2 Samuel 2: God bless you for this — for honoring your master, Saul, with a funeral.
David mourns the passing of Saul and his good friend Jonathan and prepares to end his self-chosen exile from Israel by moving to Hebron in Judah. He also hears of the bravery and sacrifice of the men of Jabesh Gilead who took their lives in their hands to retrieve the bodies of Saul and his sons from where they were on display in Philistine territory. They brought the bodies back to Israel for a decent funeral. On one hand we have the story of the man who claimed to have finished Saul off, now we have the story of these valiant men who went into enemy territory following a devastating defeat to show proper respect for their dead king. David knows valor when he sees it and honors those men for what they did. Times of crisis define us. We may be able to put on an act that convinces about everyone, but when the pressure is on the real person is seen, for good or for bad.
Take Away: Challenging times have the potential to bring out the best in each of us.
Song for a funeral
2 Samuel 1: “You asked for it,” David told him.
There’s no passage of time between the end of 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel. We simply turn the page and keep on reading. David returns to Ziklag after rescuing those who were taken captive and is, I guess, rebuilding the destroyed town. An Amalekite shows up in camp with what he thinks will be received as good news. Saul and Jonathan are dead. In fact, he claims (apparently a lie) that he personally finished Saul off. This fellow was probably robbing the dead on the battle field and came upon Saul’s body. He thinks that having David indebted to him will be worth more than the royal headband and bracelet he took off of Saul’s body. Clearly this guy doesn’t know David. After all, David has more reason to kill Saul than anyone, yet he has twice passed up the opportunity to do so. The bearer of bad news goes out to meet his Maker soon thereafter. David composes a song of lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. He could have sung of disappointing failure and lost opportunities. Instead, he remembers the bravery of these two men and the security and prosperity they brought to Israel. As the Amalekite learned the hard way, cheering the death of even a deeply flawed individual isn’t David’s way. It’s not God’s way either.
Take Away: As the Lord is gracious and merciful to us, so should we be to all, even those who don’t measure up.
Hopefully, David wasn’t trustworthy
1 Samuel 29: He’s not going into battle with us.
How about that, wisdom from the Philistines! Fleeing from Saul (maybe said better: “getting away from Saul so he won’t have to kill him”) David’s living in Philistine territory, the town of Ziklag. Now the Philistines are uniting to take on Saul and the army of Israel in a major, decisive battle. Amazingly, David’s with the Philistines! King Achish, who mistakenly thinks that David has already been attacking his fellow countrymen in Judah, is confident that David has completely betrayed Israel. However, the other warlords of the Philistines aren’t convinced. They don’t know David, but they know his reputation. They think that in the heat of the battle he’ll turn on them. Achish reluctantly sends David and his men home. Are the other warlords right? I hope so. David has no business living in the land of the Philistines in the first place much less fighting on their side. I think this event is crucial to David’s future as king of Israel. In the story of Abraham and Lot, it’s Lot who mistakenly decides to live in the wicked city of Sodom. That decision changes his life. Had he not made this crucial mistake he might have gone down in history as a great man who walked in faith with his uncle, Abraham. Instead, his story is a mere footnote in the history of God’s people. In this incident, David’s at a similar crossroads. If he joins the Philistines in this battle he’ll never lead Israel. Instead, he’ll only be a minor player in the story of redemption. I hope these warlords are right and that David would have turned on them. If not that, I wish that it had been David, himself who decided to leave the battlefield. Instead, it’s the enemies of God and his people who wisely send him away. Is it possible that we can see the hand of God in this decision of the Philistine warlords?
Take Away: The Lord is sovereign and can use whoever he wants to accomplish his will.
