To walk humbly before your God – 1 Samuel 25. RBT Notes, 25th October

Saul is a man losing his reason, and Nabal is a man who has a serious lapse in wisdom, one which costs him his life. The story is told slowly, and in detail. The point is clear, that David is not only battling king Saul, but other hostile enemies, too; and here, he almost gives into his rage at the insults he faces, only to be rescued by a woman who is the wisest of them all.  Her wisdom saves her people – if not her husband – and it’s a wisdom that David himself needs in abundance, if he is to live his difficult life well.

Nabal has married out of his league, and his wife Abigail clearly knows it (vv.2-3, compare v.25). Fool that Nabal is, when David asks him, quite reasonably, for a few sheep for his men who have, afterall, been blameless around Nabal’s flocks, Nabal treats him with a heartless, rude disdain (vv.5-11). David cannot believe his ears when the messengers bring this news back. He wants a bloody justice (vv.12-13).

One of Nabal’s servants knows what will happen. Rushing to Abigail, he declares David innocent of any wrongdoing, and brazenly accuses Nabal of the opposite (vv.14-17). Abigail knows she must act to save many lives. Her reaction is a picture of wisdom. She shows exactly the generosity her husband failed to, as well as the respect and tact Nabal failed to display (vv.18-25).

Her wise words and intervention of gifts pacify David, and win his admiration of Abigail (vv.26-35). Nabal, though, suddenly realises what a fool he’s been. Maybe he thinks that, although David’s wrath has been turned away now, he might be biding his time for his revenge. Whatever his reasoning, he suffers either a stroke or a heart-attack. His foolishness takes him to the grave (vv.37-38).

Was David right to take such satisfaction in Nabal’s sudden death (v.39)? Who knows? The fact is, he did, and he took Abigail’s hand, too. Saul, we learn, took away his daughter Michal, David’s first wife, but David is said to have married now two women. There is a foreboding tone, here. And love for a woman, we know, will be the drastic point of failure for David, a few years down the line.

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown” (Proverbs 4.7-9).

David’s Son, Solomon, will one day address his own son with these words. Wisdom in Proverbs is likened to a woman, an Abigail-like woman, urging her listeners to flee the temptations of anger, sexual immorality and pride. Jesus, the Wisdom of God, still does the same, urging us through His Word, and empowering us by His Spirit, to flee temptation. Let’s listen to him, not our self-righteous desires, and walk humbly, and wisely, before our God.

 

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Fathomless Grace – 1 Samuel 24. RBT Notes, 24th October

This was inevitable . Someday, Saul and David were bound to catch up with one another, and despite the men around them, would talk face to face, swords in hand, each waiting for the fatal strike. It’s just that no one thought that it would when one of them was having a toilet break, and that the other spared his life, even though being urged on to kill him by his comrades.

David is pressed into the back of a cave, Saul comes in to relieve himself, and David takes his sword. He decides not to cut Saul’s throat, but his cloak (vv.1-4). Yet, he regrets it as soon as he does it. The cloak is one of Saul’s signs of office, and he is, afterall, still “the Lord’s Anointed” (v.6). And that’s what David tells him, once they’ve both left the cave and Saul is at a safe distance. But he says more, asking Saul why he is hounding him, and assuring Saul that he has no desire to kill him, since he is the Lord’s Anointed (vv.8-15).

Saul in turn gives a sobbing, broken-hearted confession of his guilt. He knows that he shouldn’t be on this murderous quest. It’s startling that he says that it was the Lord who led him right into David’s hands (v.18). Maybe he recognises that it was the grace of God alone which kept him alive. After Saul’s tearful confession he goes home, the broken man that he is (vv.16-22).

Then think of your sins. And ask yourself, what do you deserve from the hand of God? In fact, what do you deserve from the hands of others? We have all wronged, humiliated, insulted, neglected and abused those around us in countless ways. We have hounded (in thought and attitude, even if not in actual deeds) those we should have loved. Have they merited these attitudes, or any of the behaviour which has stemmed from them? In our more lucid moments, don’t our hearts say, with tears, “you are more righteous than me, you have treated me well, but I have treated you badly” (v.17). We are sinners against others, and yet we have not received from them what our sins have deserved.

water350_4965cfd76d6861And how much more with the Lord? He has loved us, we have belittled that love. His love has pursued us, and we have run from that love. That love has never failed us, always been there for us, and yet, Saul-like, we have resisted the Spirit bringing God’s love to us, thought little of the sacrificial love of the Son of God, and dishonoured the Father who planned this amazing salvation. We are the worst of people. But God is the best and only Saviour.

“So we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4.16). We never earn this love, but can and must receive it each day. It is so, so free. Grace has no conditions, no small print, no terms, no exception clauses. The Cross brings us to God. The Cross truly brings us home.

