and kill David, the spies return and report this upsetting news to David.

"Then David set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. He saw where Saul and Abner son of Ner, the commander of the army, had lain down. Saul was lying inside the camp, with the army encamped around him." (1 Samuel 26:5) David sneaks down to the camp during the night to observe the layout of the camp and to spot Saul's position in the camp. As would be expected, the king is lying in the most protected place, encircled by his troops. 

After getting a good look at how everything is set up, and after committing this to memory, David returns to his men and asks for a volunteer to accompany him into the midst of the camp. "David then asked Ahimelek the Hittite and Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, 'Who will go down into the camp with me to Saul?' 'I'll go with you,' said Abishai." (1 Samuel 26:6) We aren't told why a Hittite is among the supporters of David but perhaps he is a convert to the God of Israel and has joined up with the man God has chosen to be the next king. Ahimelek's faith isn't quite strong enough to go down into Saul's camp, however. Another bit of information we haven't yet been given is that Abishai and his brothers Joab and Asahel are David's nephews, being the sons of David's sister Zeruiah. This part of the family tree is explained in 1 Chronicles 2:13-17 where David's brothers and sisters are listed by name. Although nothing has been said to us about Joab so far, when the author penned the words of 1 Samuel 26:6 he knew his readers would immediately recognize the name. Joab is going to feature very prominently in the story of David's life.

"So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him." (1 Samuel 26:7) Saul's men don't exactly seem like an elite group of soldiers at the moment; they sleep right through everything that happens in our passage today. Why does no one stir? "Because the Lord had put them into a deep sleep," is what we'll be told in verse 12. If the Lord had not put them into this supernatural slumber, we can be certain that men would have been standing guard and on the alert for even the slightest sound. David and Abishai would have quickly found themselves in the dire situation of having three thousand spears pointed at them, plus the spear of the king. 

But since the Lord intervened, David has the upper hand. Abishai thinks he and David should take advantage of this happy turn of events. "Abishai said to David, 'Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won't strike him twice.'" (1 Samuel 26:8) He says, "Let me at him! Give me just one shot at ending his miserable, wicked life. I've never been more motivated to kill a man; you can bet it won't take me two tries!" 

Abishai is of the people of the Lord, yet he wouldn't hesitate for a second to kill Saul if he were in David's shoes. He won't hesitate to strike Saul on David's behalf if David will only give permission. Pretty much any man, other than David, would have taken this opportunity to rid himself of his mortal enemy. It's a natural human response under these conditions to think, "King Saul wants me dead and will stop at nothing to see me dead. But now the Lord has placed him and his men into a deep sleep. The Lord has set the scene for me to commit an act that is really an act of self-defense even though Saul isn't pointing a weapon at me right now, because if I don't kill Saul he will kill me." But David knows Saul won't kill him. He can't kill him because the Lord has promised that someday David will be king. David can't reign as king if he's dead; therefore, he is safe from Saul because the Lord will keep him safe from Saul. Knowing the Lord won't allow Saul to take his life, David doesn't take Saul's life either. "But David said to Abishai, 'Don't destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord's anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,' he said, 'the Lord Himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord's anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let's go.'" (1 Samuel 26:9-11)

There's nothing David can find in Saul's character to admire but he respects the office Saul holds, for it will someday be the office David himself holds. He also respects the Lord too much to turn his hand against a man who was once anointed as king upon instructions of the Lord. He says to his nephew Abishai, "No, let's leave this up to God. The Lord Himself will either strike him dead or He will allow Saul to perish from natural causes or He will allow a sword or an arrow to slay him in battle. But the blood of the king will not be upon my hands and his death will not be upon my conscience. No one will ever be able to say I assassinated Saul in order to take the throne from him. It will be apparent to the whole nation that Saul's downfall and my promotion to the office of king are the Lord's will, not merely man's will."

David sets a wonderful example of faith for his nephew and for us as well. He has taken to heart the Lord's promise to avenge those who are His. (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:17-19) The Lord will not break that promise anymore than He broke the promise to David that he would be king. We can place all our confidence in the Lord's ability to handle our enemies for us.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 76, Nabal Dies/David Marries Abigail

The wife of the wicked Nabal apologized to David for her husband's ill treatment of him and his men. Along with her apology she brought abundant food supplies and wise counsel. She helped David to see that appeasing his anger and wounded pride by killing Nabal and all his men would be a grievous sin. He thanks her for coming to him on this brave and godly mission.

"David said to Abigail, 'Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.' Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, 'Go in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.'" (1 Samuel 25:32-35) David recognizes Abigail as a woman of faith. He knows she has come in obedience to the Lord even though it must have been extremely frightening to speak to an angry man with four hundred angry men behind him (two hundred were left in the camp), all armed and ready to fight. This would be a daunting prospect for anyone but especially for a woman in an era when very little value was placed on the opinion of women.

Abigail is thankful and relieved that her request was received in the right attitude by David. She must have returned home on a spiritual high, so to speak, because the Lord has given her success. As often happens following a great victory, vexing circumstances follow. The devil likes to kick us when we're down, that's true, but he sometimes finds it more effective to kick us when we're basking in the glow of victory. He does this in an attempt to catch us off guard and also I think because he hates seeing us praise the Lord. He hates it because he knows it builds our faith and makes us feel closer to the Lord so he tries to discourage us as quickly as possible. As soon as Abigail reaches home and walks in the door, she's met with a discouraging scene.

