70. A Terrible Cleansing

Meditations in Exodus: 70. A Terrible Cleansing

Ex 32:19,20  When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. 

What follows here seems quite terrible at first sight, but first sight is often casual and does not think about the awfulness or details of what is happening. Moses leaves the Lord and starts back down the mountain: Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. (v.15,16) It is quite clear, he has two slabs of stone on which are the laws God has imparted, engraved by God Himself. On the way down the mountain he picks up Joshua and as they get lower down the mountain they hear the sounds of revelry down below (v.17,18) and so, “When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain, (v.19) Moses is so appalled at what he sees that he flings down the two stones and they are smashed. It is as if in his anger, despite having recently interceded for Israel, he is saying, “these laws are redundant, Israel has broken the covenant, it is all a waste of time!”

But then we see his actions. He does not give up on Israel. In a fury he could have walked off and left them and gone back to looking after sheep again for this people must surely be condemned. To cope with what follows we must really take in the awfulness of what has happened – and it is awful because of the things we emphasized beforehand, that it was so clear who God was, the One who had delivered them miraculously from Egypt, the One who had kept them and provided for them in the desert, the One who came with thunder and lightning and trumpets for all the people to see, and the One who revealed Himself to the elders and leaders on the mountain. In the face of all that, a number at least of Israel grumble and demand gods or a god to be visible and Aaron had gone along with it and made them a golden calf in the image of one of the gods of Egypt and they had then had a celebration of this god, basically an orgy.

No wonder Moses is furious. But what to do about it? How can Moses pull this nation back from the brink, because although he has got the Lord to back off from destroying them all, he recognizes that this sin cannot be left and the attitude of the whole nation needs to be dealt with. What will he do?

Well, first of all, he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. (v.20) He destroys the calf and grinds it up and then scatters it on the waters in the waddi so the people have to drink it when they come for water supplies. He then challenges Aaron over his part in it, who simply makes a pathetic excuse (v.21-24). But it is not only past actions it is also the problem of the present shambles because, Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.(v.25) Yes, and it is not only the shambles they are at the moment, it is also what will be told to the surrounding nations, destroying their testimony; their very future may hang in the balance here.

Let’s quickly deal with the purging that follows: “So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him. Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ ” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” (v.26-29) This sounds absolutely terrible but when we realise that only three thousand out of possibly two million were executed, we realise that actually the ‘party’ had only involved a small percentage of Israel and it was only the revelers who were executed, the ones who had grumbled, the ones who rejoiced over their new god. These are the ones who have been removed from Israel. It could have been so much worse. Yes, it is terrible but only as terrible as the actions of these people who had the potential to undermine the entire nation and bring to an end all of God’s plan to bless this people and make them a light to the rest of the world.

Moses confronts the whole nation: The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.(v.30-32) Here is Moses the intercessor again. The fact that they have sought to cleanse away the rebellious revelers may not have completely satisfied the Lord; He may yet hold the nation guilty. Moses must go and intercede for them.

He acknowledges their sin before the Lord, makes no mention of the cleansing but simply asks for mercy in the form of forgiveness and if that is not possible that his life be forfeited because he has obviously failed. The LORD replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.(v.33,34) The Lord’s answer is not very clear and may leave us wondering but later in the Bible Ezekiel in particular makes it clear that God only judges the guilty and He knows who are guilty and who are not, so when we read, the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made,” (v.35) it is almost certain that that plague only struck some, the guilty ones who had escaped the sword. It is a limited judgment.

Throughout the early part of the Bible in particular disciplinary judgments come on Israel as God attempted to pull this nation back from the brink as time and again they allow groups to fester rebellion in their midst which had the potential of wrecking the nation and annulling their role as a light to the nations. If Israel did one thing, it was to show us the depth and stupidity of sin in every one of us, even when God is there working to help us. There is no room for pointing fingers because we all have the same propensity and it is only God’s mercy and grace working for us that stops us all from going into oblivion, Praise, thank and worship Him for the wonder of His love which may discipline but always seeks the overall best for His people, the people of the earth!


