Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dead End

Reflections on 1 Sam. 31:1-13 [1 Chron. 10:1-14]

When the battle was finally engaged, the Philistines prevailed and overtook Saul and his sons on Mt. Gilboa. His sons were killed, but Saul continued to fight. He himself was not overpowered in hand-to-hand combat, but archers found their mark and Saul was badly wounded. “Badly wounded” suggests that he was writhing in great pain (BDB, ?ûl, p. 296-97) and so was unable to continue fighting. In that condition, he feared that before killing him, the Philistines would mistreat, abuse, or humiliate him because he could no longer defend himself.

A LIFE SHORTENED. Knowing that he was unable to defend himself and fearing the agonies of torture and ridicule more than death, Saul asked his armor-bearer to kill him. The armor-bearer, however, was greatly afraid to kill the king whom he was bound by devotion and duty to defend (contrast him with the armor-bearer who killed Abimelech whose skull had been cracked when a woman threw a millstone from a tower – Judges 9:54-55). Saul then fell on his own sword, and his armor-bearer did the same.

A DREAM SHATTERED. Saul’s death was premature not only because he died by his own hand, but also because he died without fulfilling the dream of Israel when they made him king. They wanted a king to give them victory on the battlefield. God gave them Saul, and told Samuel, “You shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 9:16). Saul showed promise of fulfilling the dream against the Philistines (1 Sam. 14:47-48), but then he acted presumptuously and lost the Lord’s blessing (1 Sam. 13). He became indecisive, but Jonathan took the initiative and won a great victory (1 Sam. 14). On another occasion, he was afraid, but David slew Goliath and initiated a great victory (1 Sam. 17). His final battle was a disastrous defeat. When the victorious Philistines returned to the battleground the next day to strip the dead, they found Saul’s body. They cut off his head and sent it with messengers to their cities as evidence of their great victory. They hung Saul’s body and the bodies of his sons from the walls of Beth-shan, a city about six miles east of Mt. Gilboa. The dream was shattered.

A FAMILY FALLEN. Not only did a man and a dream die on Mt. Gilboa, but a dynasty also died. Saul fell on his own sword and three of his sons including the valiant heir apparent, Jonathan, died in battle. Only one rather weak son continued as king for a short time. In this way, the book ends much the same way it began. The book begins with the high priest Eli and his sons not giving honor to God as they should. When the Philistines attacked Israel, his sons carried the ark into the battle where they died at the hands of the Philistines. When news of the Philistine victory reached Eli, he fell from his chair and died. His family continued in the priesthood only a short time. As it had been with the high priest who did not honor God, so it was with the king who did not honor God. Their families were no longer allowed to serve God as priests or kings.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Generous in Victory

Reflections on 1 Sam. 30:21-31

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works.
-- Titus 2:7a
The Egyptian led David and his men to the Amalekites who had raided their village. It was evening, and the Amalekites were celebrating their victories with drunken revelry. David led the attack against them, and the battle raged for a whole day. In the end, they saved the lives of all their families, recovered their own possessions, and took an enormous amount of additional plunder. Despite the victory, trouble was brewing.

CREDIT WHERE DUE. When David returned after the victory to the men who had remained at the brook Besor, certain troublemakers among his soldiers wanted to cut the quitters loose and send them away. The troublemakers wanted to take all the credit for themselves and destroy the group that David had assembled, but David did not let them (1 Sam. 30:22). First, he gave credit to God. The plunder was the gift of God, and God had both protected them and given them victory (v. 23). Second, he gave credit to those who stayed behind. Even though they did not participate in the battle itself, they had protected the supplies that were left behind while pursuing the enemy (1 Sam. 30:24). Accordingly, it was appropriate to share both the joy and the blessings of God with those who stayed behind. David did not allow wicked men to bite and devour one another. David maintained a spirit of unity and a bond of peace.

FRIENDS REWARDED. David still had enemies in Judah. Recall that several towns in Judah had either been ungrateful or spiteful toward David. Among them were Keilah (1 Sam. 23:12), Ziph (1 Sam. 23:19), Maon (1 Sam. 23:25), and Carmel (1 Sam. 25:2). Though these had forced him to flee Judah, David also had those in Judah who had befriended him while fleeing from Saul (1 Sam. 30:26-31). At his first opportunity, David acknowledged and strengthened them. Among them were the inhabitants of Hebron where he would soon be proclaimed king over the whole tribe of Judah. Godly leaders are grateful to all who help them.

David showed himself a godly example to his men not only in recovering from tragedy and in pressing the attack during battle, but also in being generous in victory. Just as God permitted the Israelites to keep the plunder from Ai after devoting all of the initial plunder of Jericho to destruction (Josh. 6:17-18; 8:2), so God allowed David to keep and distribute plunder from the Amalekites though the initial plunder taken by Saul was to have been devoted to destruction.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Godly General

Reflections on 1 Sam. 30:7-20
Enduring setbacks while maintaining the ability to show others the way to go forward is a true test of leadership.
– Nitin Nohria
David could not have faced a greater tragedy than the one he discovered when he returned to Ziklag, and it was multiplied by 600 when including his men. They were all so overwhelmed that they wept until they lost their strength. Then, in their despair, David’s men found it easy to make him a scapegoat for what happened, and they talked of stoning David. After finding strength in the Lord, David showed the signs of godly leadership which put his men to work in the constructive effort of regaining their families.

