The Shepherd King – Part 19 October 25, 2016

This week we move into 2 Samuel as we continue reviewing the life of David, the shepherd-king.

This book opens with David and his army returning from rescuing their families from the Amalekites.  As they arrive home, a young man, fresh from the scene of battle between Israel and the Philistines, comes to David bearing the crown and armband of King Saul.

Announcing to David that the king and his two sons are dead, the messenger (foolishly) claimed that he had personally seen Saul wounded and that he finished him off.  However, we know this young man is lying, because in I Samuel 31:4 we learned that Saul took his own sword and fell on it when his armor bearer refused to kill him after he was wounded.

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son, Jonathan and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel because they had fallen by the sword.  2 Samuel 1:11-12

grief

For several hours then, the young man must have waited for the reward he expected in return for bringing the crown of Saul to David.  As the day wore on and the mourning and grief was so visible, did he wonder whether a reward was indeed forthcoming?

We don’t know but that evening, David rebuked the messenger with the words, “Why were you not afraid to kill the LORD’s anointed?” and then ordered his execution.

Given that Saul had been pursuing David to kill him over a period of time, it is more than noteworthy that even now, David still refers to him as ‘the LORD’s anointed’.  David knew that God’s call on a life was permanent.  If the individual chooses to ignore the call, or to sin in some way, it does not destroy the call of God upon him; it simply means he or she is refusing to walk in it.  Therefore, even after his death, David continued to honor God by honoring His call on Saul, rather than berate the king’s behavior toward him.

Sometimes leaders fail.  Does that mean that God no longer loves them? Or that He has removed His calling from their life?  No – a hundred times, No.

Do they need to repent and get back on track with their lives?  Yes.

But until they do, our responsibility is to pray for them and to continue to respect the call of God upon their lives, regardless of where they may be at the moment.  Gossip, judgment and condemnation have no place in our thoughts or conversations when a leader experiences a failure.  Prayer for them is the only appropriate response.

David grieved deeply the loss of his best friend, Jonathan.  He cried out, ‘I grieve for you, my brother, Jonathan.’  The Hebrew word for brother (ach) is a term of affection and means a brother or a very near relative.  Though David was a shepherd and Jonathan was a prince, they were ‘one spirit’.  David’s respect for Jonathan’s unselfish and sacrificial love toward him knew no bounds.  Remember that Jonathan was the ‘crown prince’ with every right to the throne of his father and all his wealth.  Yet he dedicated himself to uplift David and support David’s kingship because he recognized the Spirit of the Lord upon the young shepherd boy.

The tragic loss of life on Mount Gilboa became a pain that David carried for quite some time for the very next chapter begins with the words, “In the course of time, David…” 

Grief is extremely powerful. It can catch you totally unprepared, knock you off balance and shake you to the core. It can be painful beyond words — physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually — and it can change your life completely. Grief serves to remind you how fragile life is and how vulnerable you are to loss. It can make your present life seem meaningless, and dash any hope for the future.

In the beginning it will always seem as if your grief is running you, but in the end, you can learn to run your grief with the grace of God, the support of one or two close friends or family members and like David, “in the course of time” one grows into the ability to better care of yourself, to find your own way through the loss and to begin rebuilding your life.

Eventually David did – and we can, too.  His example of finding strength in the LORD – the only One who truly understands how you feel – speaks through the generations all the way down to us right now.

The LORD is faithful and He will see you through.

Application:

Perhaps you’ve experienced a devastating loss of someone you loved and can readily relate to how David felt at this point in his life.  If you haven’t, one day you will – such is the course of life.  When that day comes, may the Spirit of the LORD remind you of David and His consistent dependence on the Holy One of Israel to see him through the deepest pain.

When someone you know is struck by loss, be there for them and give them enough space and time to work through the process.  There is a blessing in supporting those who mourn – as long as they need to.

 

 

 

The Shepherd King – Part 18 October 18, 2016

We last saw David being told by Achish, king of Gath, to stay home while the Philistines prepared to go to war against King Saul and the army of Israel.  So David and his men returned to the town of Ziklag but when they arrived, they discovered that in their absence the town had been attacked, burned and their wives and children taken as hostages.

ziklag

When they saw what had happened, the text records: “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.” I Sam. 30:4  Their grief turned to anger and some of the men started blaming David! They even discussed stoning him.