"When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk." (1 Samuel 25:36a) Nothing about Abigail's home life has changed. She's experienced a great victory from the Lord away from home but she's still married to a spiritually reprobate man who thinks far more of himself than he ought to and who thinks far less of others than he ought to. The first sight to meet her eyes when she opens the door is her sloppily drunk husband behaving like he's king of the realm, showing off in front of his guests who are probably as sloppily drunk as he is. He doesn't mind bestowing the richest of foods upon these flunkies in exchange for their admiration and allegiance but he was unwilling to give David and his men the most basic of supplies in return for protecting his shepherds and sheep from marauders. 

We were told earlier in the chapter that Nabal's name (which may be a nickname) means "fool". He's still acting the fool. His wife and servants realized he put himself in danger by turning down David's request for food but he seems oblivious to that fact. Instead of being on guard with armed men at his side, he's "very drunk". He's not in any condition to defend himself or the people of his household. He has no concern whatsoever that harm might come to anyone because of his actions. David only threatened to kill the male relatives and male servants of Nabal, but Nabal can't know this. Yet he isn't even interested in making sure Abigail is safe. Seeing the deplorable condition her husband is in, Abigail doesn't say a word to him until the next day. It's no use trying to talk to someone in Nabal's condition; they won't understand or won't remember. 

"So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died." (1 Samuel 25:36b-38) Nabal is so upset to hear that Abigail helped David that he has some type of cardiac event, after which he lingers in his bed until he passes away ten days later. No doubt his hard-drinking, rich-food-eating lifestyle has a lot to do with this, along with a bad temper that didn't do his blood pressure any favors.

Word gets to David that Nabal has expired of natural causes, leading him to again praise the Lord for preventing him from dirtying his hands by taking vengeance for himself. "When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, 'Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept His servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal's wrongdoing down on his own head.'" (1 Samuel 25:39a) Nabal is the kind of man about whom the Apostle Paul said, "God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7b) Nabal didn't suddenly start being a greedy, ungrateful, ungodly man on the day David asked him for some food. Nabal had been that way a long time. He wasn't grateful for his blessings and wasn't willing to share any of his blessings with others. He was unpleasant to be around, was verbally abusive, and for all we know may have also been physically abusive to his wife and servants and hired workers. He lived his life in a bad temper and he died in a bad temper. But David didn't have to lift a finger against him and for that he will always be thankful to the Lord.

David is thankful to someone else as well. "Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife." (1 Samuel 25:39b) He wants to protect and provide for and show kindness to the woman who gave him godly counsel. 

We aren't told why David doesn't go to Abigail's house to propose to her himself but he isn't the first man in the Bible to gain a wife by messenger. For example, you'll recall from our study of Genesis that Abraham sent a servant to procure a godly wife for his son Isaac from among Abraham's own people. Isaac and Rebekah did not even meet each other until after she accepted the proposal by proxy and returned with the servant. Abigail, like Rebekah, accepts the proposal relayed to her by messenger. "His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, 'David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.' She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, 'I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord's servants.'" (1 Samuel 25:40-41) This is her way of saying, "I am honored and humbled by this opportunity."

She wastes no time in going to meet her groom. "Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David's messengers and became his wife. David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David's wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim." (1 Samuel 25:42-44) We don't know when David married Ahinoam but it was probably after hearing that his first wife was no longer his. I am sure word got to David not long after Saul gave Michal to another man in marriage. Naturally David wants the companionship of a wife and the opportunity to have children, so he married Ahinoam. 

He has also married Abigail out of a sense of responsibility for her, out of a spirit of gratitude toward her, and due to finding her appearance and her character very attractive. Although this makes him a bigamist in today's world it is not a situation that is forbidden in the Old Testament. The Lord said that a king was not to "take many wives" (Deuteronomy 17:17) but did not specify how many was too many. It was typical in ancient cultures for wealthy men to have more than one wife but that doesn't mean this is the Lord's best plan for marriage. The Lord provided His template for marriage when He officiated over the first wedding ceremony and joined together Adam and Eve in holy matrimony. Whenever we find a man in the Bible with more than one wife, we find conflict in the home. David's home will not be exempt from such troubles, for after he has become king and has taken a number of wives and has fathered a number of children, we'll find him unable to be the kind of husband and the kind of father the Lord wants men to be. Some of his children will turn against each other and some of them will even turn against David.

But for now I hope he has a short interlude of quietness until we arrive at our next chapter and find Saul again pursuing him with the intention of killing him.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 75, Abigail Saves The Day, Part Two

Abigail has come out to meet David with abundant supplies for himself and his men. She hopes to avert the disaster he's planning against her husband and all the males of the family. Her wicked husband Nabal refused to help David in his time of need even though David and his men had helped Nabal's shepherds. Not only that, but Nabal insulted David and pretended not to even know who he is other than an unfaithful subject of King Saul's which is what he meant when he said, "Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days." In saying this he insulted David's integrity and cast aspersions on his character as if David really is guilty of the treason of which he is accused by the irrational Saul.

In yesterday's passage Abigail apologized for her husband's behavior and acknowledged his stinginess and foolishness but asked David not to hold any of that against the family or its servants. Nabal alone is guilty and God will deal with him but David must not do violence to this man or to any of his innocent male relatives or his male servants. In the remainder of Abigail's speech today we'll find her wisely advising David that he does not want such guilt upon his conscience. He does not want the reputation of a violent and wicked man. Killing all the men of a household in anger and in wounded pride is something an unstable man like King Saul would do but it is not fitting behavior for a man like David who loves the Lord and is of sound mind.

