The Shepherd King – Part 11 August 30, 2016

At the end of last week’s posting, we left David hiding in the cave of Adullam. (I Samuel 22:1)  How things have changed since that day that Samuel the prophet showed up at his home and anointed him the next king of Israel!  Little did he expect what a nightmare awaited him.  Now, alone in a cave some 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, David had not only left his childhood home but was presently separated from his new wife and from his best friend, Jonathan.  We sometimes speak of ‘life’s unexpected turns’ but this one was massive.

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The Judean hills are dotted with caves to this day.  Archeologists tell us that through the centuries, right up to the time of the Romans, many caves were used as hiding places for Jews fleeing persecution.  We can only imagine the fear, the anger, the sense of abandonment, the confusion that David experienced, trying to make sense of what was happening as he leaned back against the hard wall of that cave.  Actually we don’t have to imagine for David wrote one of his psalms while alone in that dark place.

I cry aloud to the Lord, I left up my voice to the LORD for mercy.

I pour out my complaints before Him, I tell Him all my troubles.

When I am overwhelmed, You alone know the way I should turn.

Wherever I go, my enemies have set traps for me;

I look for someone to come and help me but no one gives me a passing thought.

No one will help me; no one cares a bit what happens to me.

Then I pray to You, O LORD. I say, ‘You are my place of refuge; You are all I want in life.

Hear my cry, for I am very low; rescue me from my persecutors; they are too strong for me.

Bring me out of prison so I can thank you

The godly will crowd around me for You are good to me’.     Psalm 142

You and I may never have fled to a literal cave in times of distress but we certainly have felt the same emotions David experienced in that cave.  How have we handled such stress?

David prayed.  He turned to the only ONE who could save him.  We get a glimpse into a critically important principle.  Remember that as a youth, he spent hours alone with God and his father’s sheep.  He learned to seek God early in life and reaching this devastating moment in the cave, his heart turned to the One he knew.

No one navigates difficult times successfully without the foundation of a personal relationship with God before the hard times hit.   Being faithful to prayer when ‘life is good’ prepares the soul to come through hardship and tragedy with courage and the inner peace that only God can give.  David had learned that and it served him well in the cave.

Secondly, David had a good cry!  There is nothing shameful about a man – or woman – having a good cry when it’s needed.  It is far more preferable than denying and/or suppressing one’s emotions which is damaging to one’s emotional, mental and even physical health.  David ‘cried aloud’ to the LORD and God listened.  He always does.  Learn to ‘pour out your heart’ to the LORD, David teaches us.  Tell Him your troubles, your fears, your desires.  In fact, David wrote in another psalm:  Trust in Him at all times, O you people; pour out your hearts to Him for God is our refuge.  Psalm 62:8

But David didn’t wallow in his misery.  Having poured out his anguish to the LORD, he then immediately reminds himself of the faithfulness of God!  When I am overwhelmed, You alone know the way I should turn. (vs. 3)  Remember that in past years David had killed a lion, a bear and a giant, but this was different.  It was his first experience facing a personal enemy breathing murder against him – the most unsettling and painful ‘enemy’ to face.  Therefore his prayer is very specific and personal. Sometimes we tell a friend more about what we are going through than we tell God.  It should be the other way around!

We don’t know exactly how many days David was alone in the cave.  What we do know is that it wasn’t very long for we read in I Sam. 22:2  All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him and he became their leader.  Oh my goodness!  Can you imagine being the leader of a group of distressed, indebted and discontented folks, particularly when you are running for your life?  This was a crash course in leadership, orchestrated by God Himself, but a course few of us would sign up for!

We know that good days are ahead for David but he didn’t know that then.  All he knew to do was face each day, seeking the LORD on how to lead this motley crew that gathered around him while holding on to the declaration of the prophet that one day he would be king.  He reminds me of Joseph, betrayed by his brothers, imprisoned on a false charge, separated from his family for 17 years but who never let go of the godly dreams of his youth and ultimately saw those dreams come true.  I often wonder whether David thought of Joseph as he sat in that cave, surrounded by malcontents.

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Application:  Over recent months I have heard from many people who are distressed over issues and situations in nations across the world today.  I hear the fears, the concerns, sometimes the anger. Our primary response – like David’s – must be prayer.  It is a critical season that we are in, my friends.  Our deepest need is to turn, like David, to the only One who has the ultimate answers.  ‘I turn to You, O Lord; You are my place of refuge..’ and to recognize that in truth, ‘You are all I want in life.’  For if you have Him, everything else will fall into place for your ultimate and eternal good.  That doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly or that you’ll never have to face challenges.  What it does mean is that whatever comes, your faith and your relationship with Him will be your strength and your peace.