55. The End of Saul

Meditations in 1 Samuel  55. The End of Saul

1 Sam 31:1-3     Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.

And so we arrive at the end of 1 Samuel and the almost inevitable conclusion, the death of Saul and Jonathan.  Initially Saul is hit by an arrow and he is seriously wounded. He fears he will be overcome by the enemy who make take him alive and taunt and torture him before they kill him and so, “Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” (v.4a) He would rather end it quickly but his armour bearer is hesitant: “But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it” (v.4b) It might be said he committed suicide if he hadn’t already been wounded ‘critically’. As far as the overall battle went, we read, “When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.” (v.7)

So that is it, the end. There are more bits to come before the chapter is finished and you can read them yourself. It is not a glorious passage of Scripture. It doesn’t surprise us because deep down we knew it had to come. He had rejected the Lord and so the Lord rejected him and this outcome was likely. We might ponder that sometimes the will of God takes time to be worked out; the Lord is patient, not only hoping for people to repent and turns to Him (and that had always been an option for Saul right up to the end) but also in bringing an end to their futile circumstances.

Now I have just overplayed it, and for a point. We might look at Saul and think how futile his reign had been and what a waste he was and so on but before we finish this set of studies I want to stretch into 2 Samuel and see David’s response to all that had happened. In chapter 1 we find a young man turns up at David’s camp who purports to have come from the Israelite camp and bring news of the death of both Saul and Jonathan. David cross examines him and he turns out to be an Amalekite and he claims to have found Saul in the battle field, mortally wounded, and that Saul had asked him to put him out of his misery and kill him, which he had done (see v.2-13). David then has him executed for having killed ‘the Lord’s anointed’. (v.14-16)

But it is what follows that I want us to observe: “David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar): “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen!” (v.17-19) David mourns for both Saul and Jonathan and sings of their greatness. Listen: “Saul and Jonathan– in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold. “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!” (v.23-27)

Now the cynic will say he doesn’t mean this, it’s just a public show, and anyway some of the things he says are not true – “in life they were loved ad gracious”, what was all that about? That was David remembering back to good times that he had known in the earlier days with Saul. His words about Jonathan are natural and reflect the sort of relationship these two young warriors had had, but when he comes to Saul he seeks to respect the good things of the man, the role he played in vanquishing so many enemies of Israel and for leading them so well.

Whenever I have led a funeral service in the  past, and where the recent years of the deceased had possibly been difficult with illness or infirmity, I have always suggested to the congregation that they pause and think back to earlier years, the joyful years and the good years in their memory and give thanks. Sadly because it is a fallen world, the latter years of a life are often not as glorious as the former and it is easy to forget those former years. David will not let that happen, they need to be remembered. Yes, Saul did mess up, yes he was disobedient and yes, the Lord did leave him, all these things (and more) are true but we do not glory in the downfall of another, whoever they may be. We may be grateful that the reign of a tyrant is ended but the sorrow is that this person utterly failed in their life (as big and as might as they may have appeared to the world) and utterly failed to express their ‘image of God’ side in a good way. How many times I am reminded of Ezekiel 18 where the Lord says He does not rejoice over the death of a sinner but would much rather they repented and came to the good.

In David we have a man after God’s own heart and here in these tragic chapters we see the downfall and death of a man who had such potential and who had received so much help from God. Remember what we said in meditation no.20, “In SEVEN ways the Lord was there for Saul to equip him and enable him to be the king the people want.” God had done everything He could from His side but despite all that Saul got it wrong and we have just observed the tragic end outcome. It is a tragedy of a story as far as Saul is concerned and for the person after God’s own heart, it is grievous. The way is now open for David to become king. It has taken a long time but the time has come, although the path ahead is not going to be easy.

What do we take away? A warning not to be like Saul. Ponder on how much the Lord has done for you in your life. Are you allowing Him to lead you to your full potential in Him?  An encouragement to remember David and remember that the will of God requires us, so often, to be persistent and to persevere while we wait for His promises to be worked out. A reminder also that He calls us to hold on to right attitudes while we are waiting for it to be worked out and in the process to be open to let Him bring the changes in us He wants to bring. These are all big issue lessons. May we hold on to them.

54. Saul’s Folly

Meditations in 1 Samuel  54. Saul’s folly

1 Sam 28:5-7     When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” “There is one in Endor,” they said.

Before we come to Saul’s final closing act we have to consider something that happened that had a variety of strange elements to it. It is the going of Saul to the witch of Endor. First of all let’s observe the circumstances that apparently drove Saul to take this foolish action. The Philistines turned up in force but as the Lord is no longer with him Saul is filled with fear. Yes, in his desperation  he does enquire of the Lord but the Lord does not answer. The Lord is waiting for repentance and in its absence He says nothing. Now Saul has this urge to get some encouragement – from somewhere!

The prophet Isaiah was later to address this sort of situation and declared, When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (Isa 8:19,20) Don’t consult deceiving mediums but instead turn to the Law of God and the testimony that we have of the Lord’s dealings with His people that teaches us all we need to know. Inquire of God! That sums up God’s will in respect of consulting fortune tellers etc.