"Please forgive your servant's presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord's battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live." (1 Samuel 25:28) She says, "Please allow your servant to speak freely, my lord. I know that the Lord intends to do great things for you. I understand that you are the man He has chosen to be the next king and that He will make your family line the royal line of Israel. The right to sit upon the throne will follow your descendants. The Lord will be faithful to you because you are faithful to Him---and you are faithful to Israel too, for you have done nothing but good for the nation. You are not guilty of any of the wrongdoing Saul has accused you of; no one can provide any proof to back up his claims because his claims are baseless." In reminding him that he's handled all his work and all his hardships in a godly manner up until now, she encourages him to keep on handling everything he faces in a godly manner. 

David need not worry about disrespectful and greedy men like Nabal; he's a nobody compared to David. He also need not worry about the current king of Israel, though he has thousands of soldiers at his disposal, spies on his side, and mercenaries in his pocket. The Lord has promised that David will be king and the Lord never breaks a promise; therefore no one can touch a hair on David's head. He is safe no matter how dire his circumstances appear at times. "Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies He will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling." (1 Samuel 25:29) Abigail uses a brilliant analogy when she compares the Lord's ridding David of his enemies to hurling a stone from a slingshot. This is intended to remind David of how the Lord defended him against Goliath the giant. David was depending on the Lord for his very life and for the lives of the soldiers of Israel as he stood before a man who towered over him by several feet. David stood there in humility of spirit, knowing that if victory came it would come from the hand of God. He must take on that attitude again and let go of his wounded pride. God will avenge him upon anyone who has wronged him but he must not strike down a man and his family because his pride is hurt and his character is insulted. If he performs the violent act he has in mind, he will be tarnishing his own character. He will, ironically, become the dishonorable man Nabal accused him of being. 

"When the lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing He promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant." (1 Samuel 25:30-31) Abigail asks David to remember her kindness toward him after he has come into his kingdom. David's friend Jonathan made a similar request earlier in the book when he asked David to remember their covenant of friendship in times to come and not to do any harm to his descendants. Even King Saul, when he temporarily felt sorry for his persecution of David, asked him not to wipe out his family line when he comes to power. Some commentators suggest Abigail is proposing that he consider her for marriage but I have serious doubts that this is what she means. For one thing, she is already married and has no way of knowing how long her husband will live. She seems to be aware that the Lord will judge her husband but I am not sure she has any idea what form that judgment will take or when it will happen. For another thing, she doesn't strike me as the type of woman to put herself forward in this manner. She seems too dignified and classy to say something like, "When you are avenged on your enemies, look me up. I may be available by then." No, in my opinion she is simply asking what anyone who has done a good deed for the future king might ask: to have him think well of her and the members of her household and to extend kindness and protection to them when he is in a position to do them good.

David, to his credit, isn't too prideful to take advice from a woman in an era when women were often expected to be seen and not heard. He isn't embarrassed to accept a woman's counsel in the sight of all his men. Her advice is godly advice and it doesn't matter to him whether godly advice comes from a man or a woman, from an elder or a youth. He sets a good example for his men, not only in how to be respectful toward women but how to be respectful toward the Lord, for David knows the Lord sent Abigail to correct his course. "David said to Abigail, 'Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.'" (1 Samuel 25:32-33) 

It's clear from David's words that he no longer intends to go through with his rash vow to wipe out Nabal and all the males of his household and family. He blesses Abigail in the name of the Lord for being a woman of the Lord. He is grateful to her for her obedience to the Lord in making haste to come out and stop him from committing a grievous slaughter. He's glad he will never have to live with the knowledge that he performed a deed unfitting for a child of God. 

Tomorrow we will see what happens to Nabal and we'll see how Abigail's circumstances turn around for the better. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 74, Abigail Saves The Day, Part One

The wicked Nabal treated David and his men cruelly in return for their goodness toward his shepherds and sheep. In retaliation, David and his men are about to go and kill Nabal and every man of his family and household. Word of this impending slaughter reaches Abigail, Nabal's wife, and she intervenes. 

"One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal's wife, 'David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.'" (1 Samuel 25:14-17) The servant's words sound a bit presumptuous when he says to his master's wife that his master is an evil man, but the truth is the truth and there's no time to waste and no use sugarcoating anything. Abigail, more than anyone, knows her husband is a wicked man. She and the servants have had to endure his verbal abuse and his hot temper for years. They've witnessed his shrewd and cold-hearted business dealings. They've been the victims of his penny-pinching ways and have done without many of the little comforts his stinginess has kept them from enjoying. The servant knows he can speak freely to Abigail and he does so.

David's reaction to Nabal's inhospitable behavior is out of proportion to what has actually taken place. He's enraged because his pride is wounded from having been disrespected in front of the six hundred men who are under his command. He's offended for the sake of the men and their families for whom he is responsible. These men diligently protected Nabal's shepherds and sheep from the invading Philistines and from roving bands of robbers, asking nothing from them and taking nothing from them, and all they wanted in return was some bread and water during sheep-shearing time which is a time when wealthy flock owners are more than generous to everyone around them. But wounded pride and hurt feelings are no reason to kill a man and all his family. Abigail will prevent David from doing something in anger that he would regret for the rest of his life. 

"Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, 'Go on ahead; I'll follow you.' But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, 'It's been useless---all my watching over this fellow's property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!'" (1 Samuel 25:18-22) The fact that so much pre-cooked food is readily at hand proves how wealthy Nabal is. It also underscores how inhospitable he is. He could easily have spared the food David asked for without even missing it.

