Thoughts from Doug Knox.
The Life of David, Part 1
God’s Vision for a King in Israel
Both Sides of the Issue
When we think about David the King, what do we see? A warrior who is also a lover. A man of violence who brings healing with music. A man who is intensely loyal but who is capable of betrayal. A man who stands up to nations but who admits to crippling fear during his prayers. A man who experiences stratospheric highs and hellish lows. A man who loves justice but is still capable of treachery.When the LORD seeks “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), he found his desire in David. David is a passionate man, but he is also human. He shows us what real worship looks like. These qualities make his life such a delightful study.
A Deep Need from Israel’s Deep Past
Typical studies of David begin somewhere around Israel’s demand for a king in 1 Samuel 8. There the people approach Samuel the prophet, who has been acting as their judge for the better part of his life. We know the story. The people see only benefit for their request. Samuel, who comprehends the bigger picture, tries to discourage them from what he perceives to be a shortsighted choice. The people outvote him, and Saul becomes their first king. If we study this passage alone, we come away with a very negative understanding of the role of the king. In order to understand the full significance of the king whom God sets over Israel, we need to look into Israel’s deep past. Four hundred years before David, the LORD spoke through Moses the prophet and said “When you come into the land that that LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will chose” (Deuteronomy 17:14-15).
What a King of Israel was to Look Like
God welcomes Israel to seek a king, provided that the chosen man steps up to his task. Here are the king’s rules for conduct, along with the blessings that a good king could expect from the LORD, as God delivers them in Deuteronomy.
He is to be an Israelite by birth.
He is to avoid seeking excessive horses for a standing army, or to look to Egypt to supply horses.
He was not to build a large harem, “lest his heart turn away” (Deuteronomy 17:17).
He is not to seek excessive wealth.
He is to write a copy of the Book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy) and study it closely, “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left” (Deuteronomy 17:20a).
In other words, he had to be one whose passions made the LORD large. When the LORD large in the king’s thinking, the king’s own ego can be contained.
The Blessing of a Faithful Rule
After the requirements, the LORD gives a hint about the extended blessings of kingship. The king whom the LORD would choose would be called to follow the commandment, “so that he will continue long in his kingdom, he and his children in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:20b). The promise involved a dynasty, a standing family ownership of the throne. But just how long is “long”? While the Deuteronomy passage leaves the question open, 2 Samuel 7 answers it. After David takes the throne over all Israel, the LORD makes a covenant with David. In it, he tells the king, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish he throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13). That is a story for a later installment, however.
What This Story means for Men of Our Time
God’s covenant with David is an everlasting covenant. In a very real way, Deuteronomy looks forward to David, and David looks forward to Jesus, who has become the once-for-all occupant of the throne of David. These two truths hold specific connections to us as men. For one, Jesus is a direct descendant of David (see Matthew 1:1). This fact ties us to David’s history. Beyond, that, however, the Apostle Paul ties David to the gospel message itself (Romans 1:1-6). Jesus, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, stands on David’s shoulders. As Jesus’ followers, we become united with David’s heritage. Therefore, David’s life is more than just an example to follow. It is part of our spiritual heritage. No one else will walk David’s particular path of faithfulness. But we still stand on his shoulders. Both David and Jesus were called to be faithful. We are called to that same end.
The Life of David, Part 2
1 Samuel 10-11
Saul's Brief Journey as King
Behold the King…Now What?
If you have been in the job market recently, you know how frustrating a search can be, especially since the online search has opened the market to anyone from anyplace in the country. The dreaded words, “The qualified candidate will have…,” can erect a barrier the size of the proposed Mexican border wall.The employer faces a similar problem. A job seeker may appear to be the company’s dream on paper, but in the end falls flat. Ultimately, this is the story of Saul. At the beginning, he looks like the perfect man for the job.
And when [Saul] stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see whom the LORD has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
--1 Samuel 10:23-24
Saul’s Early Reign
On the surface, Saul is a qualified and often powerful leader. For example, soon after the inaugurtation, a crisis occurs. The Ammonites invade Jabesh-gilead and threaten to put out all the men’s right eyes and enslave everyone (1 Samuel 11:1-4). Saul steps up to the crisis and galvanizes the twelve tribes under a national banner. His dramatic victory over the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:5-15) shows Israel how to think like a nation with national interests. Further, 1 Samuel 13:1-4 portrays Saul as a fierce warrior-king with standing success in battle.
