Afterall – 1 Samuel 31. RBT Notes, 31st October

The Book of Samuel was not originally tended as a single-volume history, but has been split into the two parts as we have them. The close of “1 Samuel” comes here at Saul’s death, and this juncture helps us to appreciate how massive this tragedy is. Three leaders have served, one has already died, and one dies here, preparing the way for the exploits of the third, David, to fill the second book. But it wasn’t supposed to end like this. Saul was a man full of promise, and with the Lord’s anointing. He ends his own life, and his decapitated corpse is strung up on a Philistine city wall.

This battle is the one David and his men were excused from fighting in. First, the Philistines kill Saul’s sons. Among them is obviously Jonathan, the son of such courage and integrity, the picture of all that his father should have been, but failed to be. How David would grieve when he heard that news. Next, it is Saul himself who is struck down (vv.1-4). But the wounds aren’t enough to kill him, and, fearing that the Philistines will later come for him, to finish him off and then violate his body, he orders his armour bearer to do it (v.4). The man’s courage fails, but Saul manages to do the deed himself.

imageIn one day, a nation collapses, its dynasty destroyed, and its towns overrun (v.7). The Philistines glory in degrading Saul’s corpse, and showing the supremacy of their gods over Saul, before they expose his body for all to see (vv.8-11). For them, this must be the end of Israel.

It does read as if it is the end. There is one ray of kindness. As a nation reels, one tribe hasn’t forgotten the reign of Saul, at least, as it began in happier days. The men of Jabesh Gilead feel a debt of honour to their dead King from the days when he began his reign by rescuing their city (1 Samuel 11). They want to honour him by giving him a proper burial (vv.11-14).

Saul is dead, and it is right to grieve him. It is right to be perplexed, disturbed, even, at God’s mysterious ways. If you say you can understand God’s raising up of Saul, and then rejection of Him, then you must know that you haven’t. All we can say is, “it has pleased the Lord”. Our faith deals with mystery in the only way it can, with awe-filled worship. Aboveall, we look to the One in Whom all of God’s plans find their glorious fulfilment: our Saviour allowed Himself to be degraded by His enemies, and then His body was strung up on a cross, for brave followers later to bury with honour. God will never remove His favour from Him, nor from any who take refuge in Him.

Leaders who Last – 1 Samuel 30. RBT Notes, 30th October

This chapter works as a sort of chronicle of the righteous David. David is just, brave, prayerful, generous, wise – and blessed.

David and his men return from the Philistine army. They must have been elated to have been released, but now their joy turns to tears of helpless despair, and they find that their families have been carted off by the Amalekites, and their goods plundered (vv.1-2). They want to take their fury out on David, who found that, when men were against him, God’s strengthening grace was constant (vv.3-6). David is assured by God that his rescue mission will be blessed with success, so he and his men set out, and have the whereabouts of the captives pinpointed by a slave abandoned by the Amalekites (vv.7-16).

imageDavid’s victory is inevitable, now, and all the loved ones are recovered, along with their and many other people’s possessions. Just as David feels he can relax, he has to intervene to quell the anger of the men who resent those who didn’t fight sharing in the plunder (vv.21-25). His wisdom is further seen in giving gifts of what they have taken to various Philistine leaders (vv.26-31). This is David at his best: shrewd, decisive, pacifying, and effective in his leadership.

So here’s a leader you can follow. Except he’s long-dead. And here’s a leader you can follow, who has defeated death. Jesus is just, brave, prayerful, generous, wise – and blessed. Great David’s greater Son stands in glory, but stoops to serve all who know the difficulties of life. He is ready to help us in our sins, temptations, trials and losses. We might not find all we have lost in this life perfectly made up to us now – and who says we deserve that? But we have a Saviour who will wipe away every tear one day, and who will give us more than all we’ve ever given up or lost in His service. And that great day will be where all David’s greatest days were, in the Promised Land. Except, of course, our Promised Land is Heaven, where we shall see this King in His beauty, and view a land that stretches afar (Isaiah 33.17).