Some scholars find fault with Abigail for packing up these supplies and taking off to meet David without telling her husband. They say she isn't being a godly wife, and isn't respecting her husband as the Scriptures command, because she takes food to David while knowing Nabal doesn't want David and his men to be given any supplies. But I disagree. First of all, it's already been established that it's pointless to try to talk to Nabal. He would have said no to any request she made on behalf of David, almost certainly heaping verbal abuse on her for daring to even ask---and worse yet, maybe physically abusing her as well. Even knowing his life is being threatened would have had no effect on him, in my opinion. His pride would not allow him to apologize and relent; he would instead have ordered all his male relatives and all his servants to arm themselves to fight back. This would be a losing battle because his servants are shepherds, not battle-experienced warriors like David and his men. His male relatives are probably wealthy landowners like he is, men who have grown soft from easy living, and are unlikely to be able to effectively wield swords. Abigail is trying to save the lives of many innocent people and even the life of the hateful Nabal. Because she is trying to save lives, she does what must be done even if it appears deceptive or disobedient to some scholars. As we've discussed before, there are a number of incidents in the Bible in which someone tells a lie or behaves deceptively in order to save their life or someone else's life. Even though Abigail is doing something her husband wouldn't allow her to do if he knew about it, she's doing it to save lives and this justifies her secretive behavior.

She meets up with David just as he's angrily vowing in the name of the Lord to kill every male connected to Nabal in any way. David won't keep this vow and shouldn't keep this vow. An oath made in the name of the Lord is serious business but is breakable when the oath is something that contradicts the word of God. David is proposing to kill a number of innocent people who had no part in what Nabal did. This is murder and murder is sin. The Lord doesn't expect or want him to do such a thing, no matter what kind of vow his lips may have uttered. The same goes for promises you and I may make: if they are not in alignment with the Lord's will, we are not bound by our oaths. We can and must break any promises that are sinful. The main thing to take away from this is not to make rash promises at all. We should think very carefully before vowing to do this thing or that thing. If we want to be considered men and women of our word, our every promise should be thoughtfully considered in the light of God's word and in the right attitude. That way we won't be making foolish vows in times of heightened emotions. David is in the wrong for making a murderous vow in the name of the Lord, and the Lord is displeased with having His name used in this manner, but the Lord doesn't expect or want him to keep the vow and mercifully sends someone to prevent him from keeping it.

"When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: 'Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name---his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.'" (1 Samuel 25:23-27) She says, "If only the men had made their request of me and not of my husband, you would have had all the supplies you needed and more. Please excuse Nabal's abominable behavior. Don't take it personally; this is how he treats everyone, not just you and your men. He's not a nice person and he makes bad choices but don't hold that against the whole family and all the servants. No one is to blame for Nabal's folly but Nabal himself. Please accept these supplies as my apology for how you were treated. I and the other members of the household are not in agreement with how Nabal behaved, so let your wrath be turned away from us."

In tomorrow's passage she will reveal that she understands David is to be the next king of Israel and that, as such, he must set a godly example for the nation. She will help him to see that he doesn't want to gain a reputation as an angry and violent man. Killing a whole family and and its servants is something a man like King Saul would do, not something that fits the character of King David. David will be grateful to her for preventing him from making a mistake he would never have forgiven himself for making.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 73, The Death Of Samuel/A Man Named Nabal Treats David And His Men Cruelly

Chapter 25 opens with the death of Samuel the prophet.

"Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah." (1 Samuel 25:1a) This is the end of the era of the judges and the end of the ministry of a great man of God. I think when the Bible says all Israel mourned for him, it's likely even the wicked King Saul was sad to say goodbye to him, for the two men respected each other a great deal at one time and were colleagues and even friends. They parted on bad terms and never made up, a situation which the Scriptures told us Samuel mourned for the rest of his days. 

Other than Samuel's own family members, I think the person who mourned him most was David. After all, the prophet was the man who sought him in Bethlehem and anointed him king upon guidance from the Lord. This is the man with whom David sought shelter when he escaped Gibeah as Saul's men surrounded his house to arrest him. Samuel has been a spiritual guide, father figure, and friend to David. I think his grief over Samuel's death is very deep. 

After Samuel dies, David and his men move even further away from the nation's current capital of Gibeah. Some scholars speculate this is because David can no longer resort to Samuel for help and fears that the lack of Samuel's restraining influence in the region might embolden someone to betray his location to Saul. "Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran." (1 Samuel 25:1b) This must have been an especially trying time for David. His good friend and mentor is gone, not to mention that Samuel was the man who knew better than anyone else that David is meant to be the king of Israel. David may be more vulnerable to doubt and discouragement without the reassuring presence of Samuel in his life. Not only that, but he keeps having to move farther and farther away from everything that is familiar to him, which can be very demoralizing. For example, do you have a favorite place to pray? Do you have a particular place in your house where you like to study the Bible? We might suppose that while David was still living at home he had a "prayer closet", so to speak, whether it was in his house or somewhere out in the fields or woods. Having to always be on the move, lodging in strange places in the forests and caves, could easily interfere with his ability to quiet his mind and focus it on the Lord. 

As if all this isn't troubling enough, a wicked man is about to treat David and his men cruelly. He will reward their goodness with evil. "A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel." (1 Samuel 25:2) The rich man isn't shearing these thousands of animals alone. In fact, he's probably not doing any of the work himself. He has a large number of servants to do it for him. Sheep-shearing time is much like harvest time: it includes long days of hard work along with long evening celebrations and feasts. It is intended to be a time of rejoicing and thankfulness and, if this rich man had been in the right spirit of thankfulness toward the Lord, he would not behave the way we will find him behaving. 

