1 Samuel 22: I’m to blame for the death of everyone in your father’s family.
When David flees for his life from Saul he stops at Nob, the place of worship. In his desperation David tells a lie to Ahitub, the priest there, telling him he’s on a mission for the king. He asks for provisions and a weapon. Since David is highly respected the priest gives him holy bread to eat and the prized sword of Goliath that is stored there. As David is leaving he sees one of Saul’s men, Doeg the Edomite, who’s also at Nob and has seen what’s happened. However, David’s so afraid for his own life that he hurries on, escaping from Saul. Now we see the consequences of David’s dishonesty and failure to consider the danger in which he placed Ahitub and all those in Nob. Saul’s man, Doeg, reports the incident and Saul takes revenge on all those at Nob: men, women, children, and even the livestock. All are killed except the son of the priest, Ahimelech, who escapes to join David. When he hears what’s happened David says, “I’m to blame.” This is more than a gracious admission; it’s the terrible truth. In his fear David thought only of himself and in doing so, brought destruction to many innocent people. Fear is an awful thing. It causes us to shrink our world to only ourselves. Fear loses sight of God and causes us to ignore the consequences of our words and deeds. David’s admission and his taking Ahimelech in and under his protection is commendable, but it doesn’t undo the damage that was done in his fear-generated failure.
Take Away: Trust is the remedy for fear.
1 Samuel 21: He pretended to go crazy.
It’s been confirmed that Saul intends to kill David, so David’s desperately on the run. He has no provisions and doesn’t have so much as a sword for self-defense. He temporarily remedies that by stopping at the place of worship at Nob where he’s given bread and the sword of Goliath that’s been stored there. Now what? He decides to seek refuge at Gath. His intention is to go there incognito, but he’s immediately recognized. King Achish will almost certainly turn him over to Saul. So, what can he do? We’re told that he pretends to go crazy. Apparently, he put on a pretty good act; good enough that Achish wants nothing to do with him and sends him on his way. Now David is a skilled fighter and he has an excellent weapon, so maybe he could have fought his way out. Or, he might have been able to play “let’s make a deal” with old king Achish. In fact, he’ll do just that with the king of Moab. In this case, though, he fakes insanity. I wonder why he did that. Maybe, as he has entered Gath he’s seen a number of poor, demented people, so insanity is on his mind (pun intended). King Achish alludes to that when he says, “Don’t you think I have enough crazy people to put up with as it is without adding another?” Anyway, I’m thinking about the value of “strategic insanity” here. Sometimes it’s better to simply not notice an offense than it is to force a confrontation. It can be better to be blissfully ignorant of what people are saying or thinking and using “strategic insanity” to just go on loving them as though they’ve never said or done anything negative about us. I know that this isn’t always true, but on this day David saved himself a fight and walked away because the king thought he was so crazy that he wouldn’t be of any use to him. There are probably situations in my life in which “strategic insanity” is the best response too.
Take Away: Sometimes ignorance is, indeed, bliss.
The cost of spiritual isolation
1 Samuel 18: Saul hated David
Saul hasn’t forgotten the words of God’s man, Samuel: “God has rejected you as king over Israel.” Still, long after that word of rejection Saul continues in power, enjoying considerable military success. Then comes the Goliath incident. He shouldn’t have let David fight Goliath. As King, the General of the Army, it was his battle, not David’s. But David did fight, winning not only the battle, but also the hearts of the people of Israel. Now, in the eyes of the people of Israel, David can do no wrong. He never acts in a way that speaks of betrayal to his King and, instead, faithfully and with frustrating success carries out every command. The people fall in love with David and because of that Saul hates him. There’s a lot going on here. For instance, Saul is likely clinically depressed. At first, it appears that Saul doesn’t actually need God at all, but now his life apart from God is taking a terrible toll on his mind and spirit. We know that things will only go downhill from here. Then there’s David who simply keeps doing the right thing — even when Saul tries to pin him to the wall with a spear! There’s also an unattractive “but what have you done for us lately” element in the people’s changing loyalties from Saul to David. I don’t guess the writer of this portion of Scripture is teaching any particular lesson in this passage. Rather, he’s just telling the story. Still, there are several things to think about here.
Take Away: Living apart from God takes a terrible toll on a person.
Hearing, believing, acting
1 Samuel 17: David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine.
I’m not sure why this phrase stands out to me but it does. It has to do with David’s confidence, his rushing to, in the eyes of common sense, disaster. There’s no trace of hesitancy here. This isn’t one of those reluctant “well, someone has to do it, it might as well be me” situations. David’s eager for this fight. The mental picture is powerful. On one hand, big old Goliath, armed to the teeth, stands there spewing out promises of death. On the other, young David armed only with a sling, proclaims God’s authority, running toward this giant of a man. Within seconds Goliath lies face down in the dirt and David stands over him, with Goliath’s own sword in hand, preparing to chop off his head. It was never about the brashness of youth, or David’s “secret weapon.” Everything here carries the mark of God at work. David acted with confidence because he had heard the voice of God in his life. Not only had he heard, he had believed. A realization of this truth is not only good for combat with giants — it’s good for everyday life too. I need to spend enough time with God that I can clearly hear him, and then, having heard, to believe, and having believed, to act with confidence.
Take Away: Once you’ve heard a certain word from the Lord you can move forward in absolute confidence.
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.