1. DAVID INQUIRED OF THE LORD (1 Sam. 30:8). Despite David’s vast knowledge of the region, he knew it was a slim chance that he could find their families before they had been abused, sold, or killed. He needed God’s direction, and he sought it. God said to pursue, and God promised that he would overtake the Amalekites and rescue their families.

2. DAVID GAVE HIS MEN DIRECTION (1 Sam. 30:9). David’s men were talking of stoning him as if that would somehow atone for their loss, but they knew it really wouldn’t. Setting out in pursuit of the Amalekites, however, gave them real hope of recovering their loss.

3. DAVID SHOWED MERCY TO THE EXHAUSTED (1 Sam. 30:10). David did not allow tragedy to harden his heart. He did not chastise the men who could not cross the brook Besor as weaklings. He understood their exhaustion after marching more than 40 miles in less than three full days, and on the third day discovering that their families had been taken captive. He assigned them the task of guarding the luggage so that the remaining men could travel more quickly.

4. DAVID SHOWED KINDNESS TO OUTSIDERS (1 Sam. 30:11 ff.). David didn’t have time for interruptions from strangers, and it would have been quite natural to be suspicious of a foreigner in time of war. David could have isolated himself in own little group, but David remembered the Law, which commanded that the Israelites show kindness to aliens (Lev. 19:34). When he found a hungry, thirsty Egyptian in the desert, he took time to offer him food and water. When he did so, he found the guide God had sent to lead him and his men to their families. David’s leadership reminds us of Jesus. When faced with opposition, Jesus sought the will of his Father, and found strength in him (Luke 22:42-43). He gave people a new direction, a new purpose in life. He offered forgiveness to those who opposed him and mercy to those who abandoned him. Jesus showed kindness to outsiders: to publicans and sinners, to the sick and disabled, to a Roman centurion and a Samaritan woman. Those people, in turn, changed the world.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Reflections on 1 Samuel 29:1-11; 1 Chronicles 12:19-22
Rumor doth double, like the voice and echo,
The numbers of the feared.
-- William Shakespeare
The Philistines marched north to try to take control of the prosperous Valley of Esdraelon, which was also a critical part of the trade route from Mesopotamia to Egypt. Saul and the Israelite army were on Mt. Gilboa, which protected the critical pass from the Jordan Valley to the Valley of Esdraelon. Achish insisted that David accompany him with the other Philistine forces. David and his men marched at the rear of the Philistine army, and rumors spread quickly among the Philistines and the Israelites.

A RUMOR FEARED. When Achish joined the other Philistine commanders at Aphek about 10 miles east of Joppa in the territory of Ephraim, they immediately asked (1 Sam. 29:3 ESV), “What are these Hebrews doing here?” They were afraid David’s men might turn against them during the battle. Years before when Saul had been powerless to stop the Philistine raiding parties, many Israelites had joined the Philistine forces. Then when the Philistines fled before Jonathan’s bold attack, the Israelites had turned on them and helped Saul’s army rout them (1 Sam. 14:20-23). Achish was sure David would not do such a thing saying that David had been loyal to him for more than a year. The other Philistine commanders, however, would not listen to him. They could not dispel the rumor they had heard about David: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Consequently, they refused to give David’s men the same opportunity. David and his men rose early the next morning to return the forty miles back to Ziklag.

A RUMOR DISPELLED. When David marched north with the Philistine armies, news spread among the Israelite soldiers. Seven commanders of thousands from the tribe of Manasseh deserted Saul’s army and joined David (1 Chron. 12:19-22). You can imagine the dimensions this story would take as it spread among Israelite troops: David was conspiring with the Philistines to overthrow Saul. In order to dispel any lingering remnants of that kind of rumor, the writer records David’s dismissal from the Philistine army and return to Ziklag before the battle in which Saul and his sons died. The seven commanders from Manasseh also accompanied David to Ziklag and helped him against the band of Amalekite raiders who burned Ziklag (v. 21). Neither they nor David participated in the battle on Mt. Gilboa (1 Chron. 12:19). David did not lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed either personally or in battle. God took the kingdom from Saul and gave it to David.

Rumors were the news of the day. (Even today, they may on occasion be more reliable than official media.) God used a rumor about David slaying tens of thousands, appropriately exaggerated, to get David dismissed from the Philistine army. But God also saw fit to dispel any rumor that David had conspired against Saul by making sure people knew that he had been dismissed from the Philistine army and had returned to Ziklag before the battle in which Saul died.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Reflections on 1 Sam. 28:3-14

The imminent battle that faced Saul was further north than most of the battles with the Philistines. Apparently they decided to try to take control of the major trade route from the east through the Valley of Jezreel (Josh. 17:16). The Philistines assembled at Shunem, a city allotted to Issachar (Josh. 19:18) near the southwest slope of the hill of Moreh, which divides the eastern end of the valley. Saul's troops were stationed seven or eight miles south across the valley on Mt. Gilboa. Saul was distressed by the looming battle and desired guidance from the Lord, but no guidance was available either by dream, Urim, or prophet (1 Sam. 28:6)
NO DREAM. There is no record of God communicating with Saul through dreams, but he may have heard about Gideon overhearing a dream in the Midianite army which was camped on the hill of Moreh (Judges 7:9-14), where his army was now camped. That dream and its interpretation greatly encouraged Gideon to attack. Saul, however, had no encouraging dream.

