Day 84: 1 Samuel 21-24; Saul Pursues David

There is nothing better, at least in my mind, than a good strategy game, movie, or sporting event.  I love to watch players and teams play many different moves, take up different positions, and try to bluff each other until one gains the advantage.  I also really love an underdog, a team or player that is not at all expected to win and yet out maneuvers or out thinks an opponent.  There is a great deal of that going on in the NCAA basketball tournament in these weeks of “March Madness,” and there is quite a bit of that going here.  David leaves alone trying to stay one step ahead of Saul, basically in survival mode.  Yet Saul, with the resources of the country at his disposal, is completely unable to catch David.  He is out maneuvered at every turn until the best move is made, David spares Saul’s life and them reveals it to him in public.  Well played David… well played.

There are some other interesting things that we see happening in this passage that I would like to draw your attention to today.  This whole narrative, the reading that we have to day, and basically the whole story of David vs. Saul points to a fundamental truth about the nature of God in the lives of these two people, and that of our lives as well.  This whole time David is on the run, but always seeking after God and is thus always taken care of.  Every move David makes he inquires of the Lord for a yes or a no.  When David is in a place, he is listening for the Lord to tell him what his next move should be.  David may not be living in the lap of luxury, but everything he needs is provided for.

In contrast to this, we see Saul who is always one step behind David (sometimes more) inquiring after humans as to his adversary’s whereabouts.  Saul leaves a path of destruction and death behind him, haphazardly going after David in the wilderness.  He is completely unsuccessful in his ventures and even thwarted by God and the attacks of other nations on the land.  In the end, Saul has the whole kingdom, anything he wants, and is humiliated by his opponent and convicted of his sins, finally giving up and going home.

Lets look at some of the contrasts here:

  • David starts his journey alone, petitioning a priest for some bread.  He goes to God in his time of need and is fed from the Lords table.  
  • Saul, in his time of need did his own thing, offered his own sacrifices, and was thus rejected by God.  (1 Saumel 13)
  • David, while always following after God, seeks the help of other nations for physical protection and is kept safe from his enemy
  • Saul, while never following after God, seeks the help from his own people with very little actual assistance and ends up killing almost 100 of his own people because of it.
  • David, while on the run, inquires of God and goes to rescue a city under the attack of the Philistines with great success, and is then protected when Saul comes to capture him.
  • Saul, when he is about to catch David is drawn away by the Philistines, and when he returns is placed in David’s hands, and spared by the mercy of his adversary.
  • David is loving the Lord with everything that he is, following the words of the “Shema” at every turn.
  • Saul… well Saul seems to be loving himself and going after what he wants at every turn… and its not working out for him so well.

These are some interesting contrasts that come up in this reading and others as well.  David is given wild success by the Lord when it seems impossible, because of his faith and trust in God.  Saul on the other hand kills his own people and fails at pretty much every turn despite his advantage.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying “well played David” but instead should be saying “Well played, God.”

Finally, for today, there is another crucial part to this story that we often read right over because it is not something that is very prominently pointed out.  We are once again encountering a wilderness motif here.  Did you notice it?  David is living in the wilderness, hiding in caves and traveling in desolate places to escape his enemy.  This is not something that would have gone unnoticed by the Hebrew people.  The wilderness is something that they were very familiar with.  David, like Israel after the Exodus, is on a journey through the wilderness right now.  Like Israel, he is being stripped of an old identity and being found anew in the Lord.  Before they entered the wilderness, Israel was group of Hebrew slaves.  When they entered into Canaan, they were a nation, THE nation of God.  David entered this wilderness journey a boy with a promise from God.  He will exit this journey a warrior, a survivor, and most of all a man in a deep relationship with his Lord.

The wilderness is a motif that we relate to LENT as well, the time that we have been in but that is coming rapidly to a close this week.  At this writing, we are entering into Holy Week, the last legs of our 40+ day wilderness journey.  We have given up things, put aside things, and sought to inquire after the Lord.  In Lent we are called to a drastic and dramatic reshaping of our minds and our identity as we seek to find ourselves not in possessions, status, jobs, or anything else, but in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Sometimes we find ourselves hiding in the caves of life, fearing our adversary will overtake us.  Trust in the Lord and call out to him and you will not be put to shame.

In this week of weeks, as we journey to the cross, let us find our identity in Christ and remember the great sacrifice that He gave for our sins, that we may not be left in the wilderness of life.



