The Shepherd King Part 6 July 26, 2016

Last week we reviewed the momentous occasion when David slew the Philistine giant, Goliath, with one small stone.  When the Philistine army saw that their champion was dead, they scattered and overcome by Israel’s army.

When King Saul saw David going out against Goliath, he asked his commander, Abner, ‘Whose son is that?’  (I Sam.17:55)  Some commentators take issue with this question.  Since David had been playing the harp for Saul for some time already, Saul knew David and, in fact, had sent to Jesse originally and asked for David to be sent to the palace.  Was Saul getting forgetful?  I don’t think so.

Remember that Saul had declared earlier that the man who could overcome the giant would be rewarded.  How? With a threefold reward: Saul would give him great riches, give his own daughter to be the champion’s wife, and make his father’s house free in Israel.

Saul’s question is related to this reward. If this young warrior was going to become his son-in-law, Saul wanted to know who his father was and what the family background was. And the groom’s father’s house would be declared free. That means they would no longer be subject to heavy taxes and other responsibilities of citizenship.  In effect, their status in the society would be elevated.  So no wonder Saul asked who David’s father was!

One has to wonder whether the king’s daughter, Michal, had any knowledge that her father had promised her hand in marriage.  Since it appears that it was a decision Saul made on the battlefield, she probably didn’t!

While that sounds appalling to us in modern times, arranged marriages were common in biblical societies.  In Jewish thinking, the father bears a very heavy responsibility to ensure that the young man to whom his daughter is betrothed is honest, upright, kind, a hard worker, intelligent and serious about the responsibilities of marriage.  Does he have the character and integrity needed to be a godly and faithful husband?

If Saul’s decision to offer his daughter in exchange for the vanquishing of his foe was impulsive or spontaneous, given they were in a difficult war, nevertheless, his word had to be honored.  Once the giant was dead, the promise – whether impulsive or not – had to be kept.  The honor of the king was at stake.

So when David returns after killing Goliath, Abner presents him to the king.  Standing by Saul’s battlefield throne in the tent was Jonathan, son of Saul and a mighty warrior in his own right. He appears to be the heir apparent to the throne. Yet he will never be king for God has anointed someone else – the shepherd boy who stands facing Jonathan’s father.

David had just received the recognition he deserved and though soon we will witness a tragic change in the relationship between David and the King, at the moment something else is happening.

After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan become one spirit with David and he loved him as himself…Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took of the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic and even his sword and his belt.  I Samuel 18: 1-4

Jonathan

Have you ever experienced meeting someone for the first time and you are instantly drawn to them?  Something happens between you and you feel as though you’ve known this person forever?  Other friendships may grow over time but this is different.  There is a heart to heart, soul to soul connection that only God could create and when He does so, He has a purpose for it.  The text says that ‘Jonathan made a covenant with David…’ The word covenant describes a biblical principle. The word in Hebrew is ‘brit’ and is defined as an alliance of friendship, a pledge, a mutual obligation between two parties.  We are familiar with the covenant which God forged with Abraham – an eternal covenant.

In David’s time, certain symbols or signs were exchanged as outward evidence of an inner commitment, much like the exchange of marriage vows at a wedding.

In this case, we see two clearly defined actions and a third which may be less obvious but is just as sacred.  First, Jonathan removes his royal robe and puts it around David’s shoulders and by that action declares that he recognizes David as the prince of Israel, called to be king.  One has to wonder what Saul’s reaction was for there is no doubt he intended Jonathan to inherit the throne. (I Sam. 20:30-31)

Secondly, Jonathan also removed his weapons and handed them over – a gesture that said louder than words, ‘I renounce my right to ever hurt you for the rest of my life.’

The third element of a covenant – the sacrifice – may not be so obvious to the casual reader but it is deeply profound.  Jonathan didn’t just give away a robe and some weapons; he sacrificed himself and his entire future in order that God’s choice would rule Israel.   That is no small sacrifice!

