Friday, July 29, 2011

A Friend in Need

Reflections on 1 Sam. 20:1-42

Saul’s erratic and deceptive behavior was a more pervasive test of David’s faith and character than the Philistine giant Goliath, who had openly challenged David to physical combat. Saul, a fellow Israelite, did not confront David openly as an enemy, but engulfed him in an atmosphere of intrigue and deception. He made David one of his armor bearers, but then tried to pin him to the wall with a spear while in fit of “depression.” He promoted David in the army, but insulted his most successful commander by giving his daughter Merab to another man. Then he flattered David by offering him his younger daughter Michal in marriage, but even this offer was a scheme to kill him. Saul tested David’s wits and emotions so severely that David was not sure whom he could trust. He wasn’t even sure he was safe among the prophets after Saul found out he was hiding there. In this situation, David found support from his friend Jonathan.

ADVERSITY. Jonathan was a friend indeed because he could be trusted in time of adversity. Prov. 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” David didn’t know whom he could trust. It seemed that many around him were conspiring against him when he wrote Psalm 59:3-4 (ESV).

For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
fierce men stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
Awake, come to meet me, and see!
In spite of the atmosphere of intrigue and deception, David was confident that he could trust Saul’s son Jonathan. Accordingly, he went to Jonathan to ask a favor of him.

ASSISTANCE. Jonathan was also a friend in deed because he did what David asked of him. David was sure that Saul was hiding his evil intentions toward him from Jonathan. For that reason, David asked Jonathan to test his father by relaying a request to be excused from the royal family for the new moon festival (see Num. 10:10) in order to visit his father’s family in Bethlehem. (A trip to his father’s family was improbable though possible because Bethlehem was only 10 miles away.) The plot worked as anticipated. When Jonathan told King Saul that David requested permission to be with his father’s family, the king insulted Jonathan for failing to fulfill his role as heir apparent:

Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?
-- 1 Sam. 20:30 (ESV)
Then King Saul heaped shame on David by accusing him of plotting to overthrow the royal family (vv. 31, 34b). Finally, Saul revealed full extent of his wrath by hurling a spear at Jonathan. Jonathan knew with certainty that Saul was determined to kill David.

OTHERS BEFORE SELF. Jonathan proved himself to be a true friend because he put David's interests above his own. He was confident that David would never raise his hand against King Saul or his family, but he also knew that one day God would subdue David’s enemies (1 Sam. 20:15) and that he himself would be subject to David. Jonathan was content to see the kingdom slip from his own grasp and to see David rise to the role God had given him (1 Sam. 23:17). King Saul was incapable of understanding this attitude, which the Apostle Paul describes in Phil. 2:3-4 (ESV) where he writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

GREAT LOVE. Jonathan also showed the measure of his love for David by risking his life for him. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). Although Jonathan did not actually lay down his life for David, he nevertheless is an example of the strength of the bond of friendship.

The friendship between David and Jonathan was a beautiful relationship. As far as we know, Jonathan saw David only once after this. When David was later living as an outcast in the Desert of Ziph, Jonathan sought out David and “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Sam. 23:16 ESV).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Rescue Mission

Reflections on 1 Sam. 19:18-24

Where would a homeless, broke, hungry, cold, and depressed man go for help? David had just escaped Saul’s attempt to kill him and fled his own home because Saul’s men were waiting to ambush him. He had no food, money, or extra clothes. He could trust no one. There were no rescue missions in that day, but he did find refuge with Samuel and a group of prophets in Ramah about 5 miles away from Saul’s home in Gibeah. The events that transpired while David was there were a public demonstration that God would protect David from Saul, and that God had stripped the kingdom from Saul.

