At the start of 2014 I wonder if you’re facing trouble or difficulty or even continuing persecution. And if so are you being tempted to lose hope, to take matters into your own hands or even take revenge? Or are you learning to trust God and his word and act accordingly even in the face of such times? David here in 1 Samuel 26 was facing continued pursuit by Saul. But he hadn't lost hope in God. Indeed David with a growing faith is now beginning to go on the front foot, learning to trust God, becoming more audacious in his faith and here receives assurance that God’s promises are true and will come about. The future is under God’s control. Justice will be done. God’s will shall prevail. He will deliver us from our distress. Ultimately Christ will come again as King and Judge. Do you believe that? Or do you still spend a lot of your time fretting or worrying? Well listen to what David writes in Psalm 37:
Do not fret [have you got that?! Do not fret] because of evildoers, trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (Psalm 37)
We're not to fret but neither are we to sit back and do nothing. Too often today Christians are timid and reactive and so on the back foot. I believe that under God we must move on to the front foot, in a godly way, as Glynis Mackie and our Guide groups have done. Whether that's finally getting round courageously, in Christ's strength , to inviting people to Christianity Explored, to reading UNCOVER with a friend, to standing up for Christ in the workplace or to reforming the Church of England in the face of possible ridicule, rejection, opposition and danger. God's provision of St Joseph's in Benwell puts us humbly not only on the front foot in terms of gospel ministry but could also help to change the wider church and its failing structures.
1. A LESSON IN LEADERSHIP AND DARING BOLDNESS UNDER GOD v1-7
And first in this chapter there's a lesson in front foot, godly leadership, in daring boldness under God and so also in faith. All of which seemed to be either missing or misplaced in England's abject defence of the Ashes down under this winter. Quite literally they were always on the back foot and never correctly on the front foot, perhaps especially Joe Root! Well enough of cricket before I bore some of you to tears! But these biblical lessons from this passage are so relevant for us at this point in this church's and nation's history.
Look at v1-5. Just as they'd done earlier the Ziphites had blown David's cover. And Saul comes after David again with his crack troops. But David's bold. Audacious even. He shows deliberate and front foot leadership. But there's nothing rash about his actions. It's audacious but it also reflects a patient faith. It's decisive but thought through. First David examines the problem. He does his research. He finds out the facts. V5
Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped round him. (v5)
David saw exactly where Saul and Abner the army commander camped. Saul was lying in the middle of the camp with the troops camping around him. And that's exactly how David and Abishai found them when they slithered into the camp at night plus the king's spear stuck in the ground near his head (v7).
So David both sees the opportunity and then seizes it. It's a God given opportunity (v12) which David takes. Do you take God given opportunities or do you not whether its because you're scared or because you're not looking? Are you like David and Abishai or are you like Ahimelech who, for whatever reason, chose not to take up the opportunity? Look at v6
Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab's brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” (v6)
Not that Abishai understood properly. He probably thought he and David would form a two man hit squad to wipe out Saul. But the only plunder David permitted was the king's spear and water jug (v11&12). Abishai was willing but he needed David's God given wisdom and patient faith. And today those who are willing need input and training but often on the job as with Abishai. Other wise that willingness can just become rashness which could be problematic.
Now the king's spear is referred to 6 times in this chapter. It is therefore significant. But why you ask? Now of course it's essential that David has Saul's spear and water jug as irrefutable evidence that he really was in Saul's camp, over Saul's body, able to end Saul's life. But what point does the spear make, if you'll forgive the pun?
Well the point is that David receives assurance that the kingdom will be his. Receiving assurance, however, and feeling assured may be two different things. Have you ever felt that? Certainly David's faith does not reach the end of its struggle in this chapter, in spite of having Saul's spear. We need to learn to trust God's promises in his Word. For example, it is true 'that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Romans 8:1). We might not always feel that it's true but it is true for those who are trusting in Christ. Not because of anything we've done but because of Jesus' death and resurrection. Secondly
2. THE PATIENCE FAITH MAINTAINS v8-12
Abishai thought this was too good an opportunity to miss to kill Saul. V8
Then said Abishai to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” (v8)
But David whispers back. And then explains. V9-11.
... “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD's anointed and be guiltless?” [for to go against the Lord's anointed is to go against the Lord himself] And David said, “As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD's anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” (v9-11)
This is the same patience and restraint that we saw back in ch24. But this time it's a deeper patience and a more informed restraint. He's already learnt that God will deal with Saul. You see God can be trusted to work either directly or by some other method to achieve his purposes. God will handle Saul's destiny. It's not in David's hands. But a lively faith can see numerous ways that God can work out his purposes.