David understood perfectly what was happening.  Can you imagine the look on his face when an elegant and lavish royal robe was wrapped around him, over the simple, often smelly clothing of a shepherd?

The Jonathans of this world are few and far between.  Few people put the priorities of God over their own, even to the voluntary surrender of their own rights and privileges. But that’s exactly what the king’s son did.  And in I Samuel 20:13 he verbalizes it to David:

‘If it please my father to do you harm, may the Lord do so to Jonathan and more also, if I do not make it known to you and send you away that you may go in safety. And may the Lord be with you as He has been with my father.’

It’s important to note that nowhere does the text relate that David felt the same kind of love toward Jonathan at that moment.  There is no doubt that their friendship was deep and lasting as we will see later but the point here is this:

Jonathan’s covenant with David was based on Jonathan’s love, not David’s response. This is the essence of God’s covenant with us.  The strength of the covenant, its immutability, rests solely on the integrity of God Himself for He never breaks His Word.  In the book of Deuteronomy we discover something that is staggering about His covenant with His people: ‘…because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that He swore to your forefathers.’  Deut. 7:8

God loved you first, before you loved Him.  In fact, Psalm 139 elaborates on this truth.  I encourage you to read the entire psalm but let me quote here just a few verses.

‘My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes saw my unformed substance and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them in existence. How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast the sum of them!’ Psalm 139:15-17

Have you ever seriously pondered the thought that before you were conceived, before the world was even created, God Himself wrote down in His book every aspect of your life – how many days you would live, what talents and gifts He would bestow on you, what your life’s mission was to be?   He knows you by name every bit as much as He knew David by name…and Jonathan…and Abraham…and Esther…and your parents…your children. In the mass of humanity, every individual person is precious to Him and not in some far-off, distance kind of philosophical way but PERSONALLY!

He KNOWS you – personally!  Do you know HIM – personally?  This is the essence of all of revealed Scripture: that God desires a personal relationship with us as individuals.  You were never meant to be a number in a religious crowd.  He loves you with a personal love.

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Application:

Imagine the scene we have just described but put yourself there.  For a moment, you are the shepherd boy and Jonathan – as a reflection of God’s love – comes to wrap you in the garments of salvation of which Isaiah wrote:

‘I will rejoice greatly in the Lord; my soul will exult in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation. He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.’ Isaiah 61:10

What is our response?

There can be only one: to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our resources.

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Your thoughts?  Leave a comment below.

 

The Shepherd-King Part 5 July 19, 2016

This week we move into I Samuel 17 in which we read one of the most famous of Bible stories.  The Philistines have called up their armies to go against Israel.  With a valley between them, the two armies positioned themselves on opposite hilltops.

Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named, Goliath, from Gath whose height was six cubits and a span. [about 9 feet tall] He had a bronze helmet on his head and he was clothed with armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze…..He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel and said to them, ‘Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? Am I not the Philistine and you, servants of Saul?  Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me.’    I Sam. 17:4-5, 8

King Saul along with his army reacted in fear and dismay at the taunting of Goliath.  Three of David’s older brothers were soldiers in Saul’s army.  Jesse, concerned for his sons, sent David to check on them and take them food. He instructed David to bring him back news of his sons.  It happened that as David arrived at the camp, his brothers were on the front lines.  Making his way to their position, David saw and heard Goliath taunting the army of Israel.  The warrior spirit rose up in him and he asked, ‘Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should taunt the armies of the living God?’  I Sam. 17:26b

David and Goliath

David volunteered to fight the giant while his countrymen cowered in fear. What was he thinking? Why did he step forward when the entire army, including the King, were terrified?

A person who fears God has no reason to fear anything else.  On the other hand, someone who does not fear God will fear just about anything else.  Saul feared the opinions of others; he feared his enemies. He even feared a teenage boy who played the harp!