Saul asks his men for a medium and they send him to Endor. “So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.” (28:8) Although disguised he is quite open about his wishes. She is more guarded: “But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?” (28:9) That must have been because of the influence of Samuel. But Saul reassures her, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.” (v.10) and then comes the crunch: “Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”  “Bring up Samuel,” he said.” (v.11)

Now when you think about this, what is Saul expecting? A few words of comfort? That Samuel will speak differently to him, that Samuel will be easy going on him, that Samuel will forget God’s instruction to get rid of mediums and so put up with Saul’s further disobedience?  Well here is where it really starts getting freaky; the woman goes in to her act but then it all goes wrong, it really does appear to be Samuel: “When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” (v.12)

The fact that she responds like this means that she wasn’t really expecting this to happen and it scares her. Saul cries to her to be clearer: “The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.” “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” (v.13,14) The only other time in the Bible when someone appears to come back from the dead is on the Mount of Transfiguration where Moses & Elijah appear (see Mt 17) – and of course when Jesus rose from the dead – and so this is not something you can expect to happen, and the medium certainly didn’t, but God in His grace (?) allowed Samuel to speak to Saul one more time: “Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors–to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.” (v.16-19)

You can’t get any clearer than that for a rebuke. You’ve lost the kingdom to David and you are going to die tomorrow. That basically is the end of it. You can read yourself the further few details before Saul goes back home. But that’s it.

Today mediums and those in the occult foolishly try to use this passage to support what they do but they always forget that first, behind this passage was the Law of Moses which forbade such things, which Samuel had complied with, and then the actions of this so-called medium indicate that what happened – the reality of it being Samuel – was completely unexpected; this was a unique incident in the Bible. Normally it never happened!

If you are not sure about the verses about mediums, here are some:

  • “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19:31),
  • “`I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people.” (Lev 20:6),
  • “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death.” (Lev 20:27),
  • “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD”  (Deut 18:10-12) It is quite clear. Stay away!

53. Trials & Tribulations

Meditations in 1 Samuel  53. Trials & Tribulations

1 Sam 27:8,9      Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

Remember in all that follows, David is simply trying to survive. He is on the run from the king of Israel who is determined to hunt him down and kill him and so he has fled to neighbouring Philistia where Saul will not come because the Philistines were a strong adversary.  He has managed to get Achish to allow him to live in Ziklag, a little distance away, and so we now see David using his men as raiding parties against people who were not Philistines but who were those against Israel. The Geshurites lived south  of Philistia and were a people not conquered by Israel at the time of the taking of the Land. The Girzites aren’t mentioned anywhere else in the Bible but we must assume they were a similar people. The Amalekites had long been enemies of  Israel and Saul had been instructed to wipe them out but had failed to do that completely.

David is living on a knife-edge. He has to be careful to stay on Achish’s good side and so when Achish enquires where David went raiding he told him areas of Judah and Israel: When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.” (v.10)  To maintain this lie David had to completely eradicate any group he went against: “He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, `This is what David did.’ ” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.” (v.11) It was literally the only way he could survive and as a result, “Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so odious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant forever.” (v.12)

However it got even more dangerous: “In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.” David said, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.” Achish replied, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” (28:1,2) It gets even worse as the Philistines prepare to attack Israel and as much as David is on the run from Saul we know he did not want to raise a hand against him and so as we move on we find, “The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. As the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the rear with Achish. The commanders of the Philistines asked, “What about these Hebrews?” (29:1,2) The good news, as we shall see, is that the commanders of the Philistines were naturally unhappy about having David behind them as they go to fight Israel.

Achish argues on David’s behalf (29:3b-5) but has to give way to his commanders and so somewhat apologetically explains it to David  (v.6,7) and David pleads innocence (v.8) and Achish has to press him further to leave which he does (v.9-11). When David gets back to Ziklag (30:1) he finds that Amalakites have plundered the town and taken all their women and children (v.2-4). To cut a long story short David and his men pursue them, overcome them and bring back their families but we should perhaps note David is still seeking the advice and direction of the Lord: Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” (v.7,8)

What is also interesting is how when they return David uses the plunder they capture from the Philistines: “When David arrived in Ziklag, he sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah, who were his friends, saying, “Here is a present for you from the plunder of the LORD’s enemies.” (v.26)

I have headed this study ‘Trials and Tribulations’ because this is a time in David’s life which I am sure he would not have wished for that was trying and difficult. The difficulty was that he was still a warrior and Israel were still his people but he was living with the enemy. However there were other enemies and so he seems to have used his time to deal with them in such a way that it remained a secret and it still appeared to his hosts that he was fighting against Israel. This life of almost two lives nearly brought him to the place where he might have had to fight against Israel but was fortunately saved from that by suspicious Philistine leaders. He then finds that one of his other enemies have come and plundered his home town and has to go and complete the job of dealing with them,  Finally he uses the plunder to bless his friends back at home in Israel.