NO PRIEST. Furthermore, Saul could not go to the high priest, who could inquire of the Lord using the Urim and Thummim. At one time, Saul had inquired by Urim and Thummim (1 Sam. 14:37-43), but when the priests have food and a weapon to David, Saul commanded that all the priests be executed (1 Sam. 22). Abiathar, however, escaped and carried the ephod with the Urim and Thummim to David (1 Sam. 23:6-12). So in addition to having no dream from God, Saul could not inquire of the Lord through the priests.

NO PROPHET. Even early in his reign when Saul sought the Lord's favor, he had done so in an unlawful way by performing the priestly duties himself. At that time, the Lord warned Saul that the kingdom was not secure because of his foolish disobedience (1 Sam. 13:12-14). Saul, however, did not heed the Lord's warning. When he rejected the word of the Lord with regard to the Amalekites, Samuel informed him that the Lord had rejected him from being king over Israel (1 Sam. 15:26). From that day on, Saul was alienated from Samuel and the prophets. Samuel never saw Saul again (1 Sam. 15:35). Now, years later, he wanted to consult the Lord through the prophets, but the Lord was no longer to be found. Saul had not sought the Lord when he could be found (Isa. 55:6), and now he was facing the Philistines alone.

ONE WITCH. In his desperation, Saul asked for a medium whom he hoped could communicate with the prophet Samuel, and his men found one in En-dor, a town in the territory of Issachar inhabited by people of Manasseh on the northeast slope of the hill of Moreh (Josh. 17:11). Formerly, Saul had tried to eradicate the mediums from Israel because Moses had instructed the Israelites that they were not to consult mediums (Lev. 19:31) or permit them to remain in the land when they possessed it (Deut. 18:10-12). Now he wanted a medium to bring Samuel up from the dead. Previously, Samuel had told Saul that his rebellion against the Lord was as the sin of witchcraft (1 Sam. 15:23 KJV; divination in ESV). In his rebellion and alienation, Saul actually stooped to witchcraft. Witchcraft saved neither his kingdom nor his life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Compromising Situation

Reflections on 1 Sam. 27:1-12

We often blame David’s troubles on Saul, but if Saul was the only problem David had in Israel, he probably never would have felt compelled to flee Israel and seek refuge among the archenemies of Israel, the Philistines.

FRIENDS LIKE THESE. David’s own kinsmen drove him into exile by constantly feeding Saul’s suspicions. When David spared Saul’s life in the cave, he said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? …. See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands” (1 Sam. 24:9-11 ESV). When David spared Saul’s life a second time, David again protested against those of his kinsmen who were slandering him to Saul, “Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the LORD who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the LORD, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the LORD, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods’” (1 Sam. 26:19 ESV). With friends like these, David didn’t need any enemies. It is a sad day when God’s people drive out a brother by listening to and assisting those who falsely accuse that brother. Sadly, David felt that the only way he could escape Saul and his informers was to flee to Philistia.

DANGEROUS CONCESSIONS. Although we are not told, David apparently fled to Achish, king of Gath, without inquiring of Abiathar the priest or seeking the advice of Gad the prophet as he had done on previous occasions. By seeking refuge in Philistia, David put himself, his family, and his men in a compromising situation.

  • David, his family, and his men left Israel and those who worshiped God.
  • David, his men, and their families lived among people who worshiped idols and who would have a corrupting influence.
  • David had to depend on an enemy of Israel for protection and pretend loyalty to them. David lived a lie.
  • David had to pay tribute to an enemy of Israel.
ADVANTAGES. David was keenly aware of the dangers he faced and was, for the most part, able to neutralize them and even turn the situation to his advantage.

  • David’s kinsmen ceased to give intelligence to Saul, so Saul abandoned his pursuit of David.
  • David asked for and received a city, Ziklag, for himself, his soldiers, and their families. Although Ziklag had been in the hands of the Philistines, God had assigned the town first to Judah (Josh. 15:31), and later to Simeon (Josh. 19:5). The move to Ziklag helped neutralize the influence of Philistine culture and enabled them to continue their devotion to God. From this time on, Ziklag remained under the control of Israel.
  • David and his men secured the southern border of Judah. He did this without raising Achish’s suspicions by telling him that he had attacked regions belonging to Judah when he really attacked the enemies of Judah who often wandered through those regions.
  • David and his men made progress in blotting out the memory of the Amalekites as God intended (Deut. 25:17-19). God had rejected Saul as king because he had not completely destroyed them as he commanded (1 Sam. 15:1-3, 22-23).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Forgiveness Beyond the Call of Duty

Reflections on 1 Sam. 26:1-25

There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love.
-- Bryant McGill

MANY OFFENSES. This chapter records Saul’s last attempt on David’s life. The first attempts came shortly after the women praised David’s heroism in battle against Goliath. Twice Saul tried to pin David to the wall with a spear (1 Sam. 18:10-11). Then Saul sent David into numerous battles with the Philistines hoping that they would kill him, but that strategy only made David more famous because he was successful (1 Sam. 18:17 ff.). Then Saul commanded his attendants to kill David, but Jonathan intervened (1 Sam. 19:1 ff.). Then Saul tried to pin David to the wall with a spear a third time, but David escaped (1 Sam. 19:10). Saul sent men to David’s house, but David escaped to Samuel in Naioth (1 Sam. 19:11 ff.). Then when his men failed in their mission, Saul pursued David to Naioth himself, but God protected David (1 Sam. 19:18 ff.). Saul took an army and pursued David in the Desert of Maon (1 Sam. 23:24ff.) and in the Desert of Engedi (1 Sam. 24:1 ff.). Even after David spared Saul’s life near Engedi, and Saul admitted his sin, Saul again pursued David with his army in the region near the hill of Hachilah.