Failing to Clear the Bar
So why does Saul ultimately fail while David succeeds? First, we need to look at Saul. Three early events begin to reveal Saul’s vulnerabilities. They appear harmless at first, but the pressure of the office becomes too much. Like cracks in a dam, they bring the whole man down.
The first crack appears at the beginning of Saul’s story, before he learns that God has chosen him to be king. At the beginning of the saga, Saul’s father’s donkeys escape, and Saul’s father sends Saul and a servant to look for them (1 Samuel 9:1-4). The search takes them to the land of Zuph, where Samuel the prophet is staying. The readers can see easily what remains invisible to Saul and his servant. The LORD is bringing his chosen man to Samuel for anointing. But when the search begins to run long, Saul wants to give up. “Come. Let us go back, lest my father cease to care about the donkeys and become anxious about us” (1 Samuel 9:5). It is the servant rather than Saul who suggests that they go consult the prophet. Saul’s comment appears to be trivial at first, but it belies a unaddressed need for self-preservation. This need ultimately will consume him. Let me say at the beginning that there is nothing wrong with a man in charge who listens to his subordinates. This is a mark of wisdom in Proverbs. The picture in 1 Samuel is different, however. One of God’s stated duties for the new king is a call to “restrain [God’s] people” (1 Samuel 9:17). Saul shows an early tendency to be open to persuasion by his people. His indecisiveness will become the cause for his downfall in the end (1 Samuel 15:24-29).
Fear over Dignity
The second crack appears during Saul’s coronation. When Samuel’s servants attempt to present Saul to the people, they ultimately find him hiding among the baggage (1 Samuel 10:20-24). Some have claimed that his action (or inaction) shows humility on Saul’s part. I disagree. Appropriate humility calls for a man to embrace his mission with dignity. Hiding only draws negative attention to a person. Again, Saul will show himself unwilling to obey completely.
Leaders with Training Wheels
The third crack appears in the midst of a show of strength. During the Ammonite threat to humiliate Jabesh-gilead, the people become paralyzed. All they can do is weep over the tragedy. Saul, on the other hand, is outraged, as he should be. His rallying cry stands as one of the great pronouncements in the Bible—except for the addition of two words.
“He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, ‘Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!’ ”
--1 Samuel 11:7
“Saul and Samuel”?
A man is perfectly justified in including his mentor in the summons. Every man of principle stands on another man’s shoulders, and many find their niche in serving under another authority. But the text uses Samuel’s inclusion to foreshadow a darker truth. The king is the highest authority in the land, but Saul finds himself unable to stand as king. He never outgrows his need for Samuel’s approval. Like a child who is afraid to ditch the training wheels on his bicycle, Saul will prove to be a man who is unable to act unless he has Samuel in tow. By the time God rejects him, Saul becomes more concerned about Samuel’s appearance with him before the people than God’s rejection of him (1 Samuel 15:24-31).
Saul’s Missing Ingredient
If a single verse embraces Saul’s life as king, it is this one: “Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD” (1 Samuel 10:25). Samuel gives Saul the tools called for in Deuteronomy 17. According to the commandment, the king is to write a copy of the law and
…read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children in Israel.”
Ironically, we never see Saul engaged in God’s word. Is it any wonder that he fell to the self-preservation and fear that led to his ultimate loss of his authority?
God’s Servants in God’s Word
What do these observations mean for us as men? After all, none of us is a king. Further, each of us carries baggage. Thankfully, God does not call perfect men. He calls men to be faithful and to take up the responsibility he has given them. We may be sons, husbands, fathers, mentors, authorities, or servants. Whatever our particular calling happens to be, we need to strive to serve reverently instead of seeking self-preservation. We need to serve with dignity tempered by humility. And we need to embrace the authority that God has given us. We accomplish this by grounding all our actions in God’s word.