If you’ve ever been falsely accused, you know how David felt.  Yet in the midst of this painful circumstance we see one of the greatest evidences of his heart toward God for it says:  David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.  I Sam. 30:6

There are a few things we can learn from this chapter.

First of all, it is common for people to look for someone to blame when they’ve been hurt.  Didn’t the men realize that David also had lost his family, just as they had?  He didn’t know, anymore than they did, whether he would ever see his children again. He cried like they did, yet in their grief, reason went out the window and they turned on their leader as if he was the one who had destroyed the village and caused the kidnapping of their families!  Unbelievable!  Yet, we sometimes do the same thing.  Remember this: people who are hurt and/or angry, make irrational decisions. When we are hurt, our first recourse must be to do as David did: turn to the Lord Who is the only One who can help us.  To point fingers and accuse others, often unjustly, only aggravates the grief we already bear.

Secondly, there is nothing that causes more pain than when our children are in danger.  Matters involving our children can cause great bitterness to take root in our spirits and the damage that has been done when parents have ‘thrown stones’ in retaliation for something one of their children suffered is legendary and lasting.  The sad thing is that taking one’s own revenge (which by the way is contrary to God’s word) feeds the bitterness taking root in us and damages our own souls even further.

Thankfully, David’s men came to their senses and chose not to act out of their emotions – a wise decision.

Thirdly, in any kind of pain, our first and most important response MUST be to turn to the LORD – first! Like David, we must find our strength in the LORD; we must rely on His grace to help us respond appropriately.

Once David’s men had calmed down, David asked the LORD for direction and was told, “Pursue them…you will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” I Sam 30:8

David initially took six hundred men with him, but two hundred were so exhausted that he left them and went on with the remaining four hundred. They caught up with the Amalekites who were celebrating their conquest.  The battle took nearly 24 hours but David and his men recaptured all that they had lost – families, possessions, etc. and even plunder from the Amalekites.  At the end of the day, only 400 of the large Amalekite army managed to survive and escape.

When the victorious group returned home, some of them felt they were entitled to the plunder since they’d fought the battle and were disinclined to share anything with the 200 who had stayed behind.  David made an important decision and taught them a principle: the share of the man who stays behind with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went to battle.  All will share alike.  I Sam. 30:24

Just because God assured David ahead of time that he and his men would be victorious didn’t make the battle any easier.  It still took them 24 hours of hard fighting to realize the victory they were promised.  We sometimes think that if God has promised us a victory then it should be easy and quick.  Not so.

God is just as much interested in making you stronger spiritually as He is in giving you victory.  Your part in the ‘fight’ is critical to your spiritual progress and there is no shortcut around it.  Just think of an Olympic athlete.  How many thousands of hours of hard training go into a victory lap and a gold medal?

We live in a self-serving society.  It behooves us not to forget that discipline, effort and self-control are still virtues to be desired and acquired.  God has no interest in lazy children!

Application:

Our modern world facilitates a certain ‘laziness’ compared to how our grandparents lived. We have machines that wash the clothes and dry them, other machines that wash the dishes, and countless other conveniences.  I’m all for that but NOT at the expense of becoming spiritually lazy.  Let us pull ourselves up by the proverbial ‘bootstraps’ and re-engage in deliberate effort to strengthen our spiritual life by discipline and self-control.  The reward is worth far more than a ‘gold medal’.

The Shepherd King – Part 17 October 11, 2016

As we move into the next chapter of I Samuel, we encounter a very unusual and disturbing event.

We last encountered David in the land of the Philistines where he had fled to escape King Saul.  In the 28th chapter of I Samuel, we learn that sometime after David was living there, the Philistines mustered their army to go after Israel.  Achish, the king, wanted David to be his personal bodyguard but the other Philistines didn’t trust David so in the end, David and his men were sent home.

When word reached King Saul that the Philistines were assembling for war, he was terrified.  He went to seek the Lord but the heavens were closed to him.  Remember that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul and his murderous rampages in pursuit of David only further removed him from the path of righteousness.  So what did Saul do?