So how did David react to Saul’s persistence in pursuing him? What did he do when he had opportunity to pin Saul to the ground with a spear when Saul had tried three times to pin him to the wall with a spear? David refused to avenge himself on the anointed king. In refusing to kill Saul, he is an example of both forgiving and forbearing.

FORGIVENESS. A willingness to forgive is a virtue every Christian should have. Jesus said that if a man repents after a rebuke, we are to forgive him even seven times in one day (Luke 17:3-4). Forgiveness is offered to all offenders and given to the penitent so that reconciliation can be achieved (see also Matt. 18:15). Consequently, to forgive means to release a person from a consequence or penalty for a moral failure (BDAG, p. 156). Both parties recognize the moral failure and forgiveness is both offered and given on the basis of repentance. Forgiveness loves the sinner but rejects the sin. When David spared Saul’s life, his actions and words rebuked Saul, and Saul expressed repentance and requested David’s mercy (1 Sam. 24:17-21; 26:21, 25). Considering all that Saul had done to David, it appears that David would have forgiven Saul seventy times seven times (cf. Matt. 18:22).

FORBEARANCE. Forbearance is another Christian virtue. Sometimes a person who has committed an offense is not moved to repent by the offer of forgiveness. The person who has been offended has two choices: 1) bring the matter to the church for judgment (Matt. 18:15-17), or 2) bear the wrong patiently (1 Cor. 6:5-7). Bearing the wrong patiently is called forbearance. Paul urged the Ephesians to live worthy of their calling “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2 ESV). We must not avenge ourselves, but with humility, patience, and love give God time to deal with the person so that reconciliation might be achieved. David did this. Even when Saul repeated his offenses, David continued to address Saul as “my lord” (repeatedly in 1 Sam. 26:17 and following). Furthermore, he endured not merely out of a sense of duty to the Lord’s anointed but also out of a sense of love. Recall that when David spared Saul’s life the first time, he called Saul “my father” (1 Sam. 24:11), and when Saul was finally killed in a battle with the Philistines, David sang that Saul was loved and lovely (2 Sam. 1:23). Somehow, David continued to love Saul, and that helped him to bear patiently with Saul’s insane jealousy and wrath rather than to seek revenge.

TOLERANCE. Tolerance differs from both forgiveness and forbearance. Forgiveness is the act of mercifully freeing a penitent person from the penalty for an acknowledged offense; it accepts the sinner but rejects the sin. Tolerance, on the other hand, hopes enmity will not escalate into something worse and allows a tolerable offense to continue; it accepts the sin but rejects the sinner. Forbearance, motivated by love, refuses to seek revenge against an obstinate offender but hopes that God will soften the heart and produce reconciliation before justice is executed. Tolerance, on the other hand, motivated by fear of making things worse, does not confront an offender but nevertheless hopes that the person will go away or get what they deserve.

David was not merely tolerant. Rather, he was both forgiving and forbearing. He was forbearing because Saul had too often forgotten his good intentions. Therefore, David could not return with Saul or even stay in Judah.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Check Mate!

Reflections on 1 Sam. 25:1b-13

I was playing a game of chess with a young lawyer and thought I was doing quite well. In fact, he apparently thought so too. After studying the board for a long time, he said, “I resign.” A grad student who was watching asked me, “Do you mind if I finish the game?” This grad student hadn’t lost a game in several years, and he was often seen playing several games at once in the student union. I felt quite secure in my position, so I thought to myself, “Here’s a chance to brag that I beat Tommy J.” I should have known better. Solomon said, “Fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence” (Prov. 14:16 NLT), but in the end, they die “for lack of sense” (Prov. 10:21). Tommy saw a move both the young lawyer and I had overlooked. I knew I was in trouble as soon as he moved. Three plays later, he announced, “Check mate!” Like me, Nabal felt secure in his position, but he would die suddenly.

RICH AND CONNECTED. Nabal was a very rich Calebite (1 Sam. 25:2-3). Like neighboring Calebites in Ziph, he was probably allied with Saul (see 1 Sam. 23:19), and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel, a village in Judah (see Josh. 15:55) where Saul had erected a monument to himself celebrating his defeat of the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:12). As a rich man, he found it easy to despise a poor outcast like David, who had broken away from his master (1 Sam. 25:10).

ARROGANT AND HARSH. Nabal was also a harsh man who behaved badly (1 Sam. 25:3). He asked rhetorically, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse?” The questions implied that David and his father Jesse were nobodies, unknowns. Then he insinuated that David was no more than one of the many slaves who were breaking away from their masters (1 Sam. 25:10) and that David’s messengers were nobodies from “I do not know where” (1 Sam. 25:11). In one sentence, he even emphasized his arrogance using “I” or “my” seven times (Youngblood, 1992, p. 756).

FOOL. Nabal was a fool just as his name implied (1 Sam. 25:25). He considered himself a self-made man, a man who by his own ingenuity and effort had accumulated great riches. He refused to recognize the protection provided by David’s men (1 Sam. 25:15), or listen to his own servants who labored for him (1 Sam. 25:17). Like the rich fool in the parable told by Jesus, he did not consider that his wealth would pass from him to another if he were to die (see Luke 12:16-21). Indeed, he did die (1 Sam. 25:38), and his wealth was passed to another.