It is a highly convoluted and unnerving experience. What can we learn about David from all this? Well he never went against his own people and so remained loyal to Israel during this time. In fact he went further and continued to deal with some of their old enemies who had continued to be a thorn in their side. Amazingly therefore, he continues to act as a commander of an Israelite fighting force even while living under the feet of one of Israel’s primary enemies. In it all we see he is still loyal to the Lord and seeks His wisdom. He is also loyal to his friends in Israel.

There are good things in the midst of this confusing time of his life. Let’s just accept it, life is sometimes confusing and not because of wrong things we have done. David is not on the run because he has done wrong things, quite to the contrary in fact. It is, as we’ve noted previously, a fallen world where people ad circumstances seem to pile up against us. Remember in it, the Lord is there with you and calls you to remain loyal to him, however confusing things may appear to be. Hang in there! Confusing circumstances do not mean He no longer loves you; they just mean the enemy is having a little rant for the moment. As we said, hang in there! You might be a king  – a ruler over the circumstances – tomorrow!

52. Living with the enemy

Meditations in 1 Samuel  52. Living with the Enemy

1 Sam 27:1     But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

We had a glimpse of this earlier on in chapter 21 when David, out of desperation, went to Gath, a Philistine city, to seek refuge. At that time the leaders with Achish, the king of Gath, had been highly suspicious of David. It had been early days and probably the tales of David fleeing and only just escaping Saul had not yet spread and so David had had to feign madness and left the Philistines. Now it is different. There are more than one or two stories circulating no doubt about how David had managed to escape the clutches of Saul.  So in our verses above we see David reasoning with himself that his only option is to escape to the lands of the Philistines and risk it there, because the signs are that Saul seems to be getting closer every time he comes after David.

For that reason we then read, So David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish son of Maoch king of Gath. David and his men settled in Gath with Achish. Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives: Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel, the widow of Nabal.” (v.2,3) It can only be because they knew that David was a true outcast in his own country that they now tolerated both David and his six hundred plus followers. It is quite amazing when you think about it. As far as David is concerned, it works: “When Saul was told that David had fled to Gath, he no longer searched for him.” (v.4)

So bizarrely the anointed future king of Israel is living in the land of their old enemy.  David manoeuvres so that he is not going to be under the constant watch of the King of Gath for, as we shall see, it will be important that he can come and go without observation: “Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favour in your eyes, let a place be assigned to me in one of the country towns, that I may live there. Why should your servant live in the royal city with you?” So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since. David lived in Philistine territory a year and four months.” (v.5-7)

To try to think more broadly about what is happening we should perhaps observe that although David is living in the land of the Philistines he never becomes a Philistine. In fact he will actually be operating against them – under cover. He is forced into these circumstances because the leader of Israel is hostile to him and seeks to kill him. If Saul had been wise he would still have had David under him as one of his generals fighting battles for him, but Saul, as we saw earlier suffers paranoia. David is in a place where I am sure he would prefer not to be. Although he refuses to raise a hand against Saul, he must have some desire to enter into the fulfilment of Samuel’s anointing of him, and yet he is frustrated in that but still has that greater sense that he is not to raise a hand against Saul.

I have known a situation where an individual in a church has had a vision for outreach, making and taking every opportunity to reach out with God’s love to the community, and yet the Pastor of the church was not for it. Instead of ploughing his own furrow the individual submitted it to the leader and accepted his attitudes about outreach (that people would just come by the sovereign acts of God). Although the individual in question could not work out their vision through the church, he became involved with the community through other means that made him better known throughout the community, and just rested in the belief that one day the Lord would release greater faith in the church leader. That is the nearest parallel that I can get to this situation which shows us that sometimes the world (and church!) does not work as we want it to and we find ourselves in circumstances we wish we weren’t in – but are!  it doesn’t make you a bad Christian, it just means you are living in a fallen world and in fact, if you are like David seeking to honour ‘the Lord’s anointed’ you are actually being very righteous!

Whatever we find ourselves caught up in with our lives being pushed in directions different to that which we wish, we would do well to remember Jesus’ words about his followers: I have sent them into the world.” (Jn 17:18) His desire is that we do not keep in little holy enclaves but interact with the world, and sometimes He uses that interaction to sanctify us. However his overall intentions are clear as he stated as, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” (Jn 12:47) and he wants to use you and me to do it.