The Life of David, Part 3
1 Samuel 17
David versus Saul on Goliath’s Turf
Missing the Bar
During the years that I have studied King Saul, I have had to change my opinion about the man. First, he is a man who faces incredible hurdles. God calls him to perform a monumentally difficult task with only minimum guidance. This would be daunting for anyone. Second, his ultimate failure as king is far from a shutout. God gives him one chance to clear the bar, and he misses the goal by inches. A few mistakes at exactly the wrong moments disqualify him. In strictly human terms, Saul almost succeeds.
More than Humanly Possible
Therefore, when David appears in 1 Samuel 16 as the man who will replace Saul as king in Israel, the bar moves to impossible heights. Where Saul fails, David must thrive. Where Saul succeeds, David must outperform him. The road to success as king of Israel is more difficult than humanly possible, but this is the point of the story. David, who is guided by the Spirit, stands in contrast to Saul at every point. Upon his anointing by Samuel in 1 Samuel 16, the Spirit rushes upon him “from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). He will become a man whose principal guide is God’s Spirit, even during the latter dark period of his life.
David and Goliath in Context
We need to notice the rapid transition that takes place over three chapters:
1 Samuel 15: The LORD rejects Saul as king
1 Samuel 16: Samuel anoints David as the new king of Israel
1 Samuel 17: Saul and David each have their day before Goliath
1 Samuel 17 has more to do with David versus Saul than it does with David versus Goliath. (For example, the chapter contains 58 verses, but the fight goes down between verses 48-51). In this chapter, David is the God-driven hero. God uses the events in 1 Samuel 17 to place David in the public’s eye.
Saul versus David in the Face of Adversity
At this point, we need to understand the king’s job description as it developed during Saul and David’s time. A number of passages in 1 Samuel 8-10 drop hints regarding the king’s marching orders:
The people call for a king who will “judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:20). That is, the king will rule on behalf of all the people and will represent the nation in battle. He will bear ultimate responsibility for the outcome of their battles. When the LORD grants the people’s wish, he acknowledges the legitimacy of this role for his king.
Just before Saul’s anointing, the LORD declares to Samuel that the man “shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come before me” (1 Sam. 9:16). The king stands as God’s chosen representative in the ongoing drama of redemption. He is required to fight on his people’s behalf. He must lead, even when leading is difficult.
The king is called to restrain the LORD’s people (1 Sam. 9:17). This duty harkens back to Judges 17:6 and 21:25. The two verses are identical. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The verses frame the narrative that runs from Judges 17-21. The level of moral decay during the Judges is unmatched in biblical history. A necessary part of the king’s responsibility is to restrain God’s people.
The king is to be a prince over the people (1 Sam. 10:1). That is, he is to conduct himself as a man who represents the high regard that the people place in him. He is required to bring respect to the office.
The king will “reign over the people of the LORD and …save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies” (1 Sam. 10:2; cf. 11:12-13). In earthly terms, the king is to be a savior on behalf of the people.
In 1 Samuel 17, Saul stumbles at every point with regard to his duty to God and his people. The man who stands head and shoulders above the rest of the people (1 Samuel 9:2) refuses to fight the people’s battle. He fails either to lead or restrain his people. And he declines the call to save God’s people from the hand of their enemies.
David as the Man who will be King
Then David enters, and in a reckless show of faith, accomplishes what Israel’s first king has failed to do. His words of defiance, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he would defy the armies of the living, God?” (1 Samuel 17:26), demonstrate faith that Saul does not know. David’s ultimate shock-and-awe maneuver is to take Goliath’s sword and remove his head with it. The move not only verifies Goliath’s death—no one returns from a beheading—but it also shows David’s mastery over the enemy. He has disgraced the Philistines’ champion. David’s victory reverses the course of the battle between Philistia and Israel. David owns the moment because he takes it in faith. The events in this chapter open a door that cannot be shut. David shows that the battle is not about us. It is about faith in action.
The Life of David, Part 4
1 Samuel 14
The Foundation for Friendship
The Nature of Friendship
I think I have mentioned the fact that I am a reclusive person by nature. Still, close friendships have carried me throughout my life. I am not sure how long ago the realization hit me, but some time ago I looked back over my personal history and understood that the most blessed times have been when I had a close friend to stand beside me. From grade school through adulthood, my closest friendships have shared certain characteristics. We hung out together. We shared common interests and dislikes. When one of us hurt, we both hurt. Mutual sharing was more importance than dominance. Lighthearted activity was as important as significant communication. Sharing mattered as much as taking. My best friends brought out the best in me.
