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Thank God for good friends
1 Samuel 18: Jonathan was deeply impressed with David – an immediate bond was forged between them.
The connection between Jonathan and David is a surprising one. Aside from some forced, perverted effort to make this into something it’s not, we still see here that Jonathan, who should be the next king of Israel, becomes a committed friend to David, God’s choice for king. You’ll find no better picture of friendship than this one. Jonathan and David stand together no matter what. I guess this isn’t especially profound, but when I read of their friendship I’m reminded of those who are friends to me. I could name names but I won’t. I’ll just mention that across the years the Lord has graciously sent me some precious friends – men who’ve prayed for and with me, who’ve been willing to let me, the pastor, sometimes just be “one of the guys.” Just writing about them today, even in this general a way, warms my heart.
Take Away: Don’t take good friends for granted – they are a gift from God.
Do I really believe the battle belongs to God?
1 Samuel 17: Everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn’t save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God.
“This very day God is handing you over to me.” So says David as he prepares for battle with Goliath. For us this is a nifty story, one of the most memorable in the entire Bible. For David, well, this is the real deal. Before him stands a giant of a man who intends to disembowel him. David has chosen a sling and some stones as his weapon of choice but he knows this fight isn’t really about weapons at all. This is a spiritual event, and he correctly identifies it as such: “I come to you in the name of God-of-the-Angel-Armies.” In spite of the real and material threat, David correctly classifies it as a real and spiritual matter. As much as I like this story, do I really apply it to my own “real and material” life? Am I good at praying and trusting God only in theory or do I do it into practice, where the “rubber meets the road”? Instead of viewing conflicts as spiritual events, do I rush to defend myself — or call a meeting to plot a strategy for getting my way — or throw my weight around — or manipulate the people involved? To do so is to view the issue at hand as one of “swords and spears” rather than as a spiritual battle that belongs to God. When I do that kind of stuff, I may get my way in the short run, but it will always come at a price to me and to others. Then again, I may not get my way at all and the giant may just win, leaving me fatally wounded.
Take Away: It’s a real challenge to retrain oneself to recognize spiritual battles for what they are.
Shopping for armor
1 Samuel 17: Then Saul outfitted David as a soldier in armor.
Since David’s going to fight Goliath, Saul’s preparing him for battle. Being given the king’s own helmet and sword is an honor for David. However, in spite of the seriousness of the situation, the result is comical. The helmet’s way too big, the sword, when strapped around his waist, drags the ground. The oversized armor weighs David down to the point that he can hardly move much less fight. Thus we come to the truism that we each must wear our own armor. We individualist Westerners can really get off on this one! “I have to do this my way…what works for you won’t necessarily work for me…after all, I can’t wear someone else’s armor.” Let’s step back for a minute and look at this situation again. Saul’s armor, including his weapons of war aren’t suitable for David so David simply picks another approach that already belongs to someone else. We don’t know who invented the sling, but it certainly wasn’t David. Probably way back in the first pages of Genesis there’s an untold story about how some enterprising fellow came up with the sling as a way to hunt. When wars came along the sling became one of the weapons every soldier attempted to master. So, when David rejects Saul’s “armor” he is actually accepting that of someone else. I think that it’s rare for God to call us to be totally original. After all, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” The Bible’s full of principles that can be applied to the issues of life. Someone has already thought through ways to deal with most issues. David didn’t go out and invent the sling so he could fight Goliath; he simply picked it as the method for accomplishing his purpose — a method pioneered by someone else. The fact that David couldn’t fight in Saul’s armor doesn’t give me permission to go around acting like the Lone Ranger doing everything my own way. It just reminds me that there’s more than one way to accomplish things, and I need to know enough about the issue at hand, and to listen carefully enough to the voice of the Lord in my life, to pick the right one.
Take Away: A wise person has more than one tool at hand and that person knows which tool fits that particular situation.