The Shepherd King – Part 10 August 23, 2016

In last week’s study, David and Jonathan were forced to part company because of King Saul’s irrational jealousy of David.  A new season in David’s life now begins.  He will be on the run for sometime as Saul had already alerted half the country that David was to be pursued and killed.

The first stop of David’s flight was in Nob.  We pick up the narrative in I Samuel 21

David went to the town of Nob to see Ahimelech, the priest.  Ahimelech trembled when he saw him and asked ‘Why are you alone?’  It is most likely that he did not yet know that the King was determined to kill him or he would not have asked ‘Why are you alone?’

David asked if the priest had any food and any weapons.  Though he had no regular bread, Ahimelech gave David the holy bread from the house of God.  Why would Ahimelech have done that? It certainly was not the norm.

Called the ‘bread of the Presence’, it could well have signified the eternal covenant which God had with David as breaking of bread was always part of the ceremony of establishing a covenant.  It also may have strengthened David’s faith that God was indeed his provider and a very near Presence in David’s life.  The Hebrew word for presence is paneh, which can mean presence, countenance or faceIsaiah 55:3 tells us that God made an everlasting covenant with David:

‘I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.’

God was doing more than feeding David’s hungry stomach.  He was reminding David that His presence would go with him and He would be David’s provider, that the anointing for kingship was real and despite the present circumstances, God would be faithful to His promise, that His covenant was forever.

David also asked for a weapon and isn’t it just too curious that the only weapon in Nob was the sword of Goliath, whom David had killed? Perhaps this was God’s second way of reminding David of His faithfulness to him.  That sword of Goliath was a startling sign that David had already fought a greater enemy than Saul and prevailed.  Surely the God who helped him defeat Goliath would help him survive Saul’s threats.

Sometimes we get ourselves into situations that seem desperate and even terrifying.  In those moments, it’s important to remember the times that God has delivered us in the past from other difficult situations.  He is faithful still and what He has done before He will do again.  Each situation may be different but God remains the same.  His mercies are new every morning; great is His faithfulness!  Aren’t we glad!

David then fled to Achish, the king of Gath, where he was quickly recognized by the Philistines as the young warrior who killed their giant.  Afraid for his life and being a quick thinker, David pretended to be insane with ‘saliva running down his beard.’ I Sam. 21:13)  Not only was he a psalmist, a musician, a warrior, he probably could have won an Oscar for his ‘performance’ before the king of Gath.  Perhaps you wonder why they didn’t just kill him on recognizing him?  David was very well acquainted with the customs of the people of the day.  They were terrified of anyone with mental imbalance, considering them to be possessed of an evil spirit.  Their superstition didn’t allow them to get anywhere close so cleverly, David used his knowledge of their superstitions to save his own life.

The king, observing this charade, declared, ‘Am I so lacking in madmen that you have to bring this man here to carry on like this in front of me?’ I Sam. 21:15  Apparently Gath had a good share of ‘crazies’!

This will not be the last time that David has to negotiate himself through some pretty tough times.  As his life continues to unfold before us, we will begin to understand why God called him ‘a man after my own heart.’  The process of forming that kind of heart will have much to teach us over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, David escapes death and flees to the cave of Adullam (I Sam. 22:1)  Can you imagine how he must have felt, hiding in a cave, far from family and his beloved friend, Jonathan?  And with a viciously jealous king hot on his trail?  Picture yourself there, running for your life.  How would you feel? What prayers might you pray? What thoughts might be going through your mind?

There is one other person in I Samuel 21 who we’ll encounter again.  Doeg, the Edomite, chief shepherd over King Saul’s flocks, happened to overhear the conversation between David and Ahimelech.  Will he betray David to the king?  Stay tuned!

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Application:

Recently I came across a unique definition of FAITH: it is that unique trust in God that refuses to allow our senses to determine what is possible.  I really like that, don’t you?

Remembering all that God has already done for us is a worthwhile practice.  It cultivates an attitude of gratitude and builds our faith.  Faith is essential to pleasing God and whether or not you’ve ever had to flee for your life, every person faces painful or difficult situations and circumstances at different times of their lives.

The message this week is simply this: The God who has cared for you up to now will not stop caring for you.  God has never failed – and He’s not going to begin doing so with you!