SAUL STYMIED. God’s protection of David was demonstrated when He sent His Spirit to frustrate Saul’s intention to arrest David in Ramah. Three times God put His Spirit on Saul’s men, and each time they failed to arrest David because they prophesied with the prophets. Finally, when Saul himself went to find David, God put His Spirit on him also. Instead of harming David, he prophesied until he was exhausted. Just as God put His Spirit in Balaam so that he could not curse Jacob, so He put His Spirit in Saul and his men so that they could not harm David. In one of David’s darkest hours, God assured David that Saul would never harm him.

SAUL STRIPPED. Saul’s public behavior in Ramah also demonstrated that God had stripped the kingdom from Saul. While prophesying in Samuel’s presence, Saul stripped off his royal apparel in a symbolic portrayal of the last words he had heard Samuel say: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Sam. 15:28). Though Saul continued to resist God’s will, God assured David that Saul would not remain king for long.

David received much more than food and clothing while with Samuel and the prophets. He also received God’s assurances that God would protect him from Saul and deliver the kingdom to him. God knew David needed this encouragement as he entered a frustrating period of his life that nevertheless prepared him to lead Israel.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Desperate Housewife

Reflections on 1 Sam. 19:8-17

Michal was a desperate housewife trying to save her beloved husband from her insanely jealous father, King Saul. After Saul tried to kill David with his spear, David fled to his own house where Michal discovered that the door was being watched by Saul’s men. She urged David to leave and helped him escape through a window. Then in order to buy time for David, she used a household idol to make it look like someone was in bed and told Saul’s officers that David was ill. When Saul discovered her deception, Michal lied again telling Saul that she only let David leave because he had threatened to kill her.

MOTIVES. Michal’s lies differ significantly from Saul’s lie about wanting David to be his son-in-law. When Saul lied, he masked an evil motive and tried to put David in a situation where he would be killed. When Michal lied the first time, she was trying to save David’s life. When she lied the second time, she was merely trying to escape her father’s insane anger.

JUSTIFIABLE? It is easy to excuse Michal’s lies while condemning Saul’s because she had “justifiable” motives. Some would go so far as to say that when she lied the first time, she did not break the spirit of the Law because she did not testify “against” her neighbor. She was trying to help her neighbor, and it is hard to imagine what else Michal could have done but lie to buy more time for David to escape. Some would say she was justified in lying to an insanely angry person when she accused David of threatening to kill her. Indeed, a short time later he did try to kill Jonathan for excusing David from the new moon feast at Saul’s house (1 Sam. 20:33). Although she slandered David, she was not lying in a courtroom before impartial judges trying to pervert justice. She was trying to escape unjust anger.

PRIORITIES. Both lies showed Michal’s priorities. Her first lie show that she placed David before her father, but the second lie also showed that she placed herself before David because she was willing to slander him to save herself. Her slander brought into question the love Michal and David had for each other, and Saul eventually gave her to another man (see 1 Sam. 25:44). Furthermore, the item she used to deceive Saul’s soldiers revealed something of her broader priorities. Just as Rachel had brought a household idol into Jacob’s tent (Gen. 31:30-35), so Michal had brought a household idol into David’s house. She turned to this lifeless idol for help when Saul’s soldiers came to the house, but she lost the husband she loved. On the other hand, David trusted God, and God enabled him to escape.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Intentions of the Heart and Mind

Reflections on 1 Sam. 19:1-7

Knowledge and feelings are both powerful influences on behavior. When a person’s rational thoughts and feelings are not the same, he is double-minded, and his behavior becomes unstable and unpredictable. Saul’s heart and his mind did not always work together. He was a double-minded man.

INTENTION OF THE HEART. When King Saul saw that David was successful and his name highly esteemed, his jealousy and defensive intuitions took over. His feelings said that he had to defend his throne. Accordingly, he told his son Jonathan and all his officers to look for an opportunity to kill David, perhaps making it look like an accident. Although many of Saul’s officers might have been reluctant to obey his command, one would eventually have an opportunity and a reason to desire the king’s gratitude.