The Foundation for a Close Friendship
When we come to Jonathan and David’s friendship, Jonathan becomes the giving member. His self-sacrifice helps David to succeed. Here in the background. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul has begun to waver between stubbornness and insecurity. His heavy-handed leadership style has begun to undo him, and his troops experience a new low in their morale. At the same time, the Philistine armies become more dominant in their conflict with Israel. Jonathan makes his first appearance in 1 Samuel 14, a full two chapters before we meet David. In contrast to his father, he is a strong and confident individual. 1 Samuel 14:1-5 introduce Jonathan. Out of sight of his father, he and his armor bearer decide to attack a Philistine garrison. The chapter begins, “One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father….He told his armor bearer, ‘It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few’ ” (1 Samuel 14:16). These words tell us much about Jonathan as a man. He is an independent thinker and a man of action. While everyone else sits around, Jonathan recognizes that a war is going on. He is also a man of faith, and when he determines that the LORD will give him the victory, he commits to action. Their strategy is both bold and successful. The garrison falls, and the Philistine army falls into a panic (1 Samuel 14:8-15). The battle shifts the momentum from the Philistines to Israel. In the Bible’s words, “So the LORD saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven” (1 Samuel 14:23).
Saul’s Reaction to the Rout
Unfortunately, the rout catches Jonathan’s father off guard. Saul joins the battle late and tries to take charge. The move ultimately backfires when Saul places his men under the oath, “Cursed by the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies” (1 Samuel 14:23). “Until I am avenged on my enemies”? This is a telling phrase.
The men comply out of fear (1 Samuel 14:25-26). They fight to the point of exhaustion, only to slaughter the spoil and eat it raw. When word comes back to Saul, he deflects the blame. “Then they told Saul, ‘Behold, the people are sinning against the LORD by eating with the blood.’ And he said, ‘You have dealt treacherously…’ ” (1 Samuel 14:33). We call this kind of response shooting the messenger.
Jonathan’s Growing Opposition toward his Father
When Jonathan learns what Saul has done, he says out loud, “My father has troubled the land” (1 Samuel 14:29). The wisdom in his comment may be questionable, but he has a point. The text goes on to show the truth in Jonathan’s observation. After the blood-eating incident, Saul tries to take control of the momentum that his son has inspired. He is wants to plunder the Philistines until they have taken everything. “But the priest said, ‘Let us draw near to God here.’ And Saul inquired of God, ‘Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?’ But he did not answer him that day” (1 Samuel 14:36-37). God’s silence means something, and in this case it is because God has rejected him as a leader. Saul misses the obvious, and apparently looks back to an incident that had occurred generations before, during the Conquest. After the rout of Jericho under Joshua’s leadership, Israel stumbled at the city of Ai. The ultimate cause turned out to be sin in the camp (Joshua 7:1-26). The people could not continue in God’s blessing until they rectified the wrong. Saul takes exactly this approach to the situation. “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the LORD lives who saves Israel, though it be Jonathan my son, he surely will die” (1 Samuel 14:36-37). Well, what do you know? Jonathan in fact has broken Saul’s oath about eating anything until evening, because he never heard the order. During the rout, Jonathan found a bee’s nest and took some of the honey. The renewed energy gave him the ability to finish the battle (1 Samuel 14:25-27). Saul, however, has become blind to his own failure and continues to pursue his blame game. When he learns what Jonathan has done, he tries to have him executed. Jonathan lives only because the people intervene. “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel?” (1 Samuel 14:45).
The Conclusion of the Matter
The episode ends abruptly in 1 Samuel 14:46, leaving everyone with a sour aftertaste. The people have had to stand against their own king in order to preserve Jonathan’s life. Saul fails to understand that the LORD’s silence has come by his own hand (1 Samuel 13:13-14). And by Jonathan’s assessment, the battle remains less than what it could have been (1 Samuel 14:29-30). When we examine Jonathan, we can see some of the reasons why he will be able to build such a strong friendship with David.
- Jonathan listens to the opinions of those around him, and gets response.
- He is a respectable man who respects others.
- He invites others to come alongside him and trusts their commitment.