Day 83: 1 Samuel 18-20; Friendship and Rivalry

Today’s reading is a narrative of contrasts: love and hate, trust and mistrust, friendship and rivalry.  It is also another microcosm of the results of following the covenant, the Law of God, and what happens to those that do and to those that don’t.  As you reflect on the reading for today, I would encourage you to think of a couple things:

  1. What is Saul’s perspective?
  2. What is Jonathan’s perspective?
  3. What is David’s perspective?
  4. Where is God and how is God at work in each of these people?

Saul has shown his lack of faith in God and his unwillingness to follow the Law.  We have read just recently that God regretted making Saul king and rejected him and his family as rulers of Israel.  The result?  Saul is afflicted by an evil spirit, and horrible anger management issues, and has resorted to brute force and fear to get his way.

Jonathan has shown his faith in God, but is the unfortunate victim of familial relations.  Though he believes in the Lord and follows God, his family has been rejected by God for the royal line of Israel.  Yet, in spite of this, Jonathan still shows his faith in God and his loyalty toward his friendship with David.  We read that both Saul and Jonathan saw that God was with David, and Jonathan all but switches his loyalties to David’s camp.  No matter what his father says, he loves David and seeks to protect his friendship with him.  Jonathan is a living example of the commandment of Leviticus 19, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  He consistently puts his life on the line for David, a boy of a small family who has no real cultural or social rite hanging out with the son of the king.  I think Jonathan understanding a couple of things:  David is the anointed one of God and David is a man of Israel, a chosen child of God just like himself.  Before God we are all of the same stature, and there really is no difference between classes or any other social construct in God’s eyes.

David has been anointed by God to be king of Israel.  Technically he has the rite to raise a coup and kill the current king.  This has happened often in the history of the world, yet David doesn’t even take advantage of the influence that he is gaining or the success that the Lord is giving him.  He still plays the lyre for king Saul, even in the midst of Saul fury toward him, and still leads the military faithfully under the command of Saul.  We don’t see David lording it over Saul that he is better.  In fact, he even goes above and beyond Saul’s request for a “bride price,” killing philistines in the name of king Saul.  David also maintains his friendship with Jonathan, despite all that Jonathan’s father is doing against him.  He honors Jonathan for the position that he is in and doesn’t use him to exploit Saul.  Neither does he exploit the daughter of Saul, his wife.  David does what is right in the eyes of the Lord and is blessed and protected for it.

So where is God here?  I think it is obvious that we can say God is with David and Jonathan.  But, as we have always recognized, God is continuing to be faithful to the Covenant relationship that He has made with Israel.  Though Israel’s king is unfaithful, God is still faithful in providing for the people of Israel.  As we saw in the book of Ruth, despite what was going on around them, when people are faithful, God’s blessings abound.  David is considered “a man after God’s own heart,” and in his grace, humility, loyalty, and love he demonstrates exactly why he has been given that title.  And God continues in His faithfulness to David, and to us, in all things, at all times, and in all places.



Day 81: 1 Samuel 14-15; Saul's Legacy

So continues the battle with the Philistines, a conflict that continues for all the days of Saul’s reign as king.  But what we do see here is Saul taking the reigns of his Kingship, making decisions and rallying the people.  While it is good to see the king living into the role to which he has been called, it is interesting to see the his style as a ruler and his faith in God juxtaposed against that of his son, Jonathan and all of what happens after it.

There are really two different narratives that happen here, one in chapter 14 and the other in chapter 15.  In chapter 14 we see the actions of Jonathan dangerously venturing out with only his armor bearer to help protect him.  He goes out across the battle lines and up to the philistine garrison.  Rather than setting his own plan, he just says that he is going to stand up and trust that God will reveal to them what it is that they should do.  The sign is given, Jonathan obeys, and the garrison is defeated and the philistines panic and scatter.  Only then does Saul and the men with him come out of hiding.  Then Saul commands his military that they are to pursue the philistines and not take any food until they are defeated.  To me, this seems like an odd command in general, but for Saul, I think it betrays his feelings of who he trusts in.  Saul seems to be jumping on this fortunate turn of events and doesn’t want the opportunity to be lost because his soldiers stop to do something like eat food.

What happens?  Jonathan stops and eats some food.  Some people from the army warn him of what his father commanded to which Jonathan replies something akin to, “well that’s just dumb.”  We see here, very clearly where the faith of Jonathan lies:  in the power of God.  Saul is making bad decisions in the moment to take advantage of the confusion of the philistines.  He is relying on the strength of his army.  Jonathan knows exactly why this has happened.  He knows that it is the Lord that has given the philistines into the hands of Israel and that they should not rely on their own strength, but trust that as God has already worked, He will continue to do so.