Now notice: when David’s older brother, Eliab, hears what David says, he rebukes and criticizes him. ‘Why have you come down here?’ he asks. ‘And who is watching the sheep? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”       I Sam. 17:28

David’s response, ‘Now what have I done?’, lets us know that this was not the first time his brothers were at odds with him.  Is there anyone who can discourage us more than a family member? Probably not.  The attitude of our family towards us carries a lot of weight. Yet David remained undaunted by his brother’s scathing remarks.  He knew that God had promised Israel victory over its enemies if they (Israel) called upon His name.  David believed those promises because he built his life on the foundation of God’s holy Word.

This event reminds me of Joseph, son of Jacob.  His brothers, too, resented him. Yet both Joseph and David had passionate hearts towards God and heard clearly God’s plan for their lives. Despite their relationship with the Most High, both of them were rejected and misunderstood by their family members but they did not let those rejections or criticisms dictate their behavior.  Now, there’s a lesson to ponder.

Refusing the king’s bulky armor, David chose five smooth stones form the ground, pulled out his shepherd’s sling and made his way down the hill toward Goliath.  You know the rest of the story but here’s what I want us all to remember:

No ‘giant’ that thrusts its way into your life will EVER be a match for a big God with a little stone!  This teenager bequeathed to every generation since a most amazing gift and this is it: Measure the size of your challenges against the size of your God and you will never be overcome!  That doesn’t mean we won’t have to exert some effort or draw on God’s strength to walk through a valley but it does mean that FAITH can cause a random pebble to strike your enemy like a boulder and level him to the ground.

Problems and difficulties intimidate us if we are uncertain of God’s faithfulness.  Our faith must be grounded in HIS faithfulness.  Don’t make the mistake of having ‘faith in Faith.’ Have faith in GOD!  He is the ever living One, whose Word is true and will never fail.

It’s worth repeating: David spent hours in God’s presence, praising Him, getting to know Him and the fruit of that relationship made him different; not odd, but different.  Like Caleb of old, he had ‘a different spirit’.  He knew his God and therefore, as Daniel would write years later, he was ‘strong and did exploits.’

And every generation since has been inspired by the shepherd boy with the slingshot.

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Application:

1. Have you ever experienced criticism about your walk with God? About your faith? Does the criticism influence your behavior or your decisions?  To be sure, there is such a thing as constructive criticism, the kind we learn from.  What we’re looking at here is different: the criticism that has the potential to demean you, put you down, make you feel rejected.  How do you handle it?  Are you secure in knowing God’s direction for your life?

2. Any Goliath in your life right now?  Will you turn to the living God for His direction on how to overcome or do you try in your own strength?

 

 

 

The Shepherd-King Part 4 July 12, 2016

This week I want us to look at more of the details included in the scriptures we quoted last week.

So Saul said to his servants, ‘Provide for me now a man who can play well and bring him to me.’  Then one of the young men said, ‘I have seen the son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite, who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him.’   I Samuel 16:17-18

Does it strike you as curious that a mere shepherd-boy, a teenager, should be so eloquently described by this unnamed young man who served Saul?

A skillful musician – Every person is born with talents which God has given him/her. David clearly had a gift for composing and playing music. The word translated ‘skillful’ here comes from the Hebrew root for the word ‘good’.  In other words, David was very good at playing the harp and singing.  He may well have started playing as a child and he worked at perfecting his playing, especially because of his love for God and desire to worship him. David was the kind of person who wasn’t satisfied with mediocrity.  If he was going to worship the Holy One of Israel, he intended to do his very best at it because that’s what God deserves.  Saul wanted someone who ‘played well’.  David fit the bill perfectly.

A mighty man of valor – this is a man who has moral and spiritual strength, courage and passion.  The young man praising David to Saul must have known David fairly well. Perhaps he was a friend of his.  Perhaps he knew about the time that David slew the bear that was trying to steal his father’s sheep.  Perhaps he knew that David killed a lion with his bare hands.  Whoever this young man was, he had firsthand knowledge of the kind of man David was.  He didn’t want just any musician playing for the king. He made a point of describing David’s character.