- He is mission-focused rather than self-focused.
- His vision for God’s kingdom allows him to invite others to join him.
Principled understanding of this sort fulfills the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. In order to have friends, we need to learn to be a friend. Grounded friendships will make our strengths even stronger. We need to be deliberate about friendship, because we cannot maintain the journey on our own.
The Life of David, Part 5
1 Samuel 18:1-5
The Incredible Power of Friendship
The friendship between David and Jonathan is one of the most celebrated in the Scripture, and yet it runs its complete course through just six chapters, 1 Samuel 18-23. I invite you to read them on your own to get an idea of the landscape there.
The Moment of Change
When David vanquishes Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, his life changes once for all. Within days, the once anonymous shepherd from Bethlehem becomes front-page news. To use modern terminology, the report on his victory on the battlefield goes viral. A number of events follow the battlefield conquest. The immediate reaction occurs among the men of Israel and Judah. With the Philistine champion’s death, the enemy loses their power of intimidation. The battlefield momentum shifts to Israel, and the Israelite army awakes from its dread to rout the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:52-53). Following the rout, Saul seeks an audience with David (1 Samuel 17:55-58). After all, a fighter with a brand like David’s is too good to waste. The opening of chapter 18 records two other significant events that follow the introduction.
As soon as [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house.
--1 Samuel 18:1-2
David in Hostile Territory
Let’s look at the events in reverse order. First, Saul seizes David. David not only has become the champion of the people, but also has become the king’s asset. Saul’s refusal to allow him to return home shows how deeply his new identity runs. The tension that grows from this move winds like a clock spring. Saul’s effectiveness as a leader has been diminishing for some time. He needs David as an advisor more than he realizes. But at this point he is unable to grasp that the man whom he has invited into his presence as an advisor is God’s choice to replace him as king. To add to the tension, Jonathan recognizes deep common ground in David and finds himself drawn to him. His attachment is so immediate that he senses what God has called David to do.
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
--1 Samuel 18:3-4
Jonathan is Saul’s heir apparent, the next in line for the kingdom, yet he surrenders his position to David. David’s entry into Saul’s household and Jonathan’s attachment to him create a tsunami. None of the three men can comprehend how completely the two occurrences in these verses will affect their lives over the next several years.
The Shock Wave at Work
We know the big story from long exposure, so we tend to overlook the surprise here. Samuel’s anointing of David in 1 Samuel 16:13 is still a secret. Only David’s brothers know that it took place, and they resent David (1 Samuel 17:28-30). They will be the last people to announce David as the anointed king. Yet God has made David’s entry into public life so dramatic that his ultimate seizure of the kingdom becomes inescapable. Presently, only Jonathan senses the inevitable. Still, his stepping aside for David is a sacrifice of unimaginable depth. From another angle, David and Jonathan’s friendship emerges in the midst of a moral crisis on a national scale. Saul, himself a giant who stood head and shoulders above the people (1 Samuel 9:2), has proven himself unable to meet the Philistine giant. The man who was supposed to “go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20) cowered with everyone else on the field. Without David’s intervention, the only possible result of this situation would have been surrender and humiliation for Israel and Saul. Instead of letting that defeat take place, the LORD brings David on the scene to rescue God’s people. The victory momentarily steals the light from the bigger issue, but that issue cannot stay buried for long. God no longer works through Saul. David will prove to be loyal to Saul, but Saul will be driven by his growing fear of him. In the meantime, Jonathan’s dedication to David will pit him against his own father.
The Kind of Man who gives his Friendship
David and Jonathan’s friendship is not a friendship between equals. From the beginning, Jonathan is the giver in the friendship, while David is the receiver. “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). Jonathan’s dedication to David is a sacrificial one. He forfeits his own interests for David’s protection. Several years ago, a well-known evangelical pastor observed that because Jonathan made the more obvious personal sacrifices, he was the “more mature” man in the friendship. Personally, I believe the issue is more complex than that. The course of David and Jonathan’s friendship runs against the backdrop of the years that David spent in Saul’s court. During this time, Saul repeatedly attempts to murder David, even when he knows he needs him. Therefore, as long as David ministers to Saul, he performs an equally sacrificial duty to his best friend’s father. Jonathan enables David to minister to Saul. At the same time, David’s presence in Saul’s household postpones God’s judgment of Saul. Therefore, while David is the recipient in his friendship with Jonathan, he serves Jonathan by attending to his father. Saul, David, and Jonathan perform one of the most complex dances in Scripture. Saul stands under God’s judgment and fights to hold onto his position as king. What Saul fails to understand is the other side of the same truth. God uses David’s presence to preserve him from judgment for a time. Jonathan stands between Saul and David, while David ministers grace to the condemned man.