 

When we need Him most – 1 Samuel 29. RBT Notes, 29th October

David is in his fix: he’s got to fake enthusiasm at being taken into the Philistine army. Nothing would make him more wretched than the thought of fighting against his own people, and risking being thought of by them – the people he hopes to rule – as their enemy. What can he do?

At that point, very little. Nor can we, very often, when life is hard. Circumstances hold us fastened, pray though we do, and we cannot see a way out of them. There is no clear way ahead, and no sign from God. Sometimes, though, God loves just to intervene to change our situation. When He does that in your life, to give you a way out, be sure to recognise answered prayer, and to give Him the praise.

That’s what happens here. The Philistines marching alongside David and his men can’t believe their eyes, and they’re not persuaded by Achish when he says that he fully trusts David (vv.1-5). After all, they’ve heard the songs in Israel, celebrating his exploits. And so Achish was reluctant, and surely very embarrassed, to let him go, but he had no other option (vv.6-7). David does a great job in looking disappointed, wounded, even. But he must have been elated (v.8). The men leave on the best of terms, and God has honoured His servant once more, to give him this way of escape.

imageA hard, stressful day, and a wonderful answer to desperate prayer. Sometimes the Lord does this. Sometimes, there isn’t the answer we long for, and uncertainty goes on, and with it stress and pressure. We are in the dark. But He is there. He sees in our darkness, and knows the path He is leading us on. We must battle in His strength to be people of faith, seeking to do the best we can to honour Christ when life is very hard. Christ has slain His ten thousands of enemies (see v.5). He will slay the enemies of unbelief. We only need to trust Him.

Hell’s Kitchen – 1 Samuel 28. RBT Notes, 28th October

At this point, things get very, very strange. Saul’s rage against David is killing only one person – himself. We know that, once his desperate hunt for David makes Saul seek out the dead, it is only time before he will join them himself.

David is still having to rely on his wits. His blood must have frozen when Achish tests his loyalty to him by stating that he must join his army. In that instant, his chances of continuing to supply for his men and family by raiding far-off Philistine tribes are severed. And the call might come any day to fight against his own people. Presumably, when he agrees to Achish, he is only trying to buy time in order to hatch a plan (vv.1-2).

Certainly, the Philistines are on the march against Israel, and Saul is terrified. There is no Samuel to inquire of, God is silent, too, and there are no mediums so that Saul might inquire of the dead (vv.4-6). But he is desperate, so a witch is found, and Saul meets her in disguise (vv.7-9).

4afabd07efcc021f2eca4a429d899933So who is this man who appears at the witch’s summons? Is this actually Samuel, brought from death at the spell of this woman, or is this only some hellish apparition, which seems to be like Samuel? Certainly he looks and speaks like Samuel, Saul is convinced, and the apparition knows all about the Lord’s leaving Saul. He also says that, as the Lord has left Saul, he can expect no help from him now (vv.10-19).

Saul can’t take any more. He is exhausted and terrified (v.20), and collapses. The witch is already terrified herself, since this is the king himself who has come to her, and who has already killed the mediums in the land (v.9, compare v.3). And yet, she is filled with compassion for him, and prepares food for him (vv.21-25). Saul eats, and it’ll be one of his last meals. This food and drink is an unholy communion. He has abandoned God and been abandoned by Him, He has sought the dead because he has rejected the Living God, and his intermediary is a witch, since he has killed the priests. He sits in hell’s kitchen. He has met the dead, he has become like a dead man, and very soon he will join them.

There is no comfort in this chapter, not for its characters, nor for us. Our comfort, when life goes wrong, and maybe when God appears to be silent, is this: in Christ, His compassions never fail. Though life is often uncertain and sometimes dangerous, God can be relied upon, and leant into, in times of trouble.  Of that we can be very sure, and for that we can be very grateful.