Talent without character is just a performance.

Talent with character is ministry.

Saul didn’t need to be entertained; he needed to be ministered to.

A warrior – Saul had an entire army.  Did he need another warrior?  No…and Yes.  He may not have needed another warrior for his physical army.  But as he was being buffeted by an evil spirit, he needed a spiritual warrior.  He needed someone who knew the power of praise and worship as an antidote to evil activity.

In the book of Judges, chapter 1, verses 1-12, Israel is preparing for battle and they inquire of the Lord, Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites? The Lord tells them …Judah is to go. Later, in Judges 20:18 we find, ...who of us shall go first to fight against the Benjamites? The Lord replied, Send Judah first.

There is a profound message here for all of us.  When faced with problems, struggles, difficulties of any sort, our first tendency is to cry out for God’s intervention, just as the children of Israel did. God’s reply is ‘Send Judah first.’  Judah’s name means praise or thankfulness to God.  The first place to turn in difficulty is praise and worship.  As we praise God, especially when our emotions really don’t feel like doing so, His power is loosed into the situation and His wisdom is so far higher than ours.

Saul needed someone near him who could not only comfort him in his anguish but who knew the power of worship to drive away the spirits of darkness.  David was the kind of man who knew when to be serious.  When he went into battle, it was to win.  His anonymous friend wisely recognized this about the young David.

One prudent in speech – there’s an outstanding character trait. Being prudent means knowing how to speak wisely: when to speak and when to be quiet.  The Scripture says, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Prov. 17:28). Knowing when to speak and when to be silent is a mark of maturity. Remembering to think before your speak is another mark of maturity.

Prudent speech is wise speech, an art learned over time.  Was it the many long hours alone with God that taught David prudence?  Most likely. There is no substitute for spending consistent, quality time in the presence of the Lord.  The fruit is sweet.

To control one’s tongue is to control one’s life.  Prov. 12: 14 says ‘A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words…’  We need to constantly remind ourselves of the power of the spoken word.  Once it passes your lips, it cannot be revoked.

Again in the Proverbs, ‘He who restrains his words has knowledge and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.’  Prov. 17:27′

How many of the proverbs which Solomon later wrote were truths he learned from his father, David?  Have you thought about that?

Handsome – certainly David was blessed with pleasing features but I suggest there is more to it than that.  A worldly man who may be described as ‘handsome’ may have an ugly spirit.  His character may not match his external appearance.  David, however, was ‘a man after God’s own heart.’  My friends, there is an inner beauty that overshadows external features. For all the time we invest in taking care of our bodies, should we not invest even more time taking care of the inner beauty of our souls?

The Lord is with him – this really says it all.  If the Lord is not with you, no amount of money, power, possessions or talents will make you ‘a man (or woman) after God’s own heart.’

But if you have made the Lord the highest priority of your life, if He comes before all else and all others, if your dedication to His Word guides your daily life, then, like David, the Lord is with you.  David’s relationship with God was obvious to all who knew him.

I have wondered whether the ‘one young man’ was actually Jonathan with whom David had a legendary friendship later.  We don’t know but it’s interesting to think about.

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Application:

  1. Can your family and friends see these qualities of David in you?
  2. Which one(s) needs perfecting?  Prudent speech? Skillfulness in what you do? Strength and courage in the face of challenges?

 

 

The Shepherd-King Part 3 July 5, 2016

As we wrapped up last week’s study, the young David had just been anointed by the prophet Samuel and designated for royalty.  God had chosen him to become king of Israel.  A pretty amazing turn of events for a shepherd boy!

So what did David do?

He went back to tending his father’s sheep.  We know that because a few verses later when King Saul sent for him, we read:

So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said: ‘Send me your son David who is with the flock.’  I Sam. 16:19

Let’s back up and see what’s going on.  Immediately after the ‘Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward,’ we are told in the next verse ‘Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.’