Opposition – 1 Samuel 23. RBT Notes, 23rd October

Even when life is at its hardest, many things stay the same. David is still attracting people to his side, and he still needs to survive. He still has the instinct to fight against the Philistines, who are enemies to God’s covenant people. He knows that war means plunder, and plunder means survival. So he plans to fight back against raiding Philistines, and God declares His plan that he should be victorious (vv.1-4). The details of the ephod (the special breastplate worn by the priest, v.6) is important, as it was the means of God’s direct guidance of the inquirer, and also is a powerful visual reminder that, however hard life is for David, the Lord is with him.

edeb8bf421dc267d93ee4de8fa618d44Saul is with him, too, or at least, wants to be, rushing to besiege Keilah when he gets news that David is in that city (vv.7-8). Again, the Lord speaks to David, and gives specific and very encouraging assurances (vv.9-12).  This guidance saves his life (v.13), and God continues to give such wonderful protection to His servant (v.14).  That is not to say that David wasn’t living under huge strain. You may know, too, that to have God’s protection doesn’t mean that tears don’t come, and feelings of intense loneliness don’t sometimes surround you. David knows help for his heart, as Jonathan comes to visit him in the desert (vv.15-18).

With a friend, though, there also comes a legion of enemies. Trials follow hard on the heels of comforts, don’t they? The Ziphites have maybe heard about how raving Saul is, and fear that, if David were discovered by him as being among them, he might hang the lot of them on suspicion of shielding David.  So they tell Saul where David is, to his obvious delight (vv.19-23).  And then it’s a case of another day, another pursuit, and another rescue (vv.24-29).

Why is life so hard? Why is the life of faith hardest of all? Why are people so unfair, and quick to attack us, with words even if not with swords, when all we’re trying to do is life a life of integrity before God? You won’t get answers to these questions. What you will get, is a model of integrity, and the reassurance that as you follow Jesus, you will be given strength to go on. Jesus didn’t stumble in His faith in God, even when the insults were replaced with actual blows, and then whips, a Cross and its nails. Jesus didn’t retaliate, but offered prayers of forgiveness. Jesus didn’t take His eyes of God, when all of life’s circumstances would seem to say that God had taken His eyes off Him. David had it very hard in these years, and maybe you’re having it hard at the moment, too. Remember Jesus. “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebr. 12.3).

Renegades and Murder, and a Certain Reward – 1 Samuel 22. RBT Notes, 22nd October

David knew that this wasn’t the worst it would get, being a hungry fugitive from King Saul. He was bracing himself for far, far worse. And whatever he faced, he didn’t want to do it alone. There was no hope of safety at Gath, but surely he must have felt it a distinctly mixed blessing to be joined by the motley crowd who made their way to him at Adullam. Safety in numbers, possibly, but with the desperate or disgruntled, this was some number to be amongst, and some apprenticeship for the man who would one day be king (vv.1-2).

Maybe it was the strain of having the needy and maybe the nasty with him that made David move on, next to Moab. He needed real support, not draining people, so he sends for his parents (vv.3-4). But soon he’s on the move, again.

Saul is in his home territory, his choice of murder weapon in hand, and now thoroughly paranoid, accusing his own tribesmen of siding with David against him (vv.6-9). Doeg, that shepherd who spied David with Ahimelech, speaks up. He has seen David, and Saul’s response to this news is swift, hauling Ahimelech in for interrogation (vv.10-13). What can Ahimelech say? He didn’t ask for David to show up, and he sees no reason to betray David to Saul (vv.14-15). Did he think this would save his skin? Do you think anyone is safe in the presence of a paranoid, raving king? Notice the tragic irony of v.17: Saul acknowledges that this man and his colleagues are “priests of the Lord”, yet nothing will hold him back from murdering these men of God. Saul is too far gone.

His officials aren’t though, and they hesitate at this order. It takes Doeg to obey Saul, and the result of his obedience is a blood-bath (vv.17-19). One son escapes to tell the news to David. The chapter closes with David not quite alone, but with only a man for company whose murdered family he feels responsible for (vv.20-23).

272c63a083ae7d2f17eb44ab77397e41Sad, wretched Scripture. The world is a sad place, and its people do horrible things. And the Bible shows it as it is. Tyrants kill God’s servants, often after they are first betrayed. Remember the souls of those in heaven who are martyrs of the cross? “They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”” (Revelation 6.10)? Our cry joins theirs. And Jesus hears our cries. No tears shed, no sweat or even blood spilled for Him in a brutal world is ever forgotten, or will ever go unrewarded. Heaven is a home of servants, and of martyrs. Forget the crowns of this world, often put on the heads of men driven mad with the lust for power; we have a King who crowns our heads, and those who suffer in His Name shall wear their crowns for all eternity.