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Note: The previous series posted on this site, “The Longest Chapter – Meditations on Psalm 119” is now available on AMAZON.COM as a paperback or as an E-book download.

Click HERE to purchase a copy for yourself.    BookCoverPreview.LL

The Shepherd King – Part 9 August 16, 2016

Show me unfailing kindness like that of the Lord as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not 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.  I Samuel 20:14-15

Friendship is a wonderful gift and it has been said that a person who has even two or three heart-to-heart friends in the course of their lifetime is greatly blessed.  You see, there are friends and then there are friends – those whose loyalty and unconditional love towards you is a reflection of their character and commitment.  They love you no matter what.  They are the ones you turn to with your greatest joys and your deepest struggles.  Do you have someone – or two or three – like that?  They are treasures beyond compare.

friends

That was the kind of relationship between Jonathan and David. But imagine for a moment the difficult position Jonathan was in because of his father’s insane jealousy towards David.  Saul was as unstable as water regarding David.  In rational moments he recognized the loyalty of the young man and moments later he flew into jealous rage and breathed murderous threats against David.

Following the incident we reviewed in chapter 19 of I Samuel when the Spirit of the Lord overcame Saul and he prophesied all night we conclude from the text that he returned home.  Shortly thereafter, David met with Jonathan and asked why the King was so determined to kill him.  From the tone of Jonathan’s response it appears that he was not yet convinced of his father’s true intent but in light of David’s obvious concern, Jonathan promised to approach his father and if in fact David’s perception of Saul’s intent to murder him was true, Jonathan vowed to protect David at all cost.

At the time of the New Moon when the King’s entourage regularly attended the festival meal, David was nowhere to be found.  Two days passed and still David did not appear.  Saul was furious and in a rage, made clear his intentions:

Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, ‘You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?  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!’  I Samuel 20:30-31

Can you picture the scene? Did Jonathan’s face turn white with shock? How did he cope with the outburst of his enraged father?   The scripture doesn’t tell us what the young man’s feelings were at the moment but it does tell us what he did.  He met secretly with David and in the end with a very heavy heart, sent his dearly loved friend away for the covenant which they had between them had knit their souls together by that which was far more powerful than their own dreams or desires – the revealed will of the Holy One of Israel. Jonathan knew in his heart that he was not to be king and whether or not his father understood or accepted it, he recognized David as the future king of Israel and his loyalty demanded that he protect his beloved friend.

Jonathan recognized that it was God who had joined their hearts together for a divine purpose.  His faith and confidence in God’s plan and purpose, more important to him than his own expectation of becoming king after his father, motivated him to protect David, even though it meant they would no longer enjoy close fellowship.  Their bond had come from the Almighty who joined their hearts for His purposes.  There was no selfishness in this friendship; only love and commitment.  The covenant we witnessed in I Samuel 18 is tested in I Samuel 20 and emerges like gold tried in the fire.

God-given friends exhibit the same kind of character as Jonathan.  You are able to speak your mind without fear of rejection:  ‘What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father that he is trying to kill me? (I Sam. 20:1) David asked Jonathan when they met secretly.  Jonathan clearly loved his father and could have been offended at David’s words. Instead, he replies: ‘Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without confiding in me. Why would he hide this from me? It’s not so!’ (vs. 2)  Sadly very soon after that, at the New Moon, Jonathan realized that David’s perception was indeed accurate.  At that point he took action to save David from his father’s sword.  (I encourage you to read through vs. 4- 42 of I Samuel)

Put yourself in the scene of verse 41 and imagine how these two young men felt.  Jonathan gave the prearranged signal that David must run for his life then sent the lad who helped him away and went to where David was hiding. After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times with his face to the ground. They they kissed each other and wept together but David wept the most.

The ‘would be’ king and the chosen king, real men with real feelings who are not afraid to share their emotions openly with each other.  In ‘normal’ life these two would never be friends, but in God’s economy, this friendship was a key to His plan for the nation of Israel.  This rare friendship was far deeper than emotion, however.  They shared a common bond: the will of God. Though they had vastly different lives in the natural, their bond was profound.

Typically we think that special friendships like this take time to develop.  David and Jonathan’s relationship did not grow out of long conversations and extensive time spent together.  They were joined in heart ‘in the name of the Lord’ (vs. 42) and when God creates a friendship, it lasts – as long as both friends are as committed to the purposes of God as David and Jonathan were.