INTENTION OF THE MIND. After Jonathan warned David that Saul was looking for a chance to kill him, he personally confronted his father with the truth: David had been of great service to Saul and had done nothing against him. Further, Saul himself had rejoiced when David slew the Philistine giant. King Saul listened to reason, and he knew that Jonathan was right. He promised with an oath not to kill David. Jonathan then brought David out of hiding and into Saul’s presence as he had been before.

Sadly, Saul’s oath not to kill David was the determination of his mind but not his heart. In his heart, he still resented that God was going to take the throne from him and give it to another. In his heart, he was convinced that God was unfair. In his heart, he was still fighting to preserve his throne. In his heart, he could not tolerate rivals. He was double-minded and unstable. He was bound to fail in his rational intention not to seek David’s life.

Monday, July 25, 2011

First Love

Reflections on 1 Sam. 18:17-30
Love and marriage, love and marriage,
Go together like horse and carriage.
This I tell ya, brother,
You can’t have one without the other.
Frank Sinatra’s song suggests that love is the most important factor in marriage, but is it? What about money? Social status? Intrigue? David’s first marriage may have included them all.

BROKEN PROMISE. Saul had made a promise to give his daughter in marriage to the man who would kill Goliath. This, of course, offered common soldiers the chance to move up in social status by marrying into the royal family. And with that new status also came an exemption from taxes (1 Sam. 17:25). Saul, however, did not immediately keep his promise because he was controlled by jealousy and malice. Wishing to destroy David, he required that David fight more battles against the Philistines. Because of his inferior social position, David accepted the additional requirement without complaining (1 Sam. 18:18 ESV): “Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” Saul, fully expecting David to be killed, promised his daughter Merab to another man. When the time for the wedding arrived and David had not been killed as he expected, Saul saw giving Merab to the man from Meholah in the prosperous Jordan Valley as a way to humiliate a poor soldier whose popularity made him jealous.

BRUTAL BRIDE PRICE. But humiliating David did not satisfy Saul. He wanted to destroy him, so he was pleased to hear that his daughter Michal loved David. A second opportunity for David to marry a daughter of Saul was also a second opportunity to have David killed by the Philistines. Saul sent a private offer to make David his son-in-law. When David responded to Saul, he had to be careful. He could not reject the offer without insulting the king, and he could not accept the offer eagerly without appearing presumptuous. Accordingly, he replied (v. 23), “Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?” David did what was socially appropriate – he recognized the social distance between himself and the king and left the initiative with the socially superior king (compare with Alter, 1981, p. 119). Saul did take the initiative and named the bride price as a hundred foreskins of the Philistines. (Saul’s use of this barbaric practice showed how much he had become a king like the kings of other nations.) But just as Saul failed twice to pin David to the wall with his javelin, so he failed a second time to kill David by the hands of the Philistines. Furthermore, David paid double the bride price, and became the king’s son-in-law.

TRUE LOVE. After the marriage, Saul found it disturbing that his daughter, Michal, loved David. Surprisingly, this is the only time (outside the Song of Solomon) a Bible writer records that a woman loved a man (Alter, 1981, p. 118). Undoubtedly, Michal had heard reports of David’s bravery, overheard him singing to her father, and caught glimpses of his handsome features when in her father’s court. She loved David with the idealistic first love of youth. The writer also tells us that David was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law, but he does not tell us whether David loved Michal. According to the customs of the day, David probably had had few opportunities to be with Michal though he may have seen her on occasion when in attendance to her father.

David’s marriage to Michal was the first of three marriages (to Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba) which are reported in some detail. This first marriage stands in contrast to the way David obtained Bathsheba. In order to marry the first time, David was sent into battle to be killed, but survived and won a bride who loved him. In order to marry the last time, David sent another into battle to be killed and then took that man’s wife for himself. In this way, the writer shows both the greatness of David, and the greatness of the sin into which he fell.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Green with Envy

Reflections on 1 Sam. 18:10-16

The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus said, “It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.” King Saul was not one of those few men. Even though the song the women sang as the army returned from the killing of Goliath had disturbed Saul, he loved David greatly, made him is personal armor bearer (1 Sam. 16:21), and finally made him a commander in his army (1 Sam. 18:5). However, when David prospered, Saul became insanely envious because he remained self-centered and rebellious in heart.