Risk – 1 Samuel 21. RBT Notes, 21st October

David’s sudden appearance at Nob puts the fear into the priest Ahimelech, who’s not only suspicious that David is alone, but assumes that something is badly wrong (v.1). David presents him with a lie to cover his tracks, and a request for food. The priest does something very strange, and highly unorthodox, giving David the bread of the Presence from the Tabernacle (v.6). Was he right to? However holy this bread may have been, he must have reasoned that David was the Lord’s Anointed, and so more than worthy to receive it. This sensitive encounter had a spy, though, who David and we will meet later (v.7).

Along with essential food, David needs a weapon. Did he know that Goliath’s sword was there? Quite possibly (v.9). What a great token of God’s faithfulness when David was so alone and vulnerable. The Lord in whose Name he fought Goliath and overcame is still the same Lord, Who would fight with him against his new enemies, even if it was the army of King Saul.

David surely then reasons that he’ll be safe in the court of another king, even if it is a pagan one (v.11). Alas, Achish has been listening to the Top Ten, and has heard the songs the Israelite women sing about this newcomer. So it’s only a matter of time before Achish will judge David either to be a threat to him, or a cash-cow if ransomed back to Saul. David reasons that if he is to feign being a man without reason, he might save his own skin, and thus makes a spectacle of himself, drooling, raving, and generally being repellent to the court (vv.12-13). And he is (vv.14-15), the ruse has worked.

 

RiskSlideLife is full of risks, some carefully calculated, some embraced in an instant. And these risks for David are only the start of his dangerous journey, living out of the clutches of the murderous Saul. There is a simple lesson here for us, but one which Christians can be very slow to embrace: life is risky. God is sovereign, of course He is. He works out all things in accordance with the purpose of His will (Eph. 1.11). That does not mean, though, that He shows us every step we should take, or stands at every crossroad with clear guidance. He doesn’t remove every roadblock, doesn’t prevent our anxieties at times from gripping us, and He doesn’t give us inspired wisdom so that we know what to think or do when every crisis comes. In short, life for the believer under God’s sovereign rule is – say it quietly – scary.

It is. And that’s right. It’s the life of faith, of trust and submission, where we learn that God knows best, and that at times we know very little. We discover that the enemies are big, and just have to hold onto the promises that God is bigger. And then we can look back to the Goliaths we have overcome, by God’s help, and take up the sword of faith all over again. He will give us our daily bread, of that we can be sure, whilst He has no need to tell us where He’s going to supply tomorrow’s bread from. And the life of at times desperate faith in God we’re called to might leave us feeling or looking a fool, as Jesus must have looked to all the world at times, and certainly at the cross; and yet, God is on the Throne. And one day, after this life of faith is over, we shall see Him and join Him there, as perfect as His Suffering Son is, and lost in wonder, love and praise. On that day we shall see that, afterall, life in Christ has never been, in the truest sense, risk.

 

Life on Track? 1 Samuel 20. RBT Notes, 20th October

This is a long narrative of Jonathan and David’s friendship, and of Jonathan’s desperate longing and efforts that David should find Saul’s favour again. David knows how desperate the situation is (v.3), and Jonathan is under no illusion, either. So David proposes a way of finding out how volatile Saul is at this moment, and then the pair make a covenant of friendship commitment to one another, for all of the uncertainties that lie ahead (vv.4-17).

What follows is a lengthy and detailed telling of how Jonathan fared in approaching his father. He finds Saul raging (v.30), and closed against all reason, and ready even to kill his own son (v.33). Jonathan goes out to the fields where David is hiding, and through the prearranged signals with the arrows, lets David know that there is no return for him at Saul’s court. They embrace, weep together, and part (vv.41-42).

Life can be unfair, and deeply tragic. Whoever said that David deserved this trauma? Who ever said that you deserved your trials? Noone. But trails aren’t given because we deserve them, but because the Lord, in His mysterious wisdom and sovereign love, sees fit to bring them into our lives. Did David need these upheavals? In the plan of God, yes. Of course, David knew and loved his God already, as he showed when he faced Goliath. But God knew that that faith needed to be strengthened, hammered out on the anvil of stress, uncertainty, danger and injustice. God was wanting to make that faith strong and radiant. The many Psalms of lament and desperate prayer show that faith being refined, just as the many Psalms of worship and thanksgiving show that faith shining brightly before a watching world.

“These trials have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proved genuine, and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1.7). Our trials are always, always within God’s purposes. He will do all things for the glory of His Son, and for our good in Him. David didn’t know the full plan of God, to refine him to be like His Anointed Son; we do. And because God never abandoned His Son, but used His suffering life and His death to bring Him honour, He promises to do just the same to us, His blood-bought children. His plans are always on track, and so our lives are therefore on track, too. Let’s believe Him, whatever we’re going through.

 

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