Because of his disobedience (read I Samuel 15), the prophet Samuel was sent to the king to rebuke him and tell him that the God of Israel had rejected him from being king over His people.  It is in this context that Samuel teaches us a lesson in what he says to Saul.

‘To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is the same as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as wickedness and idolatry.’  Stern words – words we cannot ignore.

Rebellion is the very opposite of the primary commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your resources.  You see, hate is not the opposite of love; rebellion is.  Because rebellion – in whatever form it is expressed – says my way and my will is more important than Yours, God.  When our will and our way becomes a higher priority than what God has told us clearly in His word, our love for Him at the very least is woefully imperfect and at worst, has gone cold.  And that, my friends, is a very dangerous place to be.  Stubbornness is not an acceptable character trait: it’s sin, plain and simple.  In too many arenas these days, ‘sin’ is a politically incorrect word and concept.  It’s about time we get back to the Bible and speak truth rather than political correctness.

Saul had deliberately sinned and he paid the consequences.  The Spirit of the Lord left him and he began to be tormented. Was it terrorizing nightmares, mental neurosis/phychosis or physical pain and sickness?  We don’t know.  What we do know is that Saul’s counselors did not recommend a doctor or a psychiatrist.  Instead they counseled him, ‘Command now your servants who are before you to seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand and you will be well.’

One of the young men spoke up: ‘Behold I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him.’  Upon hearing that recommendation, the king sent for David.

David came and served the king.  Saul loved him greatly, the scripture says, and sent a message to Jesse requesting that David remain in the palace to minister to the king whenever he was tormented.

YoungDavid2

Wait a minute! Hadn’t he just been anointed to BE the king? Not SERVE the king?

Indeed he had.  However, during his years of tending the sheep out there in the fields alone with God, composing beautiful songs of praise to the Holy One of Israel, David’s character was being formed and he had gained a maturity in spiritual matters beyond his years.  Given the chronology of the text, we can safely assume that David knew something we too often forget.  God’s calling on someone’s life is different from His commissioning them to carry it out.  There is always a season of preparation for the work to which He has appointed us.  We get into trouble when we know the ‘what’ but we don’t wait to hear the ‘when’.

Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness of Midian tending his father-in-law’s sheep before he ever encountered the burning bush.  Jacob endured years of labor in his father-in-law’s estate before becoming Israel, the prince of God.

So, yes, David moved into the palace shortly after being anointed. However it was not to take the throne, but to serve the unworthy one who still sat on it.  And that he did with faithfulness and humility.  Every time Saul was troubled, David picked up his harp and began to praise and worship the God of Israel.  By doing so, he created in Saul’s presence an atmosphere where the evil spirit could not function.

Are you getting this?

Praising God gets our focus off ourselves and back on Him.  In our modern “selfie” focused world, we need this constant reminder – life is not all about us.

Praising God pushes back the darkness and negativity that surrounds us.  No self-respecting evil spirit will stick around when you praise God! In the story of Jehoshaphat, God miraculously defeats the enemy, because of the people’s obedience to praise Him.

“As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated”  2 Chron. 20:22

Praise leaves no room for complaining. Our focus instead is re-directed to all the blessings we have received.  I wonder if this very psalm was one that David sang for Saul.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psa. 103:2-4

The ways of God – aren’t they just amazing?  David had learned invaluable lessons in leadership by his years tending sheep.  So had Moses. But there was something else God wanted him to learn: what a chosen leader must not do. By observing Saul’s condition after his rebellion, David had an ‘in-your-face’ demonstration of the penalty for turning away from God and seeking to do one’s own will.  The lesson would serve him well in the future.

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Application:

  1. Have we learned to hear, not only WHAT God wants us to do, but WHEN?  It takes devoted time in His presence on a regular basis to fine tune our ability to ‘hear’ the gentle voice of our God.
  2. One of the greatest spiritual habits we could form is to train ourselves to give God praise and worship on a daily basis, regardless of circumstances or feelings.  He is worthy of our praise at ALL times.