Finding God in unexpected places
1 Samuel 28: There’s a witch at Endor.
Life is terribly dark for Saul. Years ago when he failed God at Gilgal Samuel told him that God was finished with him. However for decades it has looked as though Saul can handle things on his own. He builds a strong army and successfully leads the people of Israel. However, through those years things are always going downhill for Saul. As we near the end of his story, he’s a fear-filled, pitiful man. Thus we come to this strange incident at Endor. Saul’s afraid of his enemies and with good reason. His past successes against the Philistines are forgotten as a coalition of forces is massing for the biggest battle yet. Saul’s only connection with God has been through Samuel, but now Samuel is dead. Prayer is an unknown thing for Saul, but in fear, he prays. There’s no answer. Then, with the same denial of God’s authority that was evident many years earlier when he decided to offer his own sacrifices rather than wait for Samuel at Gilgal, he again takes matters into his own hands. If God won’t answer, he’ll turn to witchcraft for answers. He knows God strictly forbids this, in fact, as king he’s enforced the abolition of witchcraft in Israel. Now, he goes looking for someone who can contact the dead for him, specifically Samuel. I know some view this as confirmation that witchcraft, mediums, séances, and the like can be genuine. However, I’m not ready to go there based on this passage. The “witch at Endor” is probably an old faker who’s told fortunes for years. Now, when she starts her act and Samuel appears she’s more surprised than anyone else: “When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out….” In other words, she dropped out of her mystic trance when something actually happened. My take on this is that Saul’s trying to bypass God by moving as far from God’s “territory” as possible. However, he runs headlong into God even there. Here’s the spiritual fact of life: even when a person tries to move out of the light of God into areas where no one is to go they find that God is God even there. This passage is a confirmation of His absolute sovereignty.
Take Away: There’s no way to bypass the Lord.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
1 Samuel 27: The best thing I can do is escape to Philistine country.
One thing about the narrative of the Bible is that we’re told the whole story, both good and bad. I think that David’s time in Philistine country is, for him personally, what the book of Judges is for the Israelite people as a whole. David does it and we’re told about it, but none of it’s to his credit. Right off, David says that he thinks sooner or later that Saul’s going to capture him, so he needs to escape the country. Where’s his faith in God who’s proven faithful to him across the years? Has he forgotten the incidents at the cave in En Gedi and at Hakilah Hill? Then we see him go to the enemies of Israel and of God, the Philistines, for refuge. King Achish foolishly thinks to himself that, “An enemy of Saul is a friend of mine.” That’s a major mistake on his part but David’s decision stinks to high heaven. It’s unworthy of one anointed of God. Once he settles in Ziklag, David starts raiding small towns. When Achish asks him where he’s been he lies and says he’s been raiding his own people, Judah. Instead, he raids Philistine towns and hides it by killing everyone living in them. When I read of mass killing during the occupation of Canaan I’m uncomfortable, but at least that they felt they were doing God’s will. In David’s case, he’s just making a living off of raiding villages and killing people. The writer of the Scripture just tells us what happened, but I come away from this passage thinking that this isn’t of David’s proudest moment. Later on, when David wants to build the Temple he’s told he has too much blood on his hands. I think this incident is an example of that. I understand that David was living in different times and that beyond that I’m not David’s judge. I also remember here that even biblical heroes (not to mention me) stand in great need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
Take Away: Even heroes of the Bible need God’s mercy.
God’s people need to go easy on one another
1 Samuel 26: God forbid that I should lay a finger on God’s anointed.
Saul can’t seem to help himself. David has already spared his life once, at the cave in En Gedi, but when he receives word that David is at Hakilah Hill he gathers 3000 of his best soldiers and goes out to get him. David’s sentries spot this large unit as they enter the area and he and his men track their every movement. Saul sets up camp as night falls. Once more David decides on dramatic action to prove to Saul that he’s not a threat to his kingdom. Accompanied by brave Abishai, David slips into the camp and takes the spear from beside where Saul is sleeping. Abishai sees this as the opportunity to pin Saul to the ground with his own spear, but David refuses, saying he won’t lay a finger on God’s anointed. David believes that God put Saul in office and, even though Saul is a shadow of the man he was then, God will deal with removing him from office. So what do I learn from this? As a pastor, I’m tempted to talk about pastor/congregation relationships. However, I think it goes beyond that. To a great extent all of God’s people are his “anointed.” God has chosen each of us to be his very own. I’d better be careful that my words don’t wound one of God’s people. He considers each of us to be his own and anoints us with his presence. I don’t have to always like what you say or do, but I’d better treat you with the respect due to God’s servants. Otherwise, I risk following Abishai’s route rather than David’s.
Take Away: The Lord is quite interested in how his people treat one another.