Being a Friend
Friendship is not showmanship. It is personal dedication. The 1969 song by Three Dog Night, “Easy to be Hard,” understood the difference between those who work for show and those who had substance.
How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard
Easy to be cold
How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no
Especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd
How about a needy friend, I need a friend...
The Bible never tries to portray either man in a greater or lesser role. David and Jonathan complement each other. To have a friend is to enjoy one of God’s greatest blessings. To commit to being a friend is to become that blessing from God.
The Life of David, Part 6
1 Samuel 18:12-17; 20:14-15
The Incredible Power of Friendship
Finding Refuge in a Close Friend
The end is in sight for David and Jonathan. Not because of any falling out, but because circumstances place our mortality before us once for all. The final episodes involving David and Jonathan take place against the backdrop of Saul’s growing obsession to kill David. They are a study in contrasts. This passage in 1 Samuel 18 sums up Saul’s situation.
Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the pole. And David had success in all his undertakings, for he LORD was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them.
--1 Samuel 18:12-17
God has begun to bless David in every possible way, and Saul can do nothing to stop the avalanche of his popularity. In many ways, Saul’s distrust of David has become self-consuming. The more he tries to trick David into making a fatal mistake, the greater David’s victories become. Even worse, David’s transparency before the people makes him ever more popular in the public’s eye. David and Jonathan’s friendship grows in this caustic atmosphere. Jonathan’s efforts to reason with his father fail because Saul has lost the ability to listen to reason. Saul’s fearful awe will degenerate into obsession. Jonathan senses that the end of David’s time with Saul is unavoidable, he sides with David. His plea is a deep one.
“If I am still alive [when David secures the kingdom], show me the steadfast love of the LORD, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.”
--1 Samuel 20:14-15)
The term steadfast love is one of the most important declarations in the Old Testament. It refers to the unbreakable and altogether faithful love that God holds for his people. God’s essence is steadfast love (see Exodus 34:6). Here Jonathan uses the term twice—once to describe God’s mercy toward him, and once to call David to that same kind of love.
Jonathan’s Last Contact with David
Jonathan’s plea to David forms part of their final covenant with each other. Following this, Jonathan makes a final appeal to his father. By now, though, Saul is in such dread of David that he hurls a spear at his own son (1 Samuel 20:26-34). Jonathan runs out of the house and tells David that the time has come to flee for his life. The two men’s exchange in 1 Samuel 20:41-42 marks the last time that David and Jonathan will see each other.
The Importance of Seeking Deep Friendships
Close friendship between men is meant to imitate God’s loving care for us. It is a concrete expression of God’s invisible relationship to us. In the end, friendship balances us because it places our moral center of gravity outside of ourselves. Notice the difference between Saul and Jonathan’s approach to their particular circumstances. Saul is unable to trust others, and his life ends in despair. Had he recognized David’s value for his own preservation, he might have welcomed his presence. As events turned out, he could see David only as a threat. Jonathan, by contrast, maintains emotional balance even when he knows that his life may be cut short, largely because he rests on a healthy dependence on a trustworthy friend. While we are on the earth, we need to know that we matter to someone and that someone matters to us. Intimate friendship and the respect that grows out of it give us purpose. I wonder how many recent suicides by otherwise successful people have metastasized in a relationship vacuum.
A Lasting Legacy
Looking ahead, in the last chapter of 1 Samuel, Saul and Jonathan will die in battle against the Philistines. Of course, the loss leaves a power vacuum. After a couple brief skirmishes, the people recognize David as the most qualified to take over the throne. Normally a new king would eliminate everyone associated with the previous dynasty in order to protect his power base. David does the unexpected when he mourns Saul. We would expect this from a man of his character. But David moves beyond mere character. In one of the most shining statements in all of Scripture, David asks, “Is there anyone left in the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1, emphasis added). David never forgets Jonathan’s legacy. When he becomes established as the second king over Israel and Judah, his joy is to fulfill his promise to his friend.