FAILURE. While Saul was in an evil mood and “prophesying,” David was playing the lyre with his hand (the ESV omits the words “with his hand” found in the KJV and Hebrew text). Saul, however, was sitting in his own house with a spear “in his hand” and suddenly attempted to pin his imagined rival to the wall with it. The lyre and spear in their hands contrast the peaceful intentions of David with the malicious intentions of Saul (Youngblood, 1992, p. 709). When Saul failed two times, he knew that God was with David. He became more envious and fearful because he failed while David enjoyed God’s favor.

MISCALCULATION. Finally, Saul was so tormented by the sight of David that he sent him out on military campaigns. David enjoyed such great success that “all Israel and Judah loved David” (1 Sam. 18:16 ESV). Saul’s torments only increased. He had put David in the public eye, and David’s popularity grew with every successful campaign. Saul found himself watching the kingdom being torn from him and given to another. Saul was proving Baltasar Gracian’s statement true: “The envious die not once, but as oft’ as the envied win applause.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Best Friends

Reflections on 1 Sam. 18:3-5

“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24 ESV). A man with such a friend is more fortunate than a man with “many companions.” In difficult times, companions may abandon you, but your friend who is “closer than a brother” will always stand at your side. Jonathan, King Saul’s son, proved to be such a friend to David.

SHARED FAITH. Although Jonathan was a member of the royal family and older than David, he was much like David. Both had great faith in God when faced with powerful enemies. David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37 ESV), and Jonathan had said, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6 ESV). Not only did both have faith, but that faith gave them both courage to act when the king was paralyzed with fear. David faced Goliath while Saul watched from the safety of the Israelite camp (1 Sam. 17:40), and Jonathan had attacked a garrison of the Philistines while Saul fretted at home (1 Sam. 14:1-3). The actions of both men had given courage to soldiers who were faint in heart and roused them to action and victory (1 Sam. 17:52; 1 Sam. 14:20-22).

KINDRED SPIRIT. Jonathan found in David a kindred spirit, and “was knit to the soul of David” (1 Sam. 18:1 ESV). This reminds us of a similar phrase in Gen. 44:30 which describes Jacob’s love for his son Benjamin. Jacob was very reluctant to allow Benjamin to leave home, and here Saul and Jonathan did not allow David to leave their home to return to Bethlehem (1 Sam. 18:2).

FAMILY LOVE. Furthermore, Jonathan loved David “as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1 ESV). This phrase is used in Deut. 13:6 to refer to a friend who is as close to a person as a family member, and it should be understood in that light here because, as noted above, David was being drawn into Saul’s household. In Middle Eastern families, and especially a royal family, there would have been stronger friendship ties among males than between males and females. Relationships between males and females were almost non-existent except for marital relationships, but even in the marital relationship, male and female worlds were so different that strong friendships often existed only between members of the same sex. For that reason, David could say that Jonathan’s love surpassed “the love of women” (2 Sam. 1:26 ESV) without implying a homosexual relationship (Cabal, et al., 2007, p. 435). Furthermore, this Hebrew word for “love” often describes love within a family: Abraham loved his son Isaac; Jacob loved his son Joseph; Ruth loved her mother-in-law Naomi; Elkanah loved his wife Hannah, and Rebekah loved her son Jacob (TWOT, #29). It is never used in the Old Testament “to express homosexual desire or activity,” for which the OT uses a different word (Youngblood, 1992, p. 706). As David was being brought into the royal family, both Saul (1 Sam. 16:21) and Jonathan were said to love David. Jonathan, David, and Saul all were, or would be, married and have many children.