The danger of little insults
1 Samuel 25: Blessed be your good sense!
The encounter between David and Saul at En Gedi results in a sort of peace between the two. David isn’t ready to return home, but Saul isn’t pursuing him for the time being. Under the cease-fire David is thinking about more pressing needs, like food! In the vicinity there’s a successful farmer who’s shearing his sheep. This is more than just a farm chore. It’s a big feast, a celebration of the success of the farm. David sends a few men to humbly ask the farmer to make a donation to his troops. The result is insult and denial. This infuriates David. There have been many times when he could have just taken some of Nabal’s sheep. Instead, his men have treated his shepherds with respect and kept their hands off of Nabal’s property. In his anger, David is on his way to raid Nabal’s farm and take revenge by taking his life. Meanwhile, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, hears what’s happened. She leaps to action by gathering a huge load of supplies and hurries out to meet David and his men. She humbly greets David and then presents a three-part argument as to why David shouldn’t do what he intends to do. First, she’s giving him a gift of many supplies. Second, her husband is a fool who’s not worth his effort. (By the way, what kind of a parent names his son, “Fool” anyway? No doubt, Nabal is in great need of counseling!) Third and most importantly, she tells David that taking revenge is beneath him as a man of God. Isn’t it interesting that David wouldn’t kill Saul who was seeking his life, but now, because he’s insulted he’s about to kill the fool, Nabal. Which is worse, having a powerful person try to put a spear through you or having a stupid person say a stupid thing to you? The trouble is that we’re often like David here. The things that get us off track aren’t when we deal with some major, obvious issue. When that happens we turn to God for his help, trusting in him. However, when it’s a small thing, just an insult or a thoughtless driver who cuts us off in traffic — well, we’ll just handle that ourselves; maybe teach them a lesson or two. We need people like Abigail around who can remind us to show some good sense in those “little things” that are such a danger to us.
Take Away: In some ways little things are more dangerous to us than the big things.
Close encounters of the Third Kind
1 Samuel 24: There was a cave there and Saul went in to relieve himself.
I know this isn’t the most inspiring statement in this story, but it is attention getting. David and his men have retreated to En Gedi, an area with lots of good places in which to hide. Saul has received a tip concerning David’s location, so he and his army are working through the region, searching for David. Saul knows he’s closing in on David, but has no idea of how close he actually is. Then, as happens at inopportune times, nature calls. There are no rest stops in the area, so Saul picks a convenient cave for privacy, dismisses his aids, and enters by himself, never guessing that David and his men (likely a patrol and not the whole 600) are hidden farther back in the cave. Talk about catching a man with his pants down! At this point it will be very easy for David to strike Saul down. His men see this as a golden opportunity to kill Saul, but David sees it as a chance to show mercy and to prove his respect for the person God placed at the head of the nation of Israel. David cuts off a piece of Saul’s laid aside robe. Then, as Saul rejoins his troops, David appears at the mouth of the cave Saul has just departed. The fringe of the robe proves that David has spared Saul’s life and, temporarily at least, Saul’s heart melts. Centuries later one of David’s descendants will declare the principle that directed David’s action that day. He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Before the Sermon on the Mount was ever preached David illustrated it at the cave in En Gedi.
Take Away: Don’t the right thing sometimes means we let a golden opportunity to force the issue pass by.
Hide and seek
1 Samuel 23: Saul was on one side of the mountain, David and his men on the other.
Saul and David are playing a deadly game of hide and seek. In spite of David’s continuing to be a defender of Israel Saul has made him public enemy number one. David’s band is growing, now numbering over 600, but Saul’s army vastly outnumbers them. Beyond that, David doesn’t want to fight Saul or any of his countrymen. The nation of Israel is divided. Some are loyal to Saul and others to David. In fact, one group, the Ziphites, betrays David to Saul. They report David’s whereabouts to Saul and help set up an ambush. It’s nearly successful. At one point Saul almost has David and his men cornered. If not for word of an attack from a real enemy that forces Saul’s attention elsewhere, David’s story would end right here. Because of this, this area is called “Narrow Escape.” So, was the attack by the Philistines at such a critical moment just good fortune for David? I think not. God’s fingerprints are all over this. Still, it’s interesting that God used the enemies of Israel, the heathens of the land, to deliver David. The lesson for me is that this is a reminder that God is truly sovereign. Even when godless people act in ways intended to destroy, God can give a gentle push in some particular direction and use their sinful act to accomplish good rather than evil. Even when it seems evil has won the day, God is still God, and he’s working in surprising ways in and through it all.
Take Away: When all is said and done it’s the Lord who has said the last word.