The Life of David, Part 7
1 Samuel 21-22
When Life shatters our Expectations
More than a Man can Handle
Anyone who has shouldered any kind of responsibility has had to face difficult moral choices. David is no exception. Saul remains obsessed with David and continues to pursue him. The pursuit drives David to Nob, where he meets Ahimelech the priest and asks him for provisions. David tells Ahimelech that he is on a secret mission to conduct the king’s business, which of course is a ruse. Likely the reason for this is to protect Ahimilech from implication, should Saul come. Unfortunately, the tactic fails. Saul comes to the city and when he confronts Ahimelech is beyond reason. He has the priests and residents of the city slaughtered. Only Ahimilech’s son Abiathar escapes. After this incident, David becomes a Robin Hood figure. “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul joined him. And there were with him about four hundred men” (1 Samuel 22:2).
The Attack at Keilah
It is under these circumstances that one of David’s most difficult tactical decisions occurs. “Now they told David, ‘Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors’ ” (1 Samuel 23:1). Officially, this matter belongs to Saul. It should be his business. Officially. However, Saul has become obsessed with pursuing David, and David has received the news about the crisis at Keilah. If we are paying attention, we see a God moment here. It is time for David to step up to the role that God has chosen for him. The next couple verse shows us where the God moment goes.
Therefore David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go the Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?”
--1 Samuel 2:2-3
Nothing like a dose of reality to spoil a perfectly good day. Yes, David is a fighter, and his men know it. When he sees injustice, he needs to fight it. But his men know an impossible situation when they see it. David claims the winning hand. “Then David inquired of the LORD again. And the LORD answered him, ‘Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand’ ”(1 Samuel 22:4). I love this sequence. Sometimes the clearest path to fortitude comes when we set aside the danger and force ourselves to concentrate on the mission.
And After All This…
The LORD keeps his promise. In an almost anticlimactic ending to the paragraph, David and his men go down to Keilah, fight the Philistines, defeat them soundly, and save the residents. Then—wouldn’t you know it—Saul learns that David is in Keilah and goes down to lay siege on the town (1 Samuel 23:6-8). David asks God whether the residents will deliver them into Saul’s hands, and the answer is yes. We cannot blame the residents for their hypocrisy. The news is that Saul is coming “to destroy the city on [David’s] account” (1 Samuel 23:10). He has slaughtered men, women, and children at Nob already (1 Samuel 22:18-19). He will do the same here. So after a victory over the Philistines, David and his men are on the run again. The Bible’s conclusion is, “Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go” (1 Samuel 23:13). All that work and so little to show for it.
The question, of course, is why. In cases like this one, where the Bible leaves us without neat answers, we have to be more cautious in drawing conclusions. Here are mine on the matter. First, The Bible does not try to fault David in the matter, and neither should we. The people at Nob, David’s first stop, died because Saul had them killed. Their blood is on his hands. Similarly, when the residents at Keilah turned on David, the reason was because of Saul’s threat and nothing more. David was there because God assured him—twice—that he wanted him to be there. Sometimes we do the right thing, and the results go badly. We do not have to beat ourselves up with what-did-I-do questions. Second, some of our victories are smaller than what would wish. In this case, David and his men have brief period of satisfaction for a job well done, only to realize that the city they saved is about to turn on them. In times like these, remember that God regards our faithfulness far more highly than explosive results. We do not have to win big to be successful in God’s eyes. We only have to be faithful for the day. And then we repeat the work the next. Third, on the plus side, the LORD gives them a subtle blessing. They are able to plunder the Philistines’ livestock during their rescue of Keilah (1 Samuel 23:5). God uses this to give them provisions for their period of running from Saul. To borrow the language from the Lord’s Prayer, God provided their daily bread. In the final analysis, we fight in a fallen world. The world has a lot of evil forces, and
bad things happen in spite of our right actions. Difficulties do not necessarily come because we do something wrong. In David’s case, victory at Keilah came about because he believed his God. The attempted ambush that followed came about because of Saul’s obsession. Part of spiritual maturity involves the ability to examine our works on their own merit and leave the results to God.