Application:

If the Lord is actively involved in your friendships, you are blessed with a great gift. To sustain the gift means commitment, unwavering loyalty and unconditional love.  To enjoy the blessing of this amazing kind of friendship, it is up to us to give that same commitment, unwavering loyalty and unconditional love when we clearly see that God Himself has gifted us with a unique friend – one whose love for God and His purposes is the unshakeable bond that unites the two of you.

 

 

The Shepherd King – Part 8 August 9, 2016

We saw in last week’s post how Saul’s jealousy grew into fear, bitterness and a murderous anger.  He became paranoid toward David with brief intervals of appearing rational only to have his jealousy erupt again and again.  The scene was set for the covenant of Jonathan and David to be manifest in action. Jonathan rose to David’s defense.

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Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David…Jonathan spoke well of David to his father, Saul and said to him, ‘Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly.  He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine.  The Lord won a great victory for Israel, and you saw it and were glad.  Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?  Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.   I Sam. 19:1, 4-6

I have often wondered when reading this passage whether this incident was the inspiration so many years later for David’s son, Solomon, to write in his Proverbs, ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath.’ Proverbs 15:1  Jonathan’s respectful appeal to his father had that very effect.

Jealousy is a powerful emotion, but love is even more powerful. For the moment, Jonathan’s loving loyalty towards David calmed his father’s rage. Unfortunately, not for long.  Saul was persuaded at the moment but he failed to acknowledge or confess his anger as sin and therefore did not repent, but was only momentarily appeased. Jealousy and anger do not disappear with appeasement; only true repentance leads to deliverance.  This is true of any sin.  Saul needed to recognize the wickedness of his jealousy and the destructive power of his anger, a force more deadly to his own soul than to David.  Sadly he did not.

Before long the king was on a rampage again.  He threw a spear at the young David once again and once again, David escaped. He sent soldiers to kill David but his wife, Michal, warned her husband and helped him escape.  Then she put an idol in the bed to make it appear as if David was sleeping.  (I Sam. 19:11-13)  Saul had thought that he could trust his daughter, Michal, to manipulate David into being Saul’s puppet, but he didn’t count on her loving David as she did. She came within inches of her own life and was spared for helping David escape, only because she convinced her father that David threatened to kill her if she didn’t help him escape.  David, of course, did nothing of the sort.

Having escaped the palace, David sought out the prophet, Samuel, the one who had anointed him to be king.  Wouldn’t you love to have overheard that conversation between the young David and the aging prophet?  One thing is sure, the prophet welcomed David and no doubt, reaffirmed the call of God upon his life.

In seeking to follow God’s will for our lives, we often face times when we wonder, ‘Did I really hear from God?’ or ‘Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?’ or ‘God, if this is what you want me to do, why am I being so maligned and persecuted?’  In those times, what a blessing it is for a godly friend or mentor to reassure us that we are on the right path and to remind us that nothing valuable comes without a price. And when we are talking about obeying God’s call upon our lives, the price often includes being misunderstood and misjudged by others.  Why? Because we humans have an inherent tendency towards wanting the approval of others and if we are to fulfill God’s purpose for our life, we will have to learn – one way or another – to value His approval more than men’s.  Easily written – not so easy to achieve.

We said earlier that love is more powerful than jealousy.  The next thing we learn from David’s experience is that the Spirit of God is even more powerful.

When Jonathan’s rebuke to his father produced only temporary results, the Spirit of God stepped in to restrain Saul. The king learned that David was with the prophet, Samuel, so he sent soldiers to capture him there.  As the first soldier entered the presence of Samuel and his prophets, the Spirit of God fell on him and he began to prophesy.  Saul sent another soldier and another and each time, the same thing happened.  In the presence of the prophet, they were powerless to apprehend David!  Foolishly, Saul decided he would go himself.  (Imagine thinking that you are more powerful than God’s Spirit!)

So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah.  But the Spirit of God came even upon him and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth.  He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel’s presence.  He lay that way all that day and night.  I Samuel 19:23-24  In the end he returned home without David.

God is able and willing to protect His own.  If love is powerful, the Spirit of God is far more powerful. The more we learn about David’s life, the more we grasp the power of the psalms he wrote, like this one:  The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?  Psalm 27:1

For David, these weren’t just ‘nice words’. He lived this truth. He learned in the most threatening of situations that indeed there was no one to fear, for the Lord was His defense, his light and his salvation.