Nowhere to rest his head – 1 Samuel 27. RBT Notes, 27th October

How long can you keep going? Most of us flatter ourselves that we are robust in the face of disappointment, and have the stamina to outlast tough times. Truth is, most of us don’t. We can collapse when life gets hard and faith gets difficult. And that is without facing the serious possibility of being murdered. So there was only so long David could keep running and hiding for. If Saul’s death squads didn’t find him out, stress and depression would soon burn him out. David needed to get away, for the sake of his life, and his own sanity.

He reasoned that, if he could get out of Israel, then Saul would give up the hunt (v.1). By this time he’s got quite an entourage, his family and six hundred men. There’s no way they can stay hidden in Israel. Best to get them out of the country (vv.2-4).

David knows how to handle Saul – get out of Israel – and now he needs to handle the Philistine king, Achish. He cleverly puts himself at a literal distance from the king, ensuring that he’s not under the king’s watch, but also avoiding putting strain on the relationship since he had well over six hundred mouth with him needing food. So for sixteen months he stayed in Philistia. And there he grew rich and stayed secure by raiding territories, and by carefully covering his tracks (vv.6-12).

2dc3d551b999fba3cbc06ab0c7727dc5The plundering obviously supported himself and his men, but was he right to do so? You could say that these were the enemies of God’s covenant people, so yes he was; or you could recoil at the slaughter of people who had no quarrel with David (and maybe every sympathy with his plight). The text does not give us a steer as we assess David’s actions. Neither does the text put any pressure on us to make up our minds. Who knows, then? Let God be David’s judge. He is more than able to be.

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (Luke 9.58). Like David, Jesus was often homeless and rootless. Jesus lived in the enemy territory of the world, with a far from easy relationship with the powers of this world. Jesus knew that Satan was hunting Him, and that one day He would face him in deadly combat. And yet, Jesus was homeless and hunted for us and for our sakes. Remember David’s hardships (see Psalm 132.1), and remember Jesus’ hardships, too. They were to give you a home in heaven.

The Self-control of Faith -1 Samuel 26. RBT Notes, 26th October

The cat and mouse game continues. The Ziphites won’t stay neutral, but again they tell Saul where David is. David in turn finds out where Saul is, and goes under cover of darkness to investigate. Evading the guards he finds himself looking through the darkness at Saul himself, sleeping and completely vulnerable (vv.1-7). What should he do? For his commander Abishai, this isn’t even a question: “God has given your enemy into your hands” (v.8). Abishai realises that David might have reservations about doing the killing himself, so he offers himself for the task (v.8). David’s response stuns Abishai: for all of Saul’s demented wickedness, he is still “the Lord’s Anointed”, and to kill him would be to incur guilt (v.9). The two men with David must have felt shocked, and probably very angry, as they leave Saul and the camp, with only proofs that they’d been, and that they could have killed Saul (v.12).

bf49055dde58754ba1c5a9226491b184Sometimes our self-control looks to all the world like weakness. Why don’t we retaliate? Why don’t we get even? Why don’t we right wrongs, if it’s in our power to do so? Do you remember how the disciples asked, Abishai-like, “Master, do you want us to call fire down from heaven?’, as Jesus as His band faced Samaritan opposition? And His response? “He turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9.54-55).  The world can call it weakness, and the church might, too, but there are times when Jesus walks away from the justice we feel He should give out; and there are times when He calls us to do the same, too. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12.19).

Even if our friends do not always grasp our motives in refraining from anger, the Lord knows, and sometimes our enemies do, too. David calls from his safe position to Saul’s chief-of-staff Abner, explaining what has just happened, and what he chose not to do to Saul (vv.13-16). And then Saul is woken (v.17). This was probably David’s intention, all along: now he has another chance to protest his innocence, and to challenge Saul to leave him alone. Again, Saul is broken over his behaviour, and asks for David’s forgiveness (vv.17-24). Saul’s final words have a prophet’s ring to them: “you will do great things and surely triumph” (v.25). He will. And by the power of God, he is doing them already. There is greatness, as well as victory, in self-control, and mercy. Pray for it. Practice it. It may well be your greatness, as it was Jesus’s.