A COVENANT. Jonathan’s attraction for David was not merely based their shared activities as soldiers, or even their shared courage. Instead, it was based primarily on their shared faith, and for that reason it was sealed with a covenant made before God (cf. 1 Sam. 20:8). Then in a symbolic gesture, perhaps anticipating Jonathan’s recognition that David would be the next king, the heir apparent gave David his own robe and armor, in effect making David the heir to the throne (Youngblood, 1992, p. 707). (The garment/kingdom theme is also found in 1 Sam. 15:27-28; 24:4, 11, 20.) Because both were committed to God in heart and life, Jonathan would later go to David, who was in great despair at the time because his own people had abandoned him, and “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Sam 23:16).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Trash Talk

Reflections on 1 Sam. 17:41-54

On Sunday, in the final seconds of the first game of the 1997 NBA Finals, Karl “The Mailman” Malone was shooting free throws at the line with the game tied. Scotty Pippin taunted him, “The mailman don’t deliver on Sundays.” Of course, Pippin was trying to rattle Malone so he would miss. Malone did miss both free throws, and the Bulls won the game.

INSULT FOR INSULT. Similarly, the fight between David and Goliath began with psychological sparring. Goliath thought that Israel was insulting him by sending a mere youth to fight against him. He said (1 Sam. 17:43 ESV), “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” Goliath’s reference to “sticks” may show that he saw the shepherd’s staff David carried but failed to see the sling (1 Sam. 17:40). Then after cursing David by his gods, he tried to intimidate David by promising to leave his flesh on the field of battle for the vultures and animals that feed on carrion. David's reply was, in part, similar: “I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth…” (1 Sam. 17:46 ESV).

DAVID’S FAITH. Although David’s words surely baited Goliath and were perhaps similar to the “trash talking” that occurs between athletes today, there was also a difference. Unlike Goliath who cursed David by his gods, David simply said that he came in the name of the LORD Almighty whom Goliath had defied. The battle then became not one between Goliath and David but between the gods of the Philistines and the God of the armies of Israel.

GOLIATH’S ARROGANCE. While Goliath tried to intimidate David, he himself approached the fight with overconfidence. He considered himself a seasoned warrior facing an inexperienced youth. He carried a sword, a spear, and a javelin, and he wore protective armor while his opponent was dressed in a shepherd's garment and carried a staff. Perhaps his confidence caused him to overlook the sling that David carried in his other hand. If so, pride led to his defeat. Prov. 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Instead of mocking David, he would have done well to heed Ahab's advice to Ben-Hadad: “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off” (1 Kings 20:11 ESV).

GOD EXALTED. David's son Solomon later observed that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecc. 9:11). Solomon was right in that David's victory over Goliath was not due to strength, wisdom, or ingenuity of any kind. On the other hand, because Solomon limited himself to what he could observe under the sun, he attributed the victory to “time and chance” rather than God as David did. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 ESV). Isaiah says, “The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Isa. 2:11 ESV).

IDOLS DETHRONED. David did not allow Goliath to intimidate him. He had faith that God would exalt His name so that “all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” Just as God had thrown down and decapitated the idol of Dagon in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant years earlier, so God threw Goliath face down and decapitated him in the presence of one coming in the name of the Lord (Youngblood, 1992, pp. 701-02).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Emperor’s Clothes

Reflections on 1 Sam. 17:32-40

Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man.” Certainly, a man dressed in a three-piece suit will act differently than one dressed like a clown. On the other hand, dressing a drunken bum in a three-piece suit does not make him a businessman any more than a lion’s body made the lion a courageous beast in The Wizard of Oz.

ARMOR WITHOUT BRAVERY. Saul's royal armor did not give him a kingly heart. David could see, as everyone could, that he was as terrified of Goliath as any of his soldiers. But David wisely did not mention Saul's fear when he spoke to him saying, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:32 ESV).