"His name was Nabal and his wife's name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings---he was a Calebite." (1 Samuel 25:3) We'll be told further on in Chapter 25 that his name means "fool". The word that's translated as "fool" in the Bible doesn't mean what it means today. In our day it's a term used for someone who is silly, thoughtless, impulsive, wasteful, and prone to getting themselves into messes. In the Bible this word is used for someone who is spiritually reprobate and morally bankrupt. It's hard to imagine anyone's parents giving them a name that means "fool" and this leads me to believe it's his nickname, not the name on his birth certificate. It's the name he's earned by his behavior. Abigail, by contrast, is beautiful of spirit as well as beautiful of face; we'll find this out when we meet her later in the chapter. The marriage between Nabal and Abigail was probably an arranged marriage because a godly and kind and thoughtful woman wouldn't willingly join herself in matrimony to a spiritually reprobate man who is dishonest in his business dealings. 

"While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, 'Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: 'Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! Now I hear that is is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.'" (1 Samuel 25:4-8) David and his men have been in the wilderness for quite some time, camped in the general area where Nabal's shepherds grazed the sheep. During all that time, David and his men foraged for their own food and didn't ask for anything from the shepherds and they also protected the shepherds and the sheep from the raiding Philistines and from bands of robbers. David, who was once a shepherd himself, respects the work of a shepherd and has compassion on the sheep. It comes naturally to him to want to watch over flocks. He and his men provided protection, probably for months, and never asked for even one morsel of bread.

But sheep-shearing time is a time of celebration and generosity. An overabundance is usually provided for the workers, their families, and all the townspeople. David feels it's a good time to ask for some basic supplies from a man who has more than he'll ever need. And we must keep in mind that David isn't asking for charity. He and his men performed a valuable service for Nabal. As often as the Philistines have been sending raiding parties into Israel, ruining the crops and absconding with livestock, Nabal almost certainly would have suffered losses before sheep-shearing time arrived. The fact that David feels he has a right to ask Nabal for help indicates that if it had not been for his help Nabal would have far fewer sheep to shear.

Nabal does not receive David's request in the right spirit. "When David's men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David's name. Then they waited. Nabal answered David's servants, 'Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?'" (1 Samuel 25:9-11) 

Nabal owes a debt to David but pretends not to even know who he is. He has to have been well aware that David and his men provided protection for the shepherds. The shrewd and penny-pinching Nabal is not the type of man who wouldn't continually keep himself up to date on everything going on with his business ventures. I think he's probably heard a lot of good things about David regarding his interactions with the shepherds. Plus Nabal had to have heard about David long before he began camping in the area of Carmel. All Israel knows who David is: that he killed Goliath, that he led many victorious military exploits, that he married the daughter of the king. It becomes clear to us that Nabal is lying when he pretends not to know the identity of David when he adds, "Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days." This is a reference to David's parting from King Saul. He's saying, "Why would I owe anything to this wanderer and his band of misfits? He's a rebellious servant who has wronged his master and is on the run as a result. Who does he think he is to ask for food and water from me? Did I request his help with my shepherds and sheep? Did I go out and hire him and his men to watch over my workers and my livestock? Perhaps he did prevent me from incurring loss but I didn't ask him to do anything for me. It's not my fault if he voluntarily showed up and started watching over what belongs to me. I don't owe him a single crumb and it's not my fault if he and his men starve to death in the wilderness. If they have nothing to eat and drink, that's their problem. Maybe they should have thought of that before betraying their king."

"David's men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, 'Each of you strap on your sword!' So they did, and David strapped on his as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies." (1 Samuel 25:12-13) We know it's "about to get real", as the saying goes, when men start strapping on their weapons. In tomorrow's passage we'll find David vowing to kill Nabal and every male of his family in retaliation for his cruel treatment. But the intelligent and godly Abigail will hear of the violence afoot and come out to calm him down. David will heed the words of this woman who is beautiful of face and beautiful of spirit. She will get his attention like no one else can in this pivotal moment. While David has been absent from Gibeah, Saul has unlawfully decreed a divorce between David and Michal and has given Michal in marriage to another man. The woman who keeps David from carrying out a great slaughter in Chapter 25 will become his wife when Nabal dies not by David's hand but as a result of his hard-drinking and unhealthy-eating lifestyle. The woman who endured many unpleasant days of marriage with the ungodly and hateful Nabal will, because of her wise counsel in Chapter 25, become the wife of a man who loves the Lord and who will value her as a person. Her circumstances improve for the better because she is faithful to the Lord.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 72, Saul Temporarily Feels Guilty

In yesterday's text we found Saul ducking into a large cave in En Gedi to answer a call of nature, not knowing that David and his men were hiding in the back of the cave. Instead of taking advantage of the fact that his unarmed enemy was within his grasp, David didn't kill him but sneaked up and cut off the corner of his robe. After Saul exited the cave, David came out of it and called to him, holding up the corner of the robe as proof that he is not plotting to assassinate the king. If he had wanted to kill Saul, he could have already done so.

"See, my father, look at this piece of robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but I did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, 'From evildoers come evil deeds,' so my hand will not touch you." (1 Samuel 24:11-13) David appeals to his familial relationship with Saul: he is Saul's son-in-law and he reminds him of that by addressing him as "my father". Then he says something like, "If I were guilty of plotting against you, I had my chance to kill you just a few minutes ago. If I'm an evil man like you say I am, you'd be lying dead in the cave right now. No one would blame me for striking down the man who has made my life a living hell, who has caused me to live in exile away from my home, my wife, my family, my work, and everything that is dear and familiar to me. But I am going to let God take care of this. I am going to let Him be the judge and jury and executioner. He has witnessed your wicked treatment of me and in due time He will deal with you as your deeds deserve."