The danger of natural attributes
1 Samuel 17: Go. And God help you!
I’ve been thinking about why Saul, himself, didn’t fight Goliath. After all, Saul is the king, leader of the army. He’s never been afraid in previous battles and has a reputation for being a fierce fighter. Goliath stands over nine feet tall, but Saul towers a head and shoulders above all the other men of Israel. Yet day after day, he allows his army to cower before Goliath’s challenge. I think the last part is the key. Saul is used to being the biggest. David isn’t a big man in the first place, but Saul is. In fact, and I’m just guessing here, it may be that Saul has never in his adult life seen another human being who’s taller than himself. Think of the psychological impact of that. Saul sees in Goliath not only a man bigger than he is, but also a man who’s clearly more skilled at hand-to-hand combat. This frightens Saul in a way that he’s never been frightened before. In fact, it has frozen him to the point that he’s ready to send young David, with all the confidence of his youth, to battle the giant in his stead. I think that it’s possible for our advantages to become our disadvantages. Natural attributes can blind us to our own weaknesses. Gifts can hinder the development of skills. For instance, a person who’s naturally a good speaker or singer may rely on that gift, but ultimately will be less useful to God than a person who had to early on learn to rely on God if they were to effectively minister. Sooner or later life sends us a Goliath, a circumstance in which our natural gifts, as great as they are, aren’t enough. Even gifted people must learn to rely on God, or they risk becoming Saul, hiding in his tent instead of battling Goliath.
Take Away: Ultimately, we all come to the end of ourselves so it’s better to early on learn to rely on him.
Wrestling with bears
1 Samuel 17: God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.
Saul, not to mention Goliath, towers over David. We’re told that his family calls David the “runt” and that Saul is a head and shoulders taller than the average man. When word comes to Saul that he has a volunteer to fight nine-foot-tall Goliath he’s pleased, but when he sees David, well, let’s just say David is a surprise to him. Saul rejects David as too young and inexperienced but David immediately states his credentials. Apparently, shepherding isn’t all about sitting around watching sheep and playing the harp. David has some war stories of his own, stories that include hand-to-hand (or better hand-to-claw or hand-to-teeth) combat with some pretty impressive adversaries. He didn’t just run the wild animals off. Rather, he grabbed them by the throat, wrung their necks, and killed them! Have you grabbed a bear by the neck lately? It’s my understanding that this isn’t considered a wise thing to do! Seriously, David knows that his ability to kill a lion or bear with his own hands is an extraordinary thing. In other words, he knows that he would be a dead man had it not been for God’s help, enabling him to be a lion killer even as Samson had done generations earlier. It’s because of these victories that David’s ready to take on the big guy here. It’s when I’ve gone through smaller battles (although I am not sure how “small” fighting lions should be considered) and won by God’s help that I can take on giant issues with confidence. The same God who brought me though the smaller fights of life is well able to deliver me when I’m in the fight of my life.
Take Away: As I remember the Lord’s help in the past I face future challenges with greater confidence.
The slings and stones details of life
1 Samuel 17: I’m ready to go and fight this Philistine.
David and Goliath — now this is a good story! It’s a story we’ve heard all our lives. It’s part of our shorthand vocabulary. When we want to describe the little guy taking on something big and threatening we just say, “it’s David verses Goliath” and everyone nods understandingly. David’s very likely a young man rather than a little boy. Most Bible scholars say he’s in his 20’s when this takes place. The story’s rich in devotional material. However, before I get into the story, I’d like to look at the big picture for a moment. Saul, rejected by God, is on his way out. David has been secretly anointed as his replacement. The people love Saul and are faithful to him. He’s proven to be a solid and fearless military leader. David’s best known as a musician and shepherd. These things hardly qualify him to be king of Israel. Everyone assumes that Saul’s son will succeed him as king, but even if they thought otherwise, a shepherd like David wouldn’t be a likely candidate in anyone’s mind. Thus we come to the confrontation at Oak Valley, where the Philistines and the Israelites are having a tense standoff. David’s victory over Goliath is the perfect way for God to introduce their future king to the people of Israel. Never again will David be considered to be a nice young man who plays the harp. I don’t think David’s thinking about any of this, but I believe God is. There’s lots of other good stuff in this story, but right off I see that the Lord’s not only working in the details of slings and stones, but he sees the big picture too. Today he’s helping me with the slings and stones details of my life, but he never loses sight of his own over all goals and how my life fits into them.
Take Away: I tend to focus on only the immediate concerns of life. The Lord, though, not only sees that but he also sees the big picture.