His ways of achieving that can sometimes appear convoluted. The story of Joseph in the Old Testament is a classic example of that. From early in his life the Lord declared His intent – to make him a great leader but for that to happen the Lord had to allow and yet use the bad attitudes of his brothers, a slave master in Egypt, a seductive wife, a prison warder and a butcher and a baker before it could come about and Joseph was eventually able to say to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) The world, Satan and sin may conspire in this fallen world to create circumstances we wish were not there, but the Lord promises that He will be there working in the midst of them, whatever! (Rom 8:28) Hallelujah!

51. The Lord’s Anointed (2)

Meditations in 1 Samuel  51. The Lord’s Anointed (2)

1 Sam 26:2,3    The Ziphites went to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding on the hill of Hakilah, which faces Jeshimon?”  So Saul went down to the Desert of Ziph, with his three thousand chosen men of Israel, to search there for David.

There is a sense of déjà vu about these verses because in  chapter 23 we found almost exactly the same thing, these self-serving, treacherous Ziphites running to Saul to tell him where David was hiding in their territory. On the previous occasion David had only escaped Saul because Saul was called away to fend off the Philistines, but now here he comes again.

It may be worth while just pausing to note the number of times Saul came after David to get a clearer picture of the thorn in the side that Saul was to David. He had prepared to chase David in Keilah (23:7,8), had searched for him in the desert of Ziph (23:14), was told by the Ziphites where David was (23:19,20), only failed to catch David because of the Philistine distraction (23:27,28), came back and followed David across to En Gedi (24:1,2) where we saw the incident in the cave (24:3-) and now again the Ziphites go to Saul to tell on David. We should also remember that the last time he gave up pursuing David because David had spared his life in the cave.

But now, presumably time has passed, the Ziphites come again and tell Saul where David is and so Saul starts after him once more. But David is now a canny desert warrior: Saul made his camp beside the road on the hill of Hakilah facing Jeshimon, but David stayed in the desert. When he saw that Saul had followed him there, he sent out scouts and learned that Saul had definitely arrived.” (v.3,4) Having established where Saul was, “David set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. He saw where Saul and Abner son of Ner, the commander of the army, had lain down. Saul was lying inside the camp, with the army encamped around him.” (v.5). Presumably in the moonlight, perhaps looking down on them from a high crag, David recognizes Saul sleeping in the camp.

It is at this point that we see the mischievous warrior side of David as he puts a challenge to those who have come scouting with him: “David then asked Ahimelech the Hittite and Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, “Who will go down into the camp with me to Saul?” (v.6) Now at this point one can only think this is David responding to his natural urges as a desert fighter to sneak down and overcome his enemy as they slept. Note I used the word ‘natural’ because we are going to see something that is not natural.

Abishai takes up the challenge and so “David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him.”  (v.7) There is the ideal opportunity to finally get rid of this thorn in the side and Abishai makes that suggestion: “Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice.” (v.8) Yes, that seems the obvious thing to do but Abishai has forgotten David’s previous response when Saul’s life was in his hands. And thus suddenly it strikes David again what they are about to do: “But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the LORD lives,” he said, “the LORD himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.” (v.9-11)

There it is again, a recognition that Saul was still the Lord’s anointed and now David adds to it, if anyone is to remove Saul it must be the Lord. Others may kill Saul but David won’t for he recognizes the spiritual reality here – the Lord put Saul there and the Lord must remove him. He may die of old age or in battle but David will not contribute to Saul’s death. It is a remarkable declaration of faith. Oh, that we would see it more in the church today. Those the Lord has put into spiritual leadership, only He can remove. Now He may remove by death or He may send one of His anointed ministries to do it. I have known a prophet come into a situation where a leader was committing adultery, which no one else knew about, and stood him down. The adulterer was wise enough to know not to reject the word of the prophet  and is still alive and has restored his life elsewhere.

The Lord may do it by a sovereign act or by an anointed word of authority, but not by gossip and innuendo. Again, if we have question marks over the spiritual authority, pray for it and seek its correction and restoration by God. Unless you are called to be a ministry by God with His authority, take no other action. Leave it to the Lord. The one exception I would put to this rule is that of child abuse. If there is a vulnerable child or children at risk, and you are absolutely sure about it, then that is a ground for going public, but I would suggest only after confronting the person with their sin, and their refusal to repent. Then is the time to act. Perhaps one final word. If your church leader is part of a hierarchy and you are worried about something you see him doing you feel is quite wrong, then pray and if you still feel it is right, make an appointment with whoever it is above him and go and speak to them. Rest in their decision.