David points out that the king has far bigger and better issues upon which to focus his time and energy. "Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May He consider my cause and uphold it; may He vindicate me by delivering me from your hand." (1 Samuel 24:14-15) He asks, "Why is Your Majesty chasing one poor guy all over the country? You have matters of government and matters of national security to attend to. You have the Philistines repeatedly invading the land. Why have you left your headquarters to come down into the wilderness with three thousand men to chase down one lone shepherd from Bethlehem? Who am I in comparison to you? Why are you wasting your time on me? I am not leading a rebellion. I am not orchestrating a coup. I'm just trying to survive. If you leave me alone I'm certainly going to leave you alone. The proof is in my hand that I intend you no harm!"

Saul temporarily feels guilty for his shameful behavior. I think he's conscience-stricken not so much because he's seen the light but because he realizes how close he came to death. David or his men could have taken advantage to his unarmed and vulnerable state in the cave. He realizes how careless he was to go into the cave alone without first sending some of his soldiers in to check it out. He thought he was safe in the cave because he had three thousand men standing outside but the danger lay deep in the cave behind him, not outside the cave. "When David finished saying this, Saul asked, 'Is that your voice, David my son?' And he wept aloud. 'You are more righteous than I,' he said. 'You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.'" (1 Samuel 24:16-19)

Have you ever known anyone who is suddenly overwhelmed by guilt and shame for their actions and promises to turn over a new leaf? Have you ever seen them breaking their promise soon afterwards because their sorrow was temporary and their repentance wasn't genuine? That's how Saul is going to behave. Right now he's overcome by emotion but later, after the shock wears off, his sorrow will wear off too. At the moment he can't help but speak the truth because what little conscience he still has is troubling him greatly and he's aware of all his shortcomings and understands why the Lord wants to remove him as king. "I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands." (1 Samuel 24:20)

Now Saul elicits a promise from David. He asks David to extend mercy to him even though he has not been merciful to David. "Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father's family." (1 Samuel 24:21) Saul says, "Promise me that when you become king you won't wipe out my family and put an end to my name and my branch of the family tree. Please don't leave me without descendants in the land of Israel!" 

David won't be like the heathen kings of the nations surrounding Israel. It was a common practice in ancient times that when a king of a different family or tribe gained the throne, he would have the whole family (or at least all the male descendants) of the previous king killed. This helped to prevent someone of the former king's family from announcing his candidacy for the throne and gaining a great number of supporters who will help him attain the kingship by force if necessary. Saul is afraid David will do something like this, not only because it's what men of other nations did, but because it's what he himself would do if he were in David's place. David promises not to leave Saul without any descendants in the land. "So David gave his oath to Saul." (1 Samuel 24:22a) There will come a time when David is responsible for putting seven of Saul's sons to death but this will be done upon instructions from the Lord. The loss of these seven will not put an end to Saul's family line, for David will keep another promise which was made to his best friend Jonathan. Jonathan also asked him not to wipe the family out when he becomes king and David agreed to honor his friendship with Jonathan forever. We will find David bringing Jonathan's son to live in his own house where he will be treated like one of the royal princes.

Saul spoke the truth when he said to David, "You are more righteous than I." Saul has no righteousness in him at all, as far as we can tell, and at every turn David has behaved in a way that is opposite to how Saul would have behaved. Because David is a more righteous man than Saul, the Lord has chosen him to be the next king. Because Saul has rejected the Lord time and time again, he has been rejected as the leader of the Lord's people. Saul doesn't allow this knowledge to lead him to repentance. He's temporarily sorry in today's passage but two chapters from now he'll resume his pursuit of David. David suspects this will be the case so he does not return to the capital city with Saul. Instead he remains with his men in a mountain fortress where he can see an enemy coming from a mile away and where he can more easily defend himself. "Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold." (1 Samuel 24:22b)

When someone's behavior has really hurt us, whether it's by committing one big betrayal or whether it's by committing a series of smaller disappointing deeds, we must be cautious when they claim to have turned over a new leaf. Of course we want them to turn over a new leaf---to repent to the Lord and allow Him to change their hearts and lives---but sometimes their sorrow is temporary. We don't have to act like they're lying to us but at the same time we don't have to throw ourselves wholeheartedly back into the friendship, romantic relationship, or business partnership. We must be careful to be sure they are consistently producing "fruit in keeping with repentance". (Matthew 3:8) If they have truly changed, their behavior will show it on an ongoing basis. Saul will not produce fruit in keeping with repentance. He says, "I'm sorry," in today's passage but by Chapter 26 he will no longer be sorry. He will have fallen right back into his former way of living and will once again be consumed by jealousy and hatred toward David. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 71, David Spares Saul's Life

In today's passage David shows mercy to a man who has not shown any mercy toward him.

"After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, 'David is in the desert of En Gedi.' So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of Wild Goats." (1 Samuel 24:1-2) In Chapter 23 we found Saul almost catching up with David, though he didn't know his prey was so close, but word suddenly came to Saul that the Philistines were invading the nation. Saul turned back from chasing David and went out with his troops to defend the country. This allowed David to escape. But now that Saul has dealt with the latest incursion of the Philistines, he falls right back into his obsessive pursuit of David.

"He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself." (1 Samuel 24:3a) Saul may be a king but he's also a human being who must attend to natural bodily functions. He needs a potty break about the time he approaches this large cave. Leaving his troops outside, he ducks into the cave for privacy to do his business.