So what about us? What does this teach you and me today? Well we today would do well to dwell on the adequacy and sufficiency of God. That he will work out what we alone can't. At times like those we can let our imaginations run riot, so to speak, in terms of what you might call faith-full imagination. I.e. when we face a problem full of faith believing that God is in control and will do what is right and best even if we don't exactly know how. I don't know if you've seen the recent movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty who often 'zones out' with a fanciful imagination. Well I'm not talking about a fanciful imagination but rather a faith-full imagination believing that God is adequate and sufficient to bring about what is right and best in ways that perhaps we can't even begin to imagine. And so begin to grasp the grandeur, majesty and ability of God. Which then helps us to arrive at the truth of God. E.g. Isaiah 40:12-31. That God's ways are not our ways. That he doesn't grow tired or weary and his understanding no-one can fathom. He's the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth who gives strength to the weary. So do not fret but rather put your faith in Almighty God. And be patient and obedient.
David didn't know how God's providence would work but he knew what obedience to God required. God didn't want David himself to dispose of the anointed King. And any believer will face predicaments in which he doesn't know how God will bring relief but does know what is or isn't God's will for him. For example, a Christian husband and wife can't always guess how Christ will bring a successful resolution to a marital problem so that the marriage remains intact. But they do know that that is what Christ wants, that that is his will as we know from Scripture and that in the meantime they must not commit adultery against their wife or husband. God's ways may baffle us sometimes but God's will is sufficiently clear to lead us in the meantime. We may wait for God's providence but we already have God's law, and that's all we need for the moment. Abishai may have have been disappointed, perhaps thinking - I risked my life for what? For a water jug and a spear! But it signified so much more, which would finally and rightly happen in God's time and in God's way.
3. THE ENCOURAGEMENT FAITH RECEIVES v13-16
God was in control. He'd brought a deep sleep upon Saul and his troops. V12
So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul's head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen upon them. (v12)
Abner and his troops had failed to protect the life of the king. Saul's power is gone. V16 now see where the king's spear is and the jar of water that was at his head. Nothing now can keep David from obtaining the kingdom. It was a sign for Saul but also for David. It was encouragement for David from God.
And God is often like that isn't he - he reaches out to his tired and weary people and in the midst of our discouragement grants us some small evidence that he hasn't forgotten us and his promises.
And those small evidences can be dramatic or very mundane. There's a story about a very earnest Christian who nevertheless felt that God had cast her off and that she was now without hope. One day a minister was trying to help her by giving reasons against her desperate conclusions. It was then that she took a glass from the table and said, "Sir, I am as sure to be damned as this glass is to be broken", and with that she threw it mightily to the ground. To the astonishment of both, the glass remained intact and unbroken. Obviously the minister didn't fail to apply the assuring sign!
We needn't go around looking for spears or unbroken glass. It's enough to have a God who knows when we need such encouragement and who in the midst of pressures likes to show us why we should go on believing.
4. THE DISTRESS FAITH FEELS v17-20
David now pursues Saul's injustice towards him. And asks Saul to listen (v19).
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.’ Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the LORD, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.” (v19-20)
Is it the Lord who's stirred up Saul against him? David ponders this but in reality it's Saul and his advisors. Why is David so distressed? Chiefly because their intention is that he be cut off from God's inheritance, which was to be cut off from God's face and his people and so from public worship.
You see David would never have been content with his Study Bible, prayer list, and a quiet cave. God's face or presence was then especially seen in the sanctuary (see Psalm 63); yet David was being driven away and cut off from tabernacle and sacrifice, from priest and festival. He was being shut out of the land and sanctuary where God met with his people. And to be cut off from public worship is David's most severe grief. Would that cause me or you the same kind of anguish? Well, of course, because of Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension Christians have surpassed David in privileges. But do we share his appetite for worshipping the Lord publicly?
5. THE HOPE FAITH HOLDS v21-25
Saul responds to David with a confession, invitation, promise and rationale all rolled into one (v21).
Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” (v21)
Notice that David responds abruptly to Saul's words (v22).
And David answered and said, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it. (v22)
Now you might be questioning David's bluntness when Saul sounds so sincere. But what's sincerity to do with it? Whether Saul expresses a momentary sincerity or a deceptive sincerity makes no difference. Because Saul has been a fool is no reason for David to be one. On that score Saul spoke the truth but David needn't be duped by it.
Instead of returning to Saul who can't be trusted David will remain with God who can be absolutely. David will obey God's word and will. He will follow God's way. He will do what is right even though he may be tempted to do otherwise. He will build his life on the Rock. Which is a mark of love for God and true faith in God. Look at v23
The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the LORD gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the LORD's anointed. (v23)
You see David is looking to God for hope not to Saul. He casts himself and his future upon his only hope. V24:
Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the LORD, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” (v24)
He places himself in the Lord's hands and prays, "May he deliver me from every distress." Perhaps you're distressed. Or feeling that there's little hope for the future. So what can you learn from David? Surely it's to cast yourself and your future upon God, trusting and obeying him. Praying a similar prayer.
That's how we can face life's troubles. We have no other help than David had - God alone - and we can go forward in 2014 in no other way. David saw the time when he could turn his prayer to praise, his trust to gratitude. And, in Christ, we have that hope too. In the meantime we go on trusting and obeying the Lord, knowing his strength and provision. V25
Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place. (v25)
David and Saul never saw each other again. I'm tempted to say they both go on alone from here. That's true in the case of Saul. But David has a Lord who is determined to deliver him from every distress. And if you're trusting in Christ then you have too.