May we not be like arrogant Nabal in laying up treasures for ourselves on earth. Instead, may we lay up treasures in heaven with God.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Temptation or Opportunity?

Reflections on 1 Sam. 24:1-22

Saul immediately returned to his pursuit of David when he finished fighting the Philistines. By this time, David had moved about ten miles east of Ziph to Engedi, which was near the west shore of the Dead Sea. During the pursuit, David and his men hid in a cave. With Saul’s army outside, they were in grave danger if Saul had known where they were. But Saul did not know, so he went into a cave to relieve himself (the literal “cover his feet” in the KJV is a euphemism — see BDB, p. 696-97). Because Saul was alone, in the dark, and unprepared for defending himself, David’s men saw this as an opportunity sent by God for David to kill the unsuspecting Saul. David snuck up on Saul, but instead of killing him, cut off the corner of his outer garment.

REMORSE. An interesting aspect of this story is that David felt remorse even for cutting off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24:5). The reason David felt this remorse was because his action was disrespectful to the king. According to Num. 15:37-41, God instructed Israelites to wear blue tassels in the corner of their garments. These tassels, which were extensions of the embroidery in the hem, were a kind of identification. For instance, priests had quite elaborate hems according to Ex. 28:33. Undoubtedly, the tassel of a king was more elaborate than the tassel of a common man and identified him as royalty. Evidently, each person’s tassel was unique since Mesopotamian texts indicate that they were impressed into clay as a kind of signature. Furthermore, removing the hem and its tassels symbolized a change in the identification of a person. For instance, when a man divorced his wife, he cut off the hem of her garment which identified her as his wife (see Jacob Milgrom, “Of Hems and Tassels,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1983, p. 61 ff.). In this case, David removed that which in part identified Saul as king, and in doing so he insulted the ruler of God’s people. Hence, David felt remorse for his deed.

PERSUASION. When David returned to his men, he had to justify his refusal to kill Saul. David did not merely defend himself. He “persuaded” them (1 Sam. 24:7). Saul was his master because he was the Lord’s anointed. He would not lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. On this basis, David saw the situation as a temptation rather than a providential opportunity. David wanted his men to show the same respect to Saul as he did.

DILEMMA. So how does one distinguish a temptation from a providential opportunity? In the story about how Ahab spared the Aramean king, Ben-Hadad, after defeating him in battle, a prophet rebuked Ahab for not taking advantage of a providential opportunity (I Kings 20:42). Ahab erred in sparing an enemy who had engaged God’s people in battle (Deut. 20:13). David’s situation was different because Saul had been anointed by God to rule Israel and as such was David’s master. It was not lawful even to speak against the ruler of God’s people (Ex. 22:28). Accordingly, David correctly identified what his men thought to be an opportunity to be a temptation. No opportunity is ever providential if it requires one to break God’s law; such opportunities are nothing more than temptations.

LOYALTY. After Saul left the cave, David also left the cave and addressed Saul. In David’s longest recorded speech in 1 Samuel (Bergen, 1996, pp. 239-240), he made it clear that he remained loyal to Saul and would not lift his hand against his “lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:10). David called Saul “my father” (1 Sam. 24:11) as he raised a portion of Saul’s garment to prove that he had chosen not to kill Saul when he had the opportunity. David was a man of more noble character than Saul. He would not wrest the kingdom from Saul; instead, he would call upon the Lord to vindicate him.

REALIZATION. Saul was deeply shaken. Not only did he respond by calling David “my son,” but he also completely understood the significance of David’s deed. When Saul saw the hem of his own robe in David’s hand (1 Sam. 24:11), he said, “I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand” (1 Sam. 24:20 ESV, emphasis mine). And again alluding to David’s act of cutting off the corner of his robe, he pled, “Swear to me therefore by the LORD that you will not cut off my offspring after me” (1 Sam. 24:21 ESV, emphasis mine). In this speech, which is also Saul’s longest recorded speech (Bergen, 1996, pp. 239-240), Saul acknowledged that David would indeed become king of Israel.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Providence, Not Chance

Reflections on 1 Sam. 23:14-29

God’s purpose throughout this part of David’s life was to preserve and prepare him to be the next king of Israel. But how does God, who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11), accomplish his purpose without making robots of his creation? The story of David’s escape in the wilderness shows how God can providentially accomplish his purpose even while allowing men to oppose it.

DIVINE RESOLUTION. First, this story demonstrates that the wishes of men do not force God to abandon his purpose. When the Ziphites offered to help Saul capture David, Saul called upon the Lord to bless the Ziphites for assisting him in his efforts to capture David and kill him, but God was not obligated to act inconsistently with His purpose at man’s bidding. The only prayers God promises to answer are those made in accordance with His will (1 John 5:14).

DIVINE LIMITATION. Second, this story shows that God does not force humans to submit their wills to Him. Saul’s will was to hate David, and God did not force Saul to love David. Though God thwarted Saul’s attempts to harm David, He left Saul free to live consistently with his character. The will of the Ziphites was to give Saul intelligence about where David usually traveled, what people frequently saw him (and probably helped him or did business with him), and where he hid. God did not stop the Ziphites from providing this intelligence. Saul used it well, and trapped David between two divisions of his army.