50. The Folly of Nabal

Meditations in 1 Samuel  50. The Folly of Nabal

1 Sam 25:2,3    A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings.

History moves on: Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah.” (25:1a). He had played a significant part in David’s life and now he was gone so we find, “Then David moved down into the Desert of Maon.” (v.1b possibly otherwise Paran, both south of the wilderness of Ziph) David retreats to the desert where he feels most secure. Now Carmel was about seven miles south of Hebron in this same area and it was there that Saul had been held to account for his disobedience (see 1 Sam 15:12-) and it is where the next incident in David’s life occurs.

The starting point is a very wealthy man named Nabal who has a wife named Abigail. Now you really need to read the whole chapter together to see all that goes on. We’ll just pick up the main points. Nabal, apparently was well known for being mean and miserable. Now in his wanderings around the desert David and his men had more than a few times run across Nabal’s shepherds looking after their large flocks and had always treated them well, never taking any sheep and in fact acting as protection for them (see 25:15,16). Now David has a need and requests Nabal for help in the form of provisions (25:5-8). The greeting he sent was gracious and as it was the time of one of the feasts, it might be expected that a very wealthy man might provide for others in need, especially those who had in fact helped him over the past year.

However we described Nabal as miserable although the text calls him surly. Nabal rudely rejects the request (v.10,11) and so the servants return to David who is so annoyed at this man’s lack of generosity that he determines to go and sort him out (v.12,13).  Fortunately for Nabal one of his servants tells Abigail what has transpired and tells her this could bring down David’s wrath on them (v.14-17). She take immediate action and gathers together a large quantity of provisions and gets her servants to go ahead of her to meet David (v.18,19)  David meantime was making his way towards Carmel working himself up to take vengeance on Nabal (v.20-22).

When the two meet Abigail bows before David and pleads for forgiveness, taking the blame for what had happened (v.23-25). She pleads with  David not to act hastily and do something unrighteous (v.26-31). David recognizes that she has saved him from such a wrong action and gratefully receives her gifts and sends her back home with a blessing (v.32-35) and so she goes. When she gets home she finds Nabal is getting drunk and so waits until next morning before telling him what she has done. (v.36,37) and we are told in response, “his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the LORD struck Nabal and he died.” (v.37,38) What that initial description means we don’t know. Perhaps it meant that he had a stroke Whatever it was, ten days later he dies and the recorder attributes it to the Lord, clearly a judgment on him.

The story does not end there. When David hears of it (v.39a) he sees it as the Lord backing him and keeping him from wrong actions and then he “sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife,” (v.39b) although the words of the servants appear a little stronger than asking (v.40). However she acquiesces and they are married (v.41.42). We are reminded that David already had two wives although one of them, Michal, had been taken back by Saul and given to another. Polygamy was not expressly banned although the early chapters of Genesis suggest or imply that one wife is God’s best plan for man. In this David was following a common if unwise practice.

So what can we learn from this strange passage? Well Nabal stands out as an example not to follow and challenges us to be hospitable and gracious and generous. All things to be thought on some more. David doesn’t come over very well as his initial hasty anger is going to lead him to commit unrighteous acts and he is only saved by Abigail’s graciousness and wisdom. Beware hasty anger.  Be those who pause and reflect before we act.  Abigail clearly is the heroine who stands out exhibiting wisdom and grace and is eventually rewarded by becoming wife of the future king of Israel. By the judgment of God she is delivered from what was probably not a happy marriage even though they were prosperous. As we said, a strange passage.

49. The Lord’s Anointed (1)

Meditations in 1 Samuel  49. The Lord’s Anointed (1)

1 Sam 24:6,7    He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

We come to the first of two similar events in which David displays a remarkable attitude towards authority and conveys, I believe, a very significant lesson to us. To see and understand this we have to note the circumstances: After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.” (v.1,2)  This simply follows on from the passage we have previously considered where David was only saved from being caught by Sauk by news brought to Saul that the Philistines were attacking the land and he needed to go and deal with them.