BRAVERY WITHOUT ARMOR. Although impressed with David’s bravery, Saul obviously thought David was too young. Saul reminded David that he was merely a youth (probably younger than 20 years; see Num. 1:3; 26:2) and that he was not experienced in the ways of war. Ignoring the statement about his youth, David argued that as a shepherd he was experienced in battle having fought with vicious lions and bears while protecting his father's flocks. Still, Saul appeared to be unconvinced. When Saul said nothing in response to his exploits against the wild beasts, David delivered the final thrust of his argument: God had delivered him from the mouths of the lion and the bear, and He would deliver him from Goliath, too.

ARMOR OFFERED. Saul could not argue with David without appearing impious, but he still thought that David was poorly armed for the battle. In his own heart he still relied more on the “arm of flesh” than on the “arm of the Lord,” so he clothed David in his own armor. After doing so, Saul demonstrated how much he had become a king like the kings of the nations. All those kings relied on superior armor and weapons. Likewise, Saul naively thought that armor and weapons would make a victorious soldier, but he was wrong. God did not want a person who relied on them to be the king.

ARMOR REJECTED. When David rejected Saul’s armor, he was not na├»ve. He simply knew that the armor and sword did not suit his skills or experience. The armor would limit his ability to use the weapon God had trained him to use, the shepherd’s sling. He undoubtedly knew that in skilled hands the sling could be an effective weapon (see Judges 20:16) even if it was outdated and unconventional. But more importantly, David was not going to be a king who relied on the “arm of flesh” or on armor, weapons, numbers, and physical strength. By rejecting Saul’s armor, he rejected the kind of king Saul had become (Bergen, 1996, p. 194). Unlike Saul, he would rely on the God in whom he had placed his faith. He understood that if God fought for Israel, Israel had no need to become like the nations. Accordingly, he removed Saul's armor, chose five stones for his sling, and went out to meet the blasphemous giant as he carried his shepherd's staff and the invisible shield of faith.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Big Brother

Reflections on 1 Sam. 17:12-31

Big brothers often despise little brothers and accuse them of neglecting their insignificant responsibilities, especially if they aspire to something that encroaches on the older brother’s territory. God is not like a big brother. He operates on the principle that if a person is faithful in little things, he will be faithful in bigger things (see the parable of the talents in Matt. 25:21).

RESPONSIBLE. Actually David was a faithful servant in ordinary, even lowly, duties. He shepherded his father’s sheep responsibly, leaving them in the care of another shepherd when called to run an errand for Jesse. Furthermore, he dutifully delivered the food to the quartermaster before entering the camp to find his brothers.

BUT DESPISED. Despite David’s responsible behavior, his oldest brother, Eliab, thought he was irresponsible. He said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle” (1 Sam. 17:28 ESV). Obviously, he thought David had been irresponsible in a trivial duty so that he could be an idle spectator of real men engaged in the grave responsibilities of war.

THE SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL. Eliab's reaction to David reminds us that the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Him when he began his ministry (John 7:5). They could not comprehend that He was actually obeying His Father just as David had obeyed Jesse. And like the brothers of Jesus, Eliab's perception was quite short-sighted. He failed to recognize that those who are faithful in little things will be faithful in big things (Luke 16:10). Qualities that make one capable of fulfilling small responsibilities are the very same qualities needed to fulfill big responsibilities. But God knew that a good shepherd like David would also make a good king. Notice the words of Psalm 78:70-72 (ESV).
He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand.
A FAITHFUL KING. As a faithful king, David prefigured his descendant, the Messiah, who was faithful in all things. Isaiah describes the Messiah as one who wore faithfulness as a belt (Isa. 11:5), and John says that his name is “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11). We who follow him must also be faithful (1 Cor. 4:2) and keep his words to the end. Then he will give us authority over the nations just as he received authority from his Father (Rev. 2:26-27), and he will permit us to sit with him on his throne just as he sat on his Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21-22).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Bully

Reflections on 1 Sam. 17:1-11

Brats annoy us, but bullies intimidate us with their greater size and superior strength.