DIVINE DISTRACTION. Finally, the story shows that God has many means to accomplish His purpose. In this case, God providentially sent idolatrous Philistines into Israel. Their threat to the kingdom was so great that Saul was forced to abandon his pursuit of David at the very moment victory seemed within his grasp. In this way, God preserved David’s life so that He might eventually give him the throne of Israel.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Basic Training

Reflections on 1 Sam. 23:1-13

David had been a military leader in Saul’s army, and now he was the leader of a band of men who had been in distress or in debt (1 Sam. 22:2). This band now had officers, seasoned soldiers from the tribes of Gad, Benjamin, and Judah (1 Chron. 12:8-18). When David heard that the Philistines were harassing the people of Keilah, David began training his men to become the nucleus of the army that God would use to free the Israelites from their enemies.

DAVID’S TRUST. David’s training was not merely in the use of weapons or in winning strategies. He also trained his men to follow the will of God whether it was to trust his command to attack a formidable enemy or to withdraw from a seemingly safe position. On this occasion, David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” We don’t know how David inquired of God, but perhaps he asked Gad, the seer who had recently advised him to return to Judah from Moab (1 Sam. 22:5). God answered, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” David’s men were terrified. They said, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” When David heard this, he inquired of the Lord again, and God assured him of victory. David persuaded his men to trust God despite their fears, and God gave them victory. Instead of hiding in the wilderness, they now could live in the comfort and safety of a city.

SAUL’S WISHFUL THINKING. When Saul learned that David was residing more or less permanently in a walled city, he was ecstatic. He declared confidently, “God has given him into my hand.” Why was he so confident? It was because it appeared to him that God was helping him because David had “shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” Despite his own disobedience to God’s commands, despite his massacre of priests, Saul still saw God “speaking to him” in the circumstances of life and giving him hope. Instead of listening to the very words of God, Saul gave more attention to a message he erroneously imagined to be from God. So, Saul prepared to attack David in Keilah.

DAVID’S OBEDIENCE. When David heard that Saul was preparing to attack him in Keilah, he again inquired of the Lord. Abiathar, a priest who had escaped Saul’s wrath in Nob, had joined David in Keilah, and David asked him to bring the ephod, which contained the Urim and Thummim, devices by which priests could determine the will of God (Lev. 8:8; Num. 27:21). God revealed to David that Saul would indeed attack Keilah, and that the men of Keilah would surrender David to Saul. So David again taught his men an important lesson. Even when God had recently given them victory, and even though they were now enjoying the comforts of city life, they were to follow God’s leading and return to hiding in the wilderness. They might never understand why God had them save a town only to abandon it, but they would learn that doing God’s will would assure them of God’s favor and blessing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

With Malice Toward None

Reflections on 1 Sam. 22:6-23

David and his men had been in Moab until Gad, a prophet, instructed David to return to Judah. It was God’s will that David gain the kingdom by helping the oppressed and defending the weak rather than creating even greater hardships by raising an outside force and invading the land. David obeyed the Lord’s instruction given by Gad and hid his men in the Forest of Hereth, which was probably near Adullam in Judah (See 1 Sam. 22:3-5).

SAUL’S SUSPICIONS. When Saul heard that David had returned to Israel with his men, he suspected that David was plotting to kill him (vv. 8,13). Saul’s suspicions were heightened by Jonathan’s covenant with David, and increased when his soldiers did not tell him of the covenant (1 Sam. 22:8). Furthermore, the desertion of some Benjamites to David (1 Chron. 12:16) would have raised further questions about the loyalty of his own soldiers. Finally, the growth of David’s army may explain why Saul suspected Ahimelech the priest of treason and would not listen to him. Though there is no evidence that David ever plotted to take Saul’s life, Saul suspected a conspiracy wherever he looked.

SAUL’S MALICE. In addition to raising suspicions, Saul’s fear produced in him an irresistible desire to harm those he suspected of disloyalty. People feel a necessity to vent their rage when they no longer trust God to be their defender and refuge. When Saul abandoned God, and God turned away from him, Saul felt he had to avenge himself. Consequently he violated God’s command in Lev. 19:18 (ESV): “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” Because Ahimelech had inquired of God for David and had given him food and a weapon, Saul ordered that the priest and his entire family be slaughtered. Not even his loyal soldiers could dissuade him. He found a willing executioner in Doeg, the Edomite.

A CONTRAST. Saul’s wrath put him in unfavorable light compared to David who declared his hands to be free from violence (1 Chron. 12:17). David did not avenge himself, but left it to God (Rom. 12:19), and sought to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21 ESV). Both Saul and David experienced the consequences of their actions. Saul’s actions weakened his hold on the kingdom and strengthened the hand of David. Surely his accusations and his unreasonable order to massacre the priests weakened the loyalty of his own soldiers. The massacre of priests undoubtedly destroyed the loyalty of other priestly families, especially after Abiathar found refuge with David. Thus, Saul alienated himself from the priests as well as the prophets and was totally cut off from God. In contrast to Saul, David had become the champion of the oppressed (1 Sam. 22:2), a friend of brave soldiers (1 Chron. 12:8-18), an adherent of prophets (1 Sam. 22:5), and a refuge for a prominent priest (1 Sam. 22:20-23). David enjoyed God’s favor.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friend or Foe?

Reflections on 1 Chron. 12:8-18

David had become the leader of men in distress and debt. At first, they hid in the cave of Adullam, but then sought refuge in Moab. When they returned to Judah, they hid in the forest of Hereth. For the most part, David’s men seem to have been motivated more by fear than bravery. About this time, a number of soldiers from the tribes of Gad, Benjamin, and Judah joined David’s small band.