We then come to a very human account: “He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. “ (v.3) There is obviously a very large cave where David and his men take shelter when Saul turns up with his army, quite unaware that they are there. In what follows this would appear to take a little time and it may be that Saul has hung his robe over a rock and then gone a little further into one of the niches in the cave to do what he needs to do. David’s men see this as an opportunity to kill Saul and do away with their problems: “The men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, `I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’ “ (v.4a) Now David won’t go this far but, perhaps provoked by his men, he sneaks up quietly and cuts a portion off the bottom of Saul’s robe and creeps back into the inner recesses of the cave again: “Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.” (v.4b)

But then we find a remarkable response in David to what he has just done: “Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe.” (v.5) and he explains what he feels to his men: “He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” (v.6) Now in this, this man after God’s own heart states a principle which he will expand upon later when a similar thing happens. He sees Saul as the Lord’s anointed and as such he will not do anything at all against him, either to harm him or demean him.  We might say, well God has rejected Saul but as far as David is concerned the Lord anointed Saul to be king and until the Lord changes that, that is how it is; he will not lift a hand against him.

I believe this can be translated into a principle by which the man or woman of God has to abide by: where God has raised up an authority, it is for God to remove it, not us. This should not be taken to extremes to say we should not vote a politician out of office, but that we should respect the office, even if the man or woman gives us cause to question them. When it comes to spiritual leadership although I am sure that not all that purports to be spiritual leadership in the church actually is, where it is clear that God has raised up a spiritual leader, we should heed David’s lesson. We may have questions over a man’s ministry or his lifestyle but that allows us no leeway to gossip about him or her behind their back, or even start a campaign to bring them down. Our call is to respect them and pray for them and we rob ourselves of the Lord’s blessing if we harbour wrong attitudes towards our leaders.  I have known instances of those who had problems with their fathers as children and who have therefore grown up with wrong attitudes towards men and towards authority generally. If we recognise that has been our experience, unless we receive counsel and help, we remain in a very vulnerable position where the enemy can cause immense upset in us and in the church generally.

So we find, “With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. “ (v.7) But David doesn’t leave it there, he lets Saul know what has happened: “Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, `David is bent on harming you’? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, `I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’” (v.8-10) There he reiterates this principle yet again – I will not lift my hand against the Lord’s anointed.

He continues, See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. Now understand and recognize that I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, `From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.” Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.” (v.11-15) He explains his stance more fully and receives a positive response from Saul (v.16-21)

His words and his attitude have convicted Saul. If we come with gentleness and humility to express our concerns to those who worry us in spiritual authority, then we can leave it in the Lord’s hands to convict them and bring change. If they will not change, then we leave them to Him to deal with them. He will hold them accountable. Rest in that. Failure to rest in that reveals things in you that need to change.

48. The Reality of the Pursuit

Meditations in 1 Samuel  48. The Reality of the Pursuit

1 Sam 23:19,20    The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hakilah, south of Jeshimon? Now, O king, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for handing him over to the king.”

We have commented on the communication links  that appeared to exist in Israel at this time, that took the gossip about David’s victories even across the borders into Philistine country, that  took the word to his family that he was hiding art Adullam, and that obviously let Jonathan know where David was. But that was a two-edged sword for now this new gathering and collecting meant that there were those who saw it in their interest to take that news about David to Saul.

Previously prior to Jonathan coming for the last time to see David, we had read, While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life.” (23:15) The desert of Ziph is south of Hebron and to the west of the Dead Sea. The ‘Ziphites’ were thus inhabitants of that area. Now we don’t know why they went up to Saul at Gibeah (north of Jerusalem) and told on him. Whether they thought David constituted a threat to them, his being in their area, or whether there was some other reason we are not told but they go to Saul and give him very detailed guidance as to how to find David. They do and say everything possible to show Saul they are on his side.

Saul, perhaps fortunately, doesn’t want to go straight away but wants them to go ahead and confirm exactly where David is: “Saul replied, “The LORD bless you for your concern for me. Go and make further preparation. Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty. Find out about all the hiding places he uses and come back to me with definite information. Then I will go with you; if he is in the area, I will track him down among all the clans of Judah.” (23:21-23)

Now watch what happens: “So they set out and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, in the Arabah south of Jeshimon. Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon. When Saul heard this, he went into the Desert of Maon in pursuit of David.” (v.24,25) They go to do what Saul has said and Saul follows shortly afterwards and yet the ‘bush telegraph’ tells David that Saul is coming. Who or what passed on this information we don’t know but David responds and takes his men further south into the desert of Maon, followed shortly by Saul.

It gets close: “Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul.” (v.26) They simply have a mountain between them and Saul appears to be catching up. What hope of escape is there? But then, “As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” (v.26,27) Wow! What timing!  Coincidence? Probably not. “Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth. And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi.” (v.28,29) Relief! Saul dashes off with his army to defend the land to the west from the plundering Philistines so David takes off and goes east and settles in the wilderness area of En Gedi which is about half way up the Dead Sea. For the moment at least David and his men have been spared from Saul.