THE BULLY. Goliath was a bully. He stood more than nine feet tall. His reputation as a champion was intimidating. He wore bronze armor weighing 125 pounds and carried the heaviest weapons the Israelites had ever seen.He stood daily between the Philistine and Israelite armies in the Valley of Elah, about 15 miles west of Bethlehem, where he confronted the Israelites and insulted them. Saul and the Israelites were intimidated.

A SHADOW OF HIS FORMER SELF. At an earlier time, Saul would not have been intimidated. At the beginning of his reign, Nahash, the Ammonite king, determined to insult the Israelites of Jabesh Gilead by gouging out their right eyes. When Saul heard it, God's Spirit had come mightily upon him. He called Israel to battle and led them in a stirring surprise attack on the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11:1-11). But now God’s Spirit had departed from Saul. Though he was a head taller than the other Israelite soldiers, he did not accept Goliath’s challenge. He was as intimidated as his soldiers.

NEED FOR A LEADER. Saul’s leadership abilities had forsaken him. The Israelites were leaderless; they were like sheep without a shepherd. Little did they know that their shepherd was about to appear. The shepherd God had chosen would lead his people; they would hear his voice and follow him (2 Sam. 5:2). Similarly, when God’s people were leaderless in the first century and scattered like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36), the Good Shepherd appeared. Even today, his sheep know his voice and follow him (John 10:4).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Power of Music

Reflections on 1 Sam. 16:14-23 [1 Sam. 18:2]

Lucas Foss, a composer who had Parkinson’s disease, found it difficult to walk to his piano, often freezing and then taking hurried, uncontrolled steps. Likewise, he had difficulty moving his arms in a controlled manner, but when he started playing a nocturne by Chopin, he played with nearly perfect timing and control. As soon as the music stopped, he again had difficulty controlling his movements (Oliver Sacks, Brain, 2006, 129, p. 2528). Music can have a profound effect on people even if that effect is temporary.

MUSIC THERAPY. After God rejected the rebellious king, he sent a “harmful spirit” which tormented Saul. This harmful spirit may refer to an evil disposition which overwhelmed the king because he was resisting God like a stubborn animal kicks against a prod or goad. During one of these fits of despondency, an attendant suggested that someone be found to play a lyre for the king so he would feel better. Saul issued the order to find such a man, and a servant suggested that they bring David, who was known to play skillfully on the lyre.

TEMPORARY RELIEF. Music apparently had a powerful effect on Saul, calming his evil disposition. David would play the lyre, and Saul would be relieved and feel better. The music that David played changed Saul’s feelings at the moment (1 Sam. 16:23), but it did not change the underlying cause, which was his habitual self-centeredness and rebellion against God. Those habitual thinking patterns continued, he was reminded again of his alienation from God, and the same foul mood would overwhelm him. So David was called repeatedly to calm the distraught king, but the music was not a cure.

MORE THAN MUSIC. David also experienced problems, and music also benefited him. However, music had a more permanent influence on David than it did on Saul. None of David’s music has survived to this day, but his lyrics have survived in many of the Psalms. In the lyrics, we find the secret to the power of David’s music. Whatever the state of David's feelings or emotions, he directed his thoughts expressed in words toward God. Then, the music combined with the words made a profound change in his heart, and that in turn helped steer his will toward righteous deeds. For example, Psalm 43 reveals his despondency when not only Saul but many of his own countrymen were pursuing him, but then he remembered the light and joy in God's truth which irresistibly drew him into God’s presence with gratitude and praise. He was so overwhelmed with God’s loving kindness that he wondered why he had been discouraged. Ps. 43:5 (ESV) summarizes this drawing near to God:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Those memories of God’s loving kindness and faithfulness were then reinforced every time David took up his lyre. Music combined with words contributed to a transformed heart which enabled David to show kindness even to his enemies.