Though he had earlier decreed that all mediums and spiritists be banished from the land, now that he hears nothing from God, he sends one of his attendants to go find a medium – a fortune-teller!  More liberal-minded commentators opine that it was unfair of God to refuse to answer Saul first and therefore Saul should not be blamed for seeking out guidance from a fortune-teller.

The prophet Isaiah puts that argument to rest very clearly.  Why does God sometimes not respond?  “Your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear.”  (Isaiah 59:2) Notice that it does not say God can’t hear but that He won’t hear.  Big difference!

repentance

The prayer that God ALWAYS hears and responds to is the prayer of repentance.  But if we are trying to seek Him for answers to situations or problems, but have refused to consider our own ways, He may at times delay His response.  It is as if He is saying, ‘I’ve been trying to get through to you about__________(whatever sin or habit we may have that is displeasing to Him and/or against His Word) and you haven’t been listening to me.

If Saul had repented of the murder in his heart towards David; if he had repented of his continued disobedience to God; if he had repented for having slaughtered all the priests who stood by David; if he had repented from throwing a spear even at his own son, God’s response would have been totally different.  But we’ve yet to see any regret or remorse expressed by Saul about his actions and his attitudes.

Too often we have prayed for deliverance from situations long before we pray for deliverance from our own sinful ways.  And we wonder why God has not granted us a miracle!

How perplexing that Saul sends a messenger to find him a spiritist – one of the people he himself had expelled from the Land!  Or at least said he was going to.  Apparently his officials had not carried out his order to evict all the mediums from Israel which brings up another interesting principle.  When a leader doesn’t take God seriously, the people won’t take his leadership very seriously either.  Think about that for awhile!

The Torah, which Saul knew very well, forbids spiritists and mediums (Deut. 18:10-12)  In his early days, Saul had obeyed God’s Word but as his fleshly desires increased, his devotion to God decreased and brought him to the point that he sought after the very thing he knew was forbidden.

We can fall into the same trap.  Have you ever prayed and asked God to help you give up smoking, for example?  He does – you do – and a few months later, you find yourself picking up a pack again?  Or have you recognized that you’re wasting too much valuable time on social media and determined to set yourself a daily time limit – say 30 minutes? You do well for a couple of weeks and then find yourself slowly increasing the time to 45 minutes, then an hour and before long, it’s consuming half of your day again?  Unless we are diligent about maintaining our priorities, our senses and our carnal desires will trip us up every chance they get.  As fleshly interests and inclinations increase, our devotion to God and His Word decreases.  It’s a principle.

Saul’s attendant knew exactly where to find a medium.  The king, in disguise, traveled to the village of Endor and asked the spiritist to call up the spirit of Samuel.  Now – conversation with the dead is also forbidden in the Word of God!  But catch God’s humor in this moment.

I Samuel 28:12 “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!”

The witch about jumped out of her skin. Being a medium, she no doubt expected a demonic imitation of Samuel but when she recognized the spirit of the prophet, she was terrified.  Why? Because she also knew that her lifestyle was against God’s word and most likely feared she was about to die on the spot!

Saul should have been terrified but he wasn’t.  After the witch recovered from her initial shock, he asked her what she saw.  ‘…an old man wearing a robe…’ Then Saul knew it was Samuel and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. (vs. 14)

How did Saul know it was Samuel? He didn’t see him – only the witch did. Her description no doubt brought up vivid memories of all the times Saul had seen Samuel in a robe and you may remember that back in I Samuel 15:27, Saul had grabbed the prophet’s robe and torn a piece from it.  When I read this, I sometimes wonder if Saul asked the witch, “Is there a small tear in the robe?”

It is very important to understand that this was an exceedingly rare moment and not a precedent.  God, for His own reasons, allowed Saul a momentary vision of Samuel to call the king to account. Just because Samuel was dead, the words from God that he had spoken to Saul were not! This was a unique case and a unique situation.  It in no way suggests that we conclude it’s acceptable for us to try to interact with our loved ones who have passed away or anything of the sort.

I believe that the actual reason for this very unusual intervention by God is revealed to us in verses 17-19 in which the spirit of Samuel says:

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 yours sons will be with me.

Indeed only a few days later, Saul and his sons were dead, slain on the slopes of Mt. Gilboa.