The Life of David, Part 8
1 Samuel 25
Passion Over Passivity
Why we love Passionate Characters
My wife and I have come to love the CBS television series, Bluebloods. The drama revolves around the professional and familial lives of the four-generation Reagan family. Frank Reagan, played by Tom Selleck, is a second-generation Police Commissioner and the pivotal character. He often clashes with father Francis, who occupied the office before him. Frank’s three sons all have joined the police force. His oldest exists in memory, having been killed in the line of duty several years before. The middle son is a detective. The youngest is a Harvard law graduate who has decided to enter the police force as a beat cop. Frank also has a daughter who is the Assistant District Attorney.
Three opinionated grandchildren round out the family cast. The series continues to run because the characters are so compelling. They are passionate about their causes, even if their passion drives them to cross boundaries. They reject passivity, and because of that they are worthy of our concern.
David’s Clash with Nabal
This kind of passion lies at the center of an incident with a man named Nabal. Late in David’s exile, he and his men go to the wilderness of Paran, where they encounter a group of shepherds under Nabal’s employ. David’s men protect the shepherds while they pasture the sheep in the wilderness (1 Samuel 25:6-8, 14-16). In return for their honor, they ask for a brief time of sanctuary when the shepherds return to sheer the sheep. Nabal refuses. The message he gives David’s men is particularly cold. “Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” (1 Samuel 25:11). Nabal has poked at the wrong lion. While he sits in smug satisfaction, David prepares to attack with four hundred men. Nabal is dead where he sits.
Nabal’s Wife to the Rescue…for David
Meanwhile, one of the shearers informs Nabal’s wife Abigail about the situation. Unlike her husband, Abigail is a discerning person who understands the motivations of a zealous man like David. She prepares a generous offering for David and his men and presents it to him personally. Her offering is fitting, but her words to David illustrate the depth of her wisdom. She acknowledges her husband’s foolishness (the name Nabal means fool), and then reminds David about the potential cost that his anger would pay for such a small man. Here are some excerpts from her speech to David.
“Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal….For the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live….And when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord taking vengeance himself.”
--1 Samuel 25:25-26, 28, 31a
Abigail’s statement, “Evil shall not be found in you as long as you live,” is not a promise. It is an intervention. She is calling David to remember his higher calling and restrain his desire for personal vengeance. We could paraphrase her statement, “May evil not be found in you…” In short, Abigail tells David that she knows her husband’s folly, and she also understands David’s anger. Her appeal to David is to refrain from vengeance, because the cost to his reputation would be too high a price for such for such a petty individual. David’s reply is noteworthy. He tells her, “Go up in peace to your house. See I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition” 1 Samuel 25:35, emphasis added). Obedience has nothing to do with commands, because Abigail has not ordered David to do anything. When David says he obeyed her voice, he acknowledges the strength of her wisdom. She has brought him back to reason. At the end of the episode, Abigail told her husband that she had taken his goods to save his life. The strain was too much for him, and he died of apparent heart failure. In the Scripture’s words, “The “LORD struck Nabal, and he died” (1 Samuel 25:38).
Passion is a gift from God that should be encouraged rather than smothered. Like a loaded firearm, it is something that needs to be respected. Some have opted for passivity as a safe alternative for passion. In the end, the appearance is an illusion. If someone is zealous, praise God. Passion can be directed, but passivity is almost impossible to be driven into action. Nabal was the passive man in this episode. Ultimately, his passivity took the form of selfishness, and it cost him his life. Abigail never tried to discourage David’s passion. She was careful to shape her words in a way that prevented David from taking it in the wrong direction. David in turn was discerning enough to understand the value of Abigail’s words (1 Samuel 25:32-34). We all need to be ready to heed wise words when necessary, because they just might keep us from doing something foolish. In the end, Abigail’s counsel was to put the matter into the Lord’s hands. Waiting for the Lord to act is not passivity. It is a reality check that calls us to remember who knows the beginning from the end. Our calling comes from God, who fits us to the work he has for us. For that reason, passion is good. At the same time, when we are passionate about something, our emotional momentum can carry us out of bounds. Out best defense is not to try to suppress our emotions, but to be ready to hear counsel like Abigail’s.