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Application:

We may not be a David but each of us has a divine purpose.  God put you on this earth to complete a task, a mission, that no one else can complete.  It is unique to you and important to God.  As you apply yourself to walk out His mission for your life, you can trust in the Lord’s protection and guidance.  The challenge is to recognize and embrace it, to nourish your faith and trust in Him by meditating on His Word, just as Joshua was exhorted to do: This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Joshua 1:8

Do you make time every day to read and ponder passages from your Bible?  If feeding your body healthy food each day is important, how much more important is it to feed your soul from the Word of God? Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes forth from the mouth of God.  Deut. 8:3

The Shepherd King Part 7 August 2, 2016

Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike.  When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul.  They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals.  This was their song: ‘Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands.’  This made Saul very angry. ‘What’s this?’ he said. ‘They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!’ so from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.  I Samuel 18:5-9

In last week’s lesson we learned of the godly covenant of friendship made between Jonathan, the king’s son, and David.  Jonathan, the heir apparent to the throne, set aside his right and his inheritance to defer to God’s choice of the next king of Israel.  His father has just the opposite attitude.  Jealousy took over and though the prophet Samuel had already told Saul that the Lord had ripped the kingdom from him, he was holding on to his throne and his power.  His son honored God’s choice but Saul felt utterly threatened when the people sang their praises of David.

When we are first introduced to Saul, we are told that he stood ‘head and shoulders’ above everyone else.  One would have hoped that his impressive height would be reflected in his character but it was not to be.  The very next day after the triumphal parade Saul threw a spear across the room at David as he played the harp for the king.  When that attempt to kill him was unsuccessful Saul sent David to the front lines, hoping he would be slain in battle.  However, David only grew more successful for the Lord was with him.  Saul’s jealousy and hatred increased.

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There is an anger that human beings exhibit at times which explodes into rage without any kind of rational thought.  It is raw emotion, unbridled by common sense.  It is very often fueled by jealousy. In Hebrew, the word for this kind of anger is charah which means ‘to burn, to be kindled, to be incensed, to grow indignant.’  It is the inevitable result in the soul of one from whom the Holy Spirit has departed.  (I Samuel 16:14)

There are various kinds of trials and hurts we can experience as we go through life but perhaps one of the worst is suffering the jealousy of another towards us, particularly if it is someone from whom we least expected it.  Jealousy causes tremendous pain both to the one who harbors it as well as to the one towards whom it is directed.

There are two kinds of jealousy.  In Exodus 20:5 we read: ‘for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.’  There is a jealousy that is not sinful.  The prophet Zechariah explains God’s jealousy: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says, I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion.’  Zech: 1:14 and the prophet Joel wrote: ‘The Lord will be jealous for His land and take pity on His people.’

There is a little word in both of those verses that is big in meaning: for. If Saul had been jealous for David, instead of jealous of David, the result would have been completely different. To be jealous of someone else is self-centered; it betrays an unholy desire to have what they have, whether possessions, talents or popularity.  By contrast to be jealous for someone is a selfless longing that the other person should always have the best and be the best they can be.  This is the kind of jealousy God has towards us.  It is motivated by His love and His desire that you and I fulfill the purpose for which He created us and find our deepest joy in relationship with Him.

When a seed of jealousy creeps into our soul, great danger lurks. In Saul we see the tragedy of allowing that seed to grow into a hatred and bitterness that leads even to murder.

Saul’s kind of jealousy actually displays a deep insecurity, lack of trust, and lowered self-esteem. Jealousy is a fruit of self-loathing, the fear of not being worthwhile.  Jealousy creates a need for control of persons and/or situations but in the very attempt to be ‘in control’, the jealous of person destroys relationships and becomes more and more miserable.  Jealousy never leads anywhere good or productive.

Jealous feelings, however, are different from jealous behaviors.  If Saul had only said to himself, ‘Wait a minute! I’m feeling jealous but I don’t have to act on it.’  Jealousy is a feeling that rises up inside you.  True. BUT, you don’t have to act on it.  That is the key.

It would not have helped Saul to deny his feeling, but rather to acknowledge it, discipline it with the help of God and refrain from acting out what he felt.

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Application:

Saul’s behavior towards David, more of which we’ll see next week, is a warning to every generation of Bible believers.  It reminds me of David’s cry in Psalm 51:11 ‘Do not banish me from Your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.’  Starting each new day in prayer, seeking God’s guidance and assistance to live out that day in a spirit of love and holiness is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.  Whether five minutes of fifteen, an hour or more, I cannot overemphasize the importance of starting our day with a set aside time to commune with the Lord.