SKILLED. The Gadites who went over to David were not only swift, brave, and experienced warriors capable of using shield and spear, but they were also officers. Their courage was demonstrated when they crossed the Jordan River during flood stage in the spring of the year. Their prowess was shown in putting those who lived in the valleys on either side of the river to flight. LOYAL. When some men from Benjamin and Judah came to David, he wished to verify that they had not come to betray him. They affirmed that they were loyal friends, and that their loyalty was grounded in their conviction that God was with David. They understood that military strength without God’s favor was useless.

COMMISSIONED. David immediately put the soldiers who came to him to work. He made them officers in his little band of men. Their leadership helped David transform this band of debtors into an efficient military force. Amasai (v. 18) apparently served as commanding officer over the thirty for a while, though his name does not appear in any of the lists.

David did not merely want men who were skilled warriors and officers, but he wanted such men who were loyal and devoted to the Lord. He knew that swords and spears did not win battles. There would be times when weapons would be lacking and soldiers outnumbered, but victory would still be possible through the Lord, for the battle belongs to him (1 Sam. 17:47). He needed men who would remain brave and loyal at times when those without faith would falter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Friend of Debtors

Reflections on 1 Sam. 22:1-5

At Adullam David began to see God fulfill his promise to give him the kingdom. Despite killing Goliath and marrying Saul’s daughter, David had secured neither social advancement nor the kingdom. Instead he had become an outcast who even had to pretend madness in Gath to save his life. After fleeing Gath, David hid in a cave near the town of Adullam in the western foothills (Josh. 15:33 , 36) about 13 miles SW of Bethlehem. The territory was near the valley of Elah where David had killed Goliath. While hiding there, those who were “in distress” or “in debt” or “bitter in soul” began to gather around him. They became the nucleus of his army.

DAVID SYMPATHIZED. Actually, David’s experiences prepared him to sympathize with the unfortunate. His willingness to take up their cause demonstrated that he had the heart of God:

But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness.
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
-- Psalm 9:7-10 (ESV)

DAVID SET AN IDEAL. His compassion for the poor and oppressed established an ideal for following kings (Psalm 72:1-19), but they never lived up to the expectations. Isaiah foresaw that ideal being fulfilled by the Messiah who would restore the kingdom:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
-- Isa. 11:1-5 (ESV)

JESUS FULFILLED THE IDEAL. Jesus came up from the stump of Jesse. He fulfilled the prophetic ideal for a Davidic king. He rebuked the rich and influential religious leaders who put heavy loads on men’s shoulders but were unwilling themselves to lift a finger to move them (Matt. 23:4). When they rejected his message, he told them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31). As with David, the oppressed, the weary, and the discontented formed the nucleus of Christ’s kingdom. They found refuge in Him. He said to them, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Reflections on 1 Sam. 21:10-15

David probably felt elated when Samuel anointed him to be the next king of Israel. For a time, he appeared to be making some progress toward that goal. He killed Goliath, was called to serve in Saul’s court, was made a commander in the army, was given the king’s daughter in marriage, and won the favor of the people. Then calamity struck. In a few short days, he was

  • Evicted from Saul’s court and from his military command at the point of a spear (1 Sam. 19:10)
  • Evicted from his own home when he fled through a window to escape Saul’s men (1 Sam. 19:12). His wife was given to another man, and he was separated from his best friend, Jonathan.
  • Evicted from his homeland when he could find safety with neither the prophets at Ramah nor the priests at Nob (1 Sam. 19:18 ff.; 21:1 ff.).

He was a man without a country. He felt cut off from his family, friends, traditions, and even his God. Later when describing the condition Saul’s allies had imposed on him, he said, “They have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’” (1 Sam. 26:19 ESV). David was desperate, and in his desperation, he fled to Gath, one of the chief cities of the Philistines located 20 or 30 miles southwest of Nob.

When the Philistine court attendants recognized David as Israel’s champion, they told Achish the king and apparently closed the city gates to cut off his escape. David had no wife to watch for him, no friend to mediate, and no prophets or priests to encourage him. He was alone and surrounded by enemies. Knowing he was watched, David pretended to be insane. He drooled in his beard and scribbled on the doors of the gate. At the same time, he sought the Lord.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
-- Psalm 34:4-7 (ESV)

When Achish learned that David was a “madman,” he allowed David to escape. David learned that even when he was brokenhearted and desperate, God would never abandon him.

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
-- Psalm 34:17-18 (ESV)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Never Right to Do Wrong

Reflections on 1 Sam. 21:1-9

When I was a child, I remember vainly trying to explain to Dad why I had done something he had forbidden. No matter how I justified what I had done, my fate was always sealed by his concluding statement, “It is never right to do wrong.” DAVID’S UNLAWFUL ACT. On this occasion, David had been fleeing from Saul and was hungry. He asked Ahimelech the priest for some food, but the priest had only the consecrated bread which had just been replaced in the tabernacle (cf. Lev. 24:8-9). The priests ate this bread, but people outside of the priest’s family, including guests, were forbidden to eat it (Lev. 22:10-16). Nevertheless, after some hesitation, the priest gave some of this bread to David and his companions to eat. When Jesus referred to this incident (Matt. 12:4), He said that David “ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests.”

THE UNLAWFUL ACT NOT CONDEMNED. Jesus was defending his apostles against the charge of breaking the Sabbath when he cited David’s act. His point was that though David did what was unlawful, he was innocent just as the priests who desecrated the Sabbath by working in the temple on that day were innocent. He concluded his defense of the apostles with these words: “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matt. 12:7 ESV). Even while asserting that what David did was “not lawful,” Jesus pointed out that David remained guiltless.