This must be a very large cave because it's big enough that David and his six hundred men are able to hide undetected in the back portion of it. "David and his men were far back in the cave." (1 Samuel 24:3b)

We can just imagine how delighted David's men are when this opportunity presents itself. The wicked Saul, because he is attending to a private bodily function, is unprotected. He's come into the cave alone without bodyguards. His urgent need for bathroom facilities caused him to become careless; he didn't have any of his men check the cave before he quickly entered it to answer a call of nature. David's men view this scene as the perfect setup for David to take Saul's life. "The men said, 'This is the day the Lord spoke of when He said to you, 'I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'" (1 Samuel 24:4a) 

We don't know when the Lord said this to David but it's clear that the men took the Lord's words in a different context than David took them. The men assume the Lord meant, "I will put Saul within your grasp and you will strike him down." But David sees this as a chance to do something that will soften Saul's heart and perhaps turn him away from his foolish course of action. When the Lord says David may do to the king what he wishes, David's wish is that Saul would repent and allow the Lord to change his heart. Instead of killing Saul with his sword, David sneaks up and cuts off a corner of his robe to prove that he had the chance to kill him but did not take it. "Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe." (1 Samuel 24:4b)

David models godly behavior for us. His heart's desire is that his enemy would make God the Lord of his life, not that his enemy would die. David is doing something the Lord Jesus commands us to do in Matthew 5:44: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." David loves his enemy. He doesn't like his enemy but we aren't commanded to like everyone---we're commanded to love everyone. This love takes the form of caring about the state of a person's soul. We might not like anything about them. We might not be able to find one single admirable thing in their character. But they are a human being, formed in the image of God like all other human beings, and they have an eternal soul. We can care about the state of their soul without liking their personality. We can pray for them to turn to the Lord and be saved even if they have wronged us. Indeed, it's to our advantage and everyone else's when the one who sinned against us gives their heart to the Lord because when they submit their lives to the Lord they will undergo a change of character. Then they will no longer be an enemy to us but will be our brother or sister in Christ.

David silently retreats to the back of the cave with the piece of cloth in his hand. His men are disappointed that he didn't run his sword through Saul or cut off his head. David, however, feels bad for doing anything at all to Saul. "Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of  his robe. He said to his men, 'The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.'" (1 Samuel 24:5-6) Saul may be an evil man but he's the king of Israel. David can't respect Saul's character but he feels a great deal of respect for the office Saul holds. This also is a good example to us for how to respect someone in authority over us even if we don't like them personally.

Upon seeing that he had not killed Saul, David's men evidently say something like, "If you don't want to kill Saul we'll do it for you!", because the Bible tells us that David's words in verse 6 calm them down. "With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way." (1 Samuel 24:7) The men feel ashamed of their attitude when they behold David's godly attitude. David knows the Lord intends to depose Saul and put him on the throne in Saul's place but David intends to leave Saul's removal up to the Lord. If David ever had to defend himself from Saul in hand-to-hand combat, that would be a different situation altogether, but to assassinate a king while he's unarmed and unaware anyone is around is not the way David wants to become the leader of Israel. People would always question the legitimacy of his administration. People would mock the method he used to usurp his enemy. No, David wants the Lord to handle Saul's downfall and his own promotion. That way it will be clear that he is the Lord's choice for king.

To show Saul that his paranoid suspicions about David are unfounded, David shows him the proof that he could have killed him if he'd wanted to. Saul keeps claiming that David is lying in wait for him to kill him. Saul keeps asserting that a huge conspiracy, led by David, is afoot. Saul's chief officials agree with him every time he makes such a statement, plus they add their own comments to back up his beliefs in order to ingratiate themselves to him. But the events of today's passage prove that David has not been waiting for an opportunity to kill the king. "Then David went out of the cave and called to Saul, 'My lord the king!' When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, 'Why do you listen when men say, 'David is bent on harming you'? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, 'I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord's anointed. See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand!'" (1 Samuel 24:8-11a)

Saul can't deny that he's just had a very close brush with death. He also can't deny that David behaved in a godly way, whereas in David's place he would have done the opposite. In tomorrow's text we will see Saul's realization bringing him to a temporary state of sorrow over his actions.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 70, Jonathan Visits David/A Philistine Attack Temporarily Halts Saul's Pursuit Of David

In the second half of Chapter 23 David receives an encouraging visit from his best friend Jonathan. After that, while Saul is in hot pursuit of David to take his life, Saul receives a message that the Philistines have mounted a large invasion in another area of the kingdom. This halts Saul's progress toward David just in the nick of time, for he was about to come face to face with him if he'd gone just a few steps farther.

Yesterday we found David and his four hundred men, who had just saved the city of Keilah from the Philistines, having to flee Keilah ahead of the arrival of Saul's men. The Lord had revealed to David that the people of Keilah would hand him and his troops over to Saul. Two hundred additional men left Keilah with him, so now he and six hundred troops are hiding in the Desert of Ziph. Saul is undaunted when he finds out David escaped Keilah before his army arrived there; he is still determined to hunt David down to the ends of the earth if that's what it takes. "While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life." (1 Samuel 23:15) Saul has spies all over the land who regularly send messages to him regarding the current location of David. But David has loyal supporters all over the land who keep him informed of Saul's current location.

Someone tells David's best friend Jonathan where he is hiding and Jonathan secretly goes out to see him to offer encouragement in the Lord. "And Saul's son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 'Don't be afraid,' he said. 'My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.' The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh." (1 Samuel 23:15-18) Jonathan tells David not to be afraid because David is afraid; otherwise there would be no point in speaking the three words: "Don't be afraid." We sometimes have a tendency to think the heroes and heroines of the Bible never experienced fears and doubts and temptations like we do, but the truth is they felt the same emotions we feel. When faced with troubles they felt alarmed. When obstacles kept trying to block their way, they had doubts about being on the right path. When everything seemed to be going wrong, they spent sleepless nights worrying and praying. David is afraid---very afraid---and that's why Jonathan takes the risk of coming to see him in person to remind him that he's on the right path and that the Lord is on his side.