We make the point in this study that the chase after David was very real and very threatening. In a nice sentimental story you would have David being anointed as the next king and everything being peaceful and quiet until the time comes for him to inherit the throne, but real life is not like that. We live in a Fallen World where sinful men disobey God, lay themselves open to demonic attack and become paranoid and do all they can to oppose the people of God. It was like it then and it is like it now. Nothing changes. The truth is that we live in a war environment where our enemy seeks to take every opportunity we give him to bring us down. The truth also is that God has equipped us with every thing we need to stand and hold our ground (see Eph 6)

Until Saul is taken off the battlefield he is going to be a threat to David and we will shortly see two occasions where he got too close for comfort. However, it may be that such times are opportunities for David’s heart to be revealed as we shall soon see. If you and I go through battle times, will we be revealed as the children of God that we are by the way we respond to our attackers, or will we appear just the same as they are? May it be the former case.

47. Covenant Friendship (4)

Meditations in 1 Samuel  47. Covenant Friendship (4)

1 Sam 23:15,16    While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.

This is now the fourth and final time that we find reference to this covenant friendship between Jonathan and David and it might be helpful to remind ourselves of those contacts. The first time was when this covenant came into being: Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself…..Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.” (1 Sam 18:1,3) A little later, the second time, we found, “Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him,” (19:1,2) but Jonathan managed to persuade his father otherwise, at that time at least: “Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, David will not be put to death” (v.6) Then came the third time when Saul was chasing David and “Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan.” (20:1) when they entered into the elaborate pact whereby Jonathan would note Saul’s reaction to David’s absence at the feast and then convey it to him. Now we come to this fourth and final time  where Davis is on the run with his men in the desert and we find, “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (23:16) Tragically, the only other time Jonathan in mentioned in 1 Samuel is to record his death in battle (31:2).

Now before we take note of how Jonathan encouraged and strengthened David, it is interesting to note that although Saul with all his intelligence gathering did not manage to catch David, Jonathan appears to have had no trouble in going to him. We have noted before the gossip that seemed to spread around the region, even between different peoples and perhaps, although the ordinary folk might not have spoken to Saul or his other generals, the fact that Jonathan was clearly loved by the ordinary people possibly meant that there was a conduit of communication whereby he was able to get news of David, even though it did not get to Saul’s court.

So now Jonathan comes to David to encourage him one further time: “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” (23:17)  Jonathan had shown something of this awareness previously when he asked of David, “do not ever cut off your kindness from my family–not even when the LORD has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” (20:15) There was an implication within that of David’s future success and by inference, Saul’s demise. Saul himself had declared in anger to Jonathan, “As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!” (20:31) He clearly saw David as a threat to his own family carrying on the kingship.

We don’t know of course, because it is never mentioned after the original event, if Saul, Jonathan and others had come to hear about Samuel anointing David to be the next king. The very fact that the recorder is able to include it, suggests that it was well known: “The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (16:1)  Samuel hadn’t used the word king, but had simply spoken of consecrating the sons but had then clearly picked out David to be the anointed one. Of course it doesn’t require too much to put two and two together to make four when you remember that Samuel had earlier declared to Saul, “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” (13:13,14) When Samuel anoints David and David starts having great success, the cat is out of the bag, we might say.

Intriguingly, even the enemy seemed to know about this because when David first turned up at Gather find, “the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances.” (21:11) Wow!  A little later Saul, chiding his officials, asks, “Listen, men of Benjamin! Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? Is that why you have all conspired against me?” (22:7,8) Who could have that authority but a future king. Saul knows! Jonathan’s last pronouncement declares what everyone knows but few are speaking out loud because of Saul’s wrath: “You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” (23:17)

There it is! The word is out: Saul knows about this, Jonathan knows about this, the whole world knows about it!  Saul reiterates this a while later after David has spared his life: “I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.” (24:20) The die is well and truly set and everyone knows it. All we have to do is watch and wait for it. With this in mind, “The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.” (23:18) It was the last time the two ever spoke together.

Jonathan is a good example for us of a friend. What is sad is that, knowing what the end outcome was going to be, he did not stay with his friend but allowed loyalty to his God-opposed father to condemn him to death alongside his father in the days to come.

For David we have a picture of how the Lord encourages him again and again to believe the end plan for his life. Encouragement from the Lord comes to us in many different forms but the one thing we can be sure of, is that He WILL encourage again and again and again until His purposes have been fulfilled in us. Hallelujah!