A BIG DIFFERENCE. In Saul’s case, the sounds of the lyre soothed his nerves. The music helped Saul forget temporarily his alienation from God. The lyrics were insignificant, if any were sung. In David’s case, the words were significant, and reinforced by the music of the lyre, they reminded David of God’s lovingkindness. The music and words not only calmed his nerves, they transformed his life.
So then, we should not merely enjoy music that temporarily changes our moods. We should also employ that music which directs our thoughts toward God and his ways, and we should reinforce godly and righteous thoughts by repeating such music, so that godly thoughts and feelings might strengthen our wills to do His good pleasure.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Appearances

Reflections on 1 Sam. 16:1-13

Have you ever seen something and immediately known that you had to have it? Of course you have, but there is a problem with that. Appearances can be deceiving. Or as the old proverb says,“You can’t judge a book by its cover.” God is different than us. He can see what is inside the book. The difference between how we see and how God sees is emphasized in this story about the anointing of David.

NEW KING WANTED. Saul looked like a king. He stood a head taller than his fellow Israelites. The Israelites were looking for a king like the kings of other nations, and when they saw him, they were impressed (1 Sam. 10:23-24). They shouted, “Long live the king!” Sometime later, however, God became dissatisfied with Saul because he did not have an obedient heart. Accordingly, the Lord “sought out a man after his own heart” to be ruler of God’s people (1 Sam. 13:14 ESV). He tore the kingdom from Saul and gave it to a neighbor better than him (1 Sam. 15:28). Thus, the story of David begins with God sending Samuel to anoint a man whose heart was more pleasing to him than Saul’s heart.

APPEARANCE MISLEADING. When Samuel saw Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, he was impressed with what he saw, but God had rejected Eliab because He could see his heart as well as his physical appearance. In fact, God had not chosen any of the seven sons of Jesse at the sacrifice. When Samuel asked if there was another son, Jesse replied that there remained one, the youngest, who was tending his sheep while the rest of the family attended the feast. The word “youngest” might also mean “smallest” or “least important” (BDB, pp. 881-882). So unlike Saul or even Eliab, David did not appear kingly or important. But God, who sees the heart, had chosen him.

INNER BEAUTY. At Samuel’s request, Jesse sent for David. Soon David arrived at the feast, but though God had chosen David because of what He saw in David’s heart, David is introduced to us with a description of his appearance: “He was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome” (v. 12). The NKJV translates “handsome” as “good looking.” Somehow we are pleased that David was good looking. Appearance is not everything, but it is important, especially that appearance which comes from a beautiful heart and godly character. The beauty of Jesus, the one man fully after God’s own heart, came from the heart rather than from His physical appearance. Isa. 53:2 (ESV) says,
He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
ANOINTED. God chose this handsome shepherd whose heart was also tender toward God, and commanded Samuel to anoint him king with the sacred oil from the Tent of Meeting. Psalm 89:20 (ESV) records the event from God’s viewpoint:
I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him.
God originally limited the use of the holy oil to the anointing of priests and furnishings in the Tent of Meeting. This anointing signified not only selection but also consecration to serving the Lord (Ex. 30:22-33). However, in the days of Eli, the priests had made a mockery of their consecration to the Lord and failed to lead Israel properly.

Because the priests failed in their duty to God, God decided to assign a part of their role to another whom He would also anoint (1 Sam. 2:35; see Briggs, 1886, pp. 122-23). Thus, it happened that kings as well as priests were anointed and consecrated to serving God. God selected David to be king because He saw that David wished to serve Him with his whole heart. Centuries later, God would anoint David’s Son, whose heart was perfect before Him, as both priest and king.

CHOSEN AND ANOINTED. Like David, Christians are also chosen of God. After he cleansed our hearts, he consecrated us to his work. When people see us, they may not be impressed with our physical appearance, but they should see an inner beauty that makes our face shine with God’s love, joy, and peace.