Grace at work here
1 Samuel 16: At that very moment the Spirit of God left Saul.
Over in Bethlehem a secret meeting between Samuel and David is taking place. With his brothers as witnesses, David is anointed king of Israel. This young man is God’s pick to replace Saul. Of course, Saul is unaware of all this. If he knew…well, David wouldn’t survive the day. However, in a strange way Saul knows something has happened. A spiritual light in his life is gone. In its place is a darkness that frightens him. It’s been some time since Saul’s failure with the Amalekites. It was back then that God rejected Saul as king of Israel. The interesting thing is that, according to this scripture, God’s Spirit has remained with Saul, even though God is in the process of replacing him. I can’t help but wonder why that is. Here are my two possible answers, and it really isn’t an “either/or” proposition. First, it might be that, in spite of the absolute language about Saul that the Lord’s willing to give him time and help to turn it around. The scripture tells us that Samuel grieves Saul’s failure. I can’t help but think that God does too. Maybe the Spirit of God has continued to tug at his heart even when it is almost certain that it’s too late. Second, it could be that God has continued to bless Saul for the sake of Israel. Failure or not, Saul has the power and authority in Israel. His days are numbered but as long as he remains in office God will help him — not for his sake, but for the sake of Israel. I’ve heard stories of ministers who had some secret, devastating sin going on. When it was made public people were amazed because of the power of their ministry with many lives being changed. Maybe we have a similar situation with Saul. God continues to bless his leadership and even provide personal strength for his own purposes. The sun’s setting and a new leader will take his place, but for now the Spirit of God remains with Saul. I like both scenarios. I like the idea that God gave Saul a “second chance” and I also like the idea that God took care of his people even through such an imperfect leader as is Saul. In either (or both) case(s), I see the grace of God at work.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances; also, the Lord cares for his people even through imperfect leaders.
Would you like to super-size that order? No thanks.
1 Samuel 16: God judges persons differently than humans do…God looks into the heart.
Saul’s failure weighs on Samuel. However, the Lord says it’s time to get on with selecting Saul’s successor. This is potentially dangerous because Saul’s still in power and certainly doesn’t want Samuel anointing someone else as king. Still, Samuel obeys the Lord and heads out to the town of Bethlehem to find God’s choice for second king of Israel. There he finds the young man he’s sure is the right one. It’s Eliab, son of Jesse. Tall and good-looking, in fact, you might say “regal” in appearance. But Samuel is mistaken. God reminds him that this isn’t a beauty contest and that God’s more interested in what is in the heart than he is in outward appearance. Eliab might be a fine fellow but he isn’t to be the next king of Israel. The search continues as Jessie brings one son after another before the revered man of God. Finally, all but one son has been interviewed. Young David is all that’s left. When Saul was chosen we were told that he stood a head and shoulders above the other men. Now, as David is picked, he’s called the “runt” of the family. Thus we gain an insight into how God works. He uses big, nice looking people, but he also uses those that others tend to overlook. Why? It’s because God looks on the heart. I pray that the Lord will find in me a person he can use for his purposes.
Take Away: Since the Lord looks on the heart, let’s do all we can to keep our hearts right with the Lord.
Listening, obedience, relationship
1 Samuel 15: Do you think all God wants are sacrifices — empty rituals just for show? He wants you to listen to him!
Saul’s a failure in the eyes of God. His large army and military victories don’t impress the Lord. Now Saul blames the soldiers; something that doesn’t wash with the Almighty. Then, he says he’s going to sacrifice the animals in a worship service. Pitiful! Samuel has a word from the Lord for Saul. God isn’t interested in how many sacrifices Saul might make. Instead, he’s interested in obedience. Saul said “no” to God, now God’s saying “no” to him. Saul will continue in power for some time to come, but, in reality, his leadership has come to a whimpering end. Oswald Chambers says that the greatest hindrance to our relationship to the Lord is the service we do for him. “Look at all I’m doing for God” we declare, “Surely he can’t ask more of me than that.” He can and he does. Listening, obedience, and relationship: these things define God’s intentions for me. The Lord doesn’t put out a call for volunteer martyrs. He simply calls us to hear and obey. If that means sacrifice, fine. Otherwise, I listen to his voice and live my life in a relationship with him.
Take Away: We’re called to a daily, genuine relationship with the Lord – that’s what satisfies both us and him.