Application:

At sundown this very evening, Jews around the world will gather in synagogues around the world to observe the most solemn day of the Jewish year – Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  It climaxes a period of forty days in which the major focus has been repentance.  Though unplanned ahead of time, it was so interesting to me that this week’s study, on the very eve of Yom Kippur, included a strong message about repentance and the dire consequences of not repenting, as we saw in Saul’s experience.

The most important line of this week’s lesson – the one I hope all of us take with us – is this one: The prayer that God ALWAYS hears and responds to is the prayer of repentance.  This is the hour to cease from procrastinating if God is speaking to you about something He wants you to change in your life – some habit he wants you to break, some attitude He wants you to change, or some behavior He wants you to adopt, etc.  Today is the day to listen to His voice, submit willingly to His correction, repent of our waywardness and renew our commitment to follow Him at all cost.

 

 

The Shepherd King – Part 16 October 5, 2016

NOTE: As the two day biblical feast of Yom Teruah (Day of the Trumpet), otherwise known as Rosh Hashana, begins at sundown tonight (Sunday) and runs through Tuesday at sundown, I am posting this week’s lesson in advance as I will be off the computer during the feast.

Let me take this opportunity to also wish all of you the blessings of the Holy One of Israel as we enter a new Hebrew year, 5777.

RoshHashana

 

I Samuel 26 & 27 – In these two chapters of I Samuel we encounter a difficult period in the life of David, but a period in which we may strangely find comfort and encouragement.

In chapter 26 Saul is again pursuing David to kill him.  While Saul and his men are sleeping, David and Abishai creep into the camp and take Saul’s spear and his water jug, then slip away undetected.  Perched on a hillside nearby the next morning, David calls to Saul and rebukes Saul’s general, Abner, for not protecting the king as he lifts up the spear and water jug to prove he had been in their camp.  Saul is again remorseful for seeking to kill David; he apologizes and goes home.

While appearing to be yet another victory for the shepherd-king, scholars find his next course of action puzzling.  “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul,” David says in verse 1 of chapter 27.  So he and his men flee into the territory of the Philistines and approach Achish, the king of Gath, requesting asylum as refugees.

Wait a minute – what? After God has so clearly delivered David on previous occasions, why now would he say ‘One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul’?  And why on earth would go to the land of the Philistines whose giant he had killed? Doesn’t it seem strange?

There are at least two things going on here.  First of all, who cannot identify with David being wearied and discouraged by the prolonged efforts of Saul to kill him?  David was tired, perhaps even depressed, at Saul’s relentless pursuit of him.  Surely we can all relate. We all encounter people or situations that wear us out!  We all experience discouragement at times; we all get tired of prolonged challenges that elude resolution.

But there’s something else.  You have heard the adage associated with politics: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.  King Achish considered Saul his greatest threat.  Knowing David’s capabilities as a warrior, he saw a unique opportunity to use David to his own advantage under the guise of giving him asylum.  As far as Achish was concerned, it was a win-win situation.  So he gave David the town of Ziklag near the border of Judah and for the next sixteen months, David and his men lived there.  But something even more strange happened during that time.

In vs. 11 we read that David “did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath for he thought ‘They might inform on us…'”.  David went on a rampage through all the villages surrounding Ziklag.  Had he become paranoid? Was he at a point of such exhaustion that he was driven by phantom fears?  Whatever factors pushed him to the boiling point, what followed his move to Ziklag was a dark period in David’s life.  During his sixteen months there, paradoxically, he fought everyone except Saul  and the Philistines!

The scripture does not tell us God’s perspective on the matter but it is clear that it was not God who told him to kill all the villagers.

Have you ever been so upset with someone yet you take it out on someone else? This is exactly what David did.  That’s why I said earlier that in a strange way, we can derive a certain ‘comfort’ of sorts, recognizing that the great King David was as human as we are, yet he enjoyed the most intimate relationship with his God, despite his failures.

Application:

You see, our failures must never define the quality of our relationship with God – our repentance does.  Don’t endlessly mourn your failure or sin just because you spent a long time indulging it!  True repentance in which you genuinely regret what you’ve done, turn to God in humility asking forgiveness is the path to renewed intimacy with the LORD after failure. Once you repent, turn your focus on Him and away from the past.  It’s gone; it’s finished – if you genuinely repented.  Now move on in seeking the LORD, seeking His presence, meditating on His word.