TRUE TO THE LAW’S INTENT. So why was David considered innocent? The debate Jesus had with the Jewish leaders over the Sabbath provides an answer. The Sabbath rest was God’s provision of mercy to his people, and they were to grant that same mercy to their servants and animals (Deut. 5:12-15). Accordingly, a man could rescue his sheep from a pit on the Sabbath, though he could not tend flocks on the Sabbath because by so doing he was showing mercy to his sheep (Matt. 12:11). Failure to rescue the sheep for fear of breaking the law would show a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. Similarly, the priests made intercession for the people on the Sabbath, and in so doing “profaned” the Sabbath, but they were considered guiltless (Matt. 12:5) because the Sabbath law was never intended to interfere with the greater purpose of the Law, which was to reconcile people to God.

NEED FOR RIGHT JUDGMENT. Jesus cited another example: “Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:22-24 ESV). Jesus affirmed that God does not condemn what appears “unlawful” when it is in obedience to the primary intent of the law as a whole. Thus, Jesus affirmed that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:12). Strangely, the Jewish leaders forgot that the Sabbath law was inseparable from God’s overall desire that compassion be shown to others (Mark 2:27; Deut. 5:12-15).

DANGERS OF IMPROPER JUDGMENT. Some will argue that to justify the “unlawful” opens the door to excuse all kinds of sin. Unfortunately, many have used such arguments to justify the selfish desires of their own deceitful hearts. Nevertheless, we must recognize that to ignore the teaching of Jesus promotes a sterile, Pharisaic, religion that closes our eyes to the problems of real people in a lost world. If a child is sick, we could insist that mothers leave the child at home alone so that she might not forsake the assembling of the saints, but better judgment would say that she should show compassion to the child. If there is an automobile accident, we could insist that a passing motorist continue his journey uninterrupted lest he miss the appointed time to meet at the Lord’s Table, but better judgment would say that the motorist should assist the injured. In neither case does better judgment intend to avoid responsibilities toward God. Rather, it always acts with the intention to fulfilling those responsibilities. To make improper judgment and neglect the ill or injured would violate the law of God at a fundamental level.

THE CASE OF THE CONSECRATED BREAD. Now, back to Ahimelech and David. David had asked Ahimelech for food, but the only food the priest had was the consecrated bread reserved for priests. (Perhaps God’s law was intended to guarantee support for the priests who had no inheritance in Israel.) So the question became, “Does the law concerning consecrated bread prevent a priest from showing mercy to the hungry?” Ahimelech evidently struggled with the question because he was concerned that the bread not be treated with contempt, but he decided in favor of showing mercy. Accordingly, neither Ahimelech nor David were condemned for this decision.

So, is it ever right to do wrong? No, it is never right to do wrong. Furthermore, it is never wrong to do right. Jesus said it this way before healing a man on the Sabbath: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12).

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Weak Link

Reflections on 1 Samuel 21:1-9 (part A)

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

David was a man who won the hearts of the people because he usually put their interests before his own. However, after hiding from Saul in a field for three days (1 Samuel 20), and fleeing to Nob, a village of priests about two miles southeast of Gibeah, he was looking out more for himself than for others. He lied to save his own skin, and this lie proved to be a weak link in a chain of events that led to the slaughter of the priests.

Because Ahimelech the priest was alarmed when David arrived in Nob, David feared that Ahimelech would refuse to help him if he knew that he was fleeing from Saul. Therefore, in order to obtain food and a weapon, David told the priest that he was on a secret mission for the king. This lie endangered Ahimelech by making him an unwitting accomplice to David's flight. In making Ahimelech an unwitting accomplice, he showed little concern for his neighbor's safety. The Law required David to love his neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18), but David deceived the priest contrary to Leviticus 19:11 and prevented him from becoming aware of that danger. David knew the danger Ahimelech faced for he had seen Doeg the Edomite, Saul's chief shepherd, in the village, and was quite sure he would tell Saul what the priest had done (1 Samuel 22:22).

David had two ways to deal with the danger Doeg posed to Ahimelech. One was to adopt Machiavellian principles completely and kill Doeg (see Bergen, 2001, p. 231). However, to do that would only deepen Saul's suspicions of Ahimelech's involvement a conspiracy to help David escape. Furthermore, Ahimelech's brother Ahijah had been an associate of Saul (1 Samuel 14:3), so others might also need to be silenced. No one could predict where the deception and bloodshed might end. Fortunately, David did not act according to Machiavellian principles.

Instead of killing Doeg, David could have confessed his lie to Ahimelech and warned him of the danger he and his family faced. If the priest were forewarned, he could have made some plans for meeting the danger. He could have, at the very least, taken steps to hide and protect his family.

Regrettably, David did not confess his sin or warn the priest. Instead, he chose to remain silent and flee for his own life. Consequently, Ahimelech did not suspect any danger when he was called to appear before Saul. In his anger, Saul commanded that Ahimelech and his entire family be killed. Certainly, David was justified in asking the priest for food, obtaining a sword, and inquiring of the Lord (see 1 Samuel 22:10), but the lie was the one weak link in all of his actions because it left the priests vulnerable to Saul's insane anger.


Bergen, Robert, 2001, New American Commentary, Vol. 7, 1, 2 Samuel.