Jonathan says, "The Lord has promised you will be king of Israel. That's how you and I can know that my father will never take your life. The Lord never breaks a promise! You will be king of Israel and I will be at your right hand as your second-in-command. Deep down my father knows this, though he tries to deny it. He knows he's fighting a losing battle by fighting against the Lord. He's just committed himself so fully to this course of action that he can't or won't let go of it. But he will not be successful." This is the second time Jonathan has reminded me of John the Baptist. You'll recall from our studies of the New Testament that the disciples of John the Baptist were upset and jealous, for his sake, when the crowds that once followed John began following Jesus instead. John wasn't the least bit upset or jealous. Instead he said, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30) He also referred to himself as the friend of the bridegroom (the best man) who rejoices to see his friend arrive at the wedding to be united with the bride. In this metaphor Jesus is the bridegroom (because the bride---the church---belongs to Him) and John is the best man who stands beside him feeling happy for him as he says his vows. The bridegroom, not the best man, is the most important man at the wedding; the best man's job is only to play a supporting role. John was more than happy to witness the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and to play only a supporting role. Jonathan has the same attitude toward David as John the Baptist had toward Jesus. Jonathan is happy and honored to play a supporting role to David who will someday be crowned king. 

Jonathan has already been a great deal of help to David and hopes to continue helping him as his second-in-command when David assumes the throne. Unfortunately, things will not work out that way, but not because of any disloyalty on Jonathan's or David's part. Their friendship will never be broken, even though they won't see each other in this life again, and David will keep their covenant by showing kindness to Jonathan's descendants just as he promised him earlier in the book of 1 Samuel.

Not everyone in Israel is as loyal to David as Jonathan is. "The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, 'Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hakilah, south of Jeshimon? Now, Your Majesty, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for giving him into your hands.' Saul replied, 'The Lord bless you for your concern for me. Go and get more information. Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty. Find out about all the hiding places he uses and come back to me with definite information. Then I will go with you; if he is in the area, I will track him down among all the clans of Judah.'" (1 Samuel 23:19-23) The Ziphites are of the tribe of Judah, which is David's tribe, but they seek to prove their loyalty to Saul by making it possible for him to capture David. Their motivation for betraying him is not explained to us but perhaps they fear Saul's wrath will come down on them if he thinks they are willingly harboring the man he considers a fugitive from justice. Most or all of the nation has heard of the Saul-ordered slaughter at Nob of the priests, their families, and their fellow citizens. That horrific loss of life took place because one man gave bread and a sword to David. If Saul was willing to kill so many people in revenge for one man's help, what more will he do if he thinks a whole community is sheltering David? 

"So they set out and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, in the Arabah south of Jeshimon. Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon. When Saul heard this, he went into the Desert of Maon in pursuit of David." (1 Samuel 23:24-25) Upon hearing that Saul and his men are approaching, David leaves his position on the hill of Hakilah and moves to Maon, a rocky and mountainous region within the territory of Judah. It will be easier for David and his men to defend themselves from troops coming up a mountain than to defend themselves in a lower-lying area where it's easier for enemies to swarm in from multiple sides.

Saul comes close to catching up with David. Earlier in the book of 1 Samuel we found David saying to Jonathan, "There is only a step between me and death." That has never been more true than now. "Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul." (1 Samuel 23:26a) If this scene were being played out on a movie screen it would be very dramatic and suspenseful. For David it must have been terrifying. His heart must have been pounding. His hands, as they gripped the sword of Goliath, must have been slick with sweat. His thoughts must have been lifted toward the Lord as he prayed for rescue from the enemy. His prayer is granted! "As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, 'Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land!' Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth. And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi." (1 Samuel 23:26b-29) This location became known as "rock of parting" to commemorate David's escape from Saul.

Did Saul know he was only a few steps away from meeting David face to face? I don't think so. Earlier in Chapter 23 he was in no hurry to meet the Philistines when they were raiding the city of Keilah. He wouldn't have been in so much of a hurry to meet them now, even if this is a more wide-scale invasion, if he'd known David was almost in his grasp. We've seen before that the Lord can use even a wicked person or persons to aid His plans for His children and in this case the Lord uses the heathen Philistines to spare David's life. They show up just in time, and a messenger arrives just in time, to halt Saul's progress before he runs straight into David coming around the mountain. I think Saul has been picking his way around this rocky mountain all day with no sign that David has come this way. I think he is getting hot and tired and frustrated. He might have already been wishing he could sit down and rest, or even call it quits for the day, but that would have looked bad to his men. But now, knowing that a huge raiding party of Philistines is pouring into the land, he has an excuse to come down out of the difficult mountain terrain to direct his troops toward the invaders. 

To anyone on the outside looking in, it may seem as if David had a narrow escape. But because the Lord is on his side, there was never any chance of Saul actually capturing and killing him. David gets away with only seconds to spare but a miss is as good as a mile! How many times has the Lord spared you or me from danger in just a split second? There are occasions we actually know about, such as when another car misses hitting our car only by inches. And I am positive there are occasions we won't know about until we see our Lord face to face. I think we will be absolutely stunned when we find out how many times He saved our lives or protected us from other types of danger and hardship. The Lord is watching over us every second of every day and there isn't anyone or anything that can touch us unless He allows it.