This lack of faith and lack of following God is emphasized at the end of chapter 14 when we read that there was fighting all the days of Saul.  This is a direct reference to the covenant, where it says that there would be peace in the land if the people followed God and God’s law and there would be conflict should they fail to do so.  Saul’s lack of faith is then accented by his actions in the following chapter, not heeding the command of God and taking the best plunder for himself.  All this culminates in the rejection of Saul as king.  We read that the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king.

I think that this brings up a rather interesting thing to think about here.  We’ve read something like this a couple of times.  Back in Genesis 6 we read, “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  Later, in Exodus 32, with the Golden Calf, the Lord is so angry about the people’s rebellion that He wants to destroy them, but Moses talks God out of it.  This raises the question though, if we believe that God is immutable (does not change) but we read here that God changes His mind or regrets something that He is already done, do not those things stand in contrast with each other?

The immutability of God here is really a statement of the nature of God’s character, something about who He is in His very being.  We know that God is Holy, and that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  We know that God is wholly opposed to sin.  We also know that God is faithful to His people, loving them even in the midst of rebellion.  So what does that say to us here about God?  That He is, as always, true to His character.  God can never act in a way that is contrary to God’s character.  So we see that God is grieved to have made Saul the king, which is a result of Saul’s continuing sin against the Lord.  What we aren’t reading here is that God was wrong in doing so, but that He regretted His decision.  In any case, God is still acting in the way that God always acts, working against sin, upholding the covenant He made with Israel, and still bringing about His will in the world.



Day 80: 1 Samuel 11-13; Saul, Israel's First King

Yesterday, as we read about the anointing of Saul, the reading ended with Saul returning home and going back to the work of a normal person.  Today the narrative picks up there as well.  As the Ammonites are attacking the people of Israel, Saul is out plowing with some oxen.  Seems a rather common thing for the King of Israel to be doing.  However, when he hears of the trouble that is taking place in Israel, the Spirit of the Lord “rushes upon him” and he gets super angry.  He sends out a call to arms and over 300,000 men rally to the cause.  For anyone that has been keeping track, this is the most significant fighting force assembled from the people of Israel since the time of the conquest of Canaan.  It is clear that this is the human leader that the people of Israel were looking for, and they decimate the Ammonites.  After this, the people of Israel make Saul their king “officially.”

As with all other major occasions, especially those of renewal and of worship, the history of the people of Israel is recalled and remembered.  Often times this manifests itself in a recitation of the Law and in many ways, this occasion of the “Renewal of the Kingdom” is no different.  However, Samuel takes a rather different approach, expanding on his warning about having a king and not trusting in God as their king.  He says this, as He remembers the history of Israel and the commands to follow the Lord:

“The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.  Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers.  When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place.  But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.  And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’  And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.  And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.  And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you.  If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well.  But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.”

This is, really, a recounting of the Law.  You can see elements of the “shema” in here.  Samuel impresses upon them to “Love the Lord with all your heart.”  There are also elements of the Covenant in here, talking about how the Lord has been faithful to the people and what would happen if they obeyed or turned from Him as well.  This all ends with Samuel imploring the people of Israel and their new king to follow after God, that the hand of the Lord would be with them and it would “be well” with them.

Not surprisingly though, we see right after this, what Saul does… and its not in line with Samuel’s speech.  In chapter 13, we see Saul trying to do his kingly duty by getting rid of the Philistines.  His actions are something akin to swinging a stick at a bee-hive.  He defeated the some of the bees on the outside, but the whole hive came out in response.  In response, the people of Israel flee and hide and while Saul is rallying the troops and waiting for Samuel to come and intercede for them before God, the duty of the priest/prophet, he gets impatient and does something completely unlawful by offering the sacrifice by himself.

While this seems rather harmless by our eyes, it betrays Saul’s true feelings in his heart.  He does not trust in God or in God’s timing by waiting for Samuel.  He does not trust in how God has set things up for him.  He does not follow the Law… right after Samuel urged him, and all of Israel, to follow the Law.  This is the beginning of the end of Saul’s reign.  The brevity of it belies the true heart of the people of Israel, trying to do their own thing and trusting in their own ways rather than following the Law.  It is clear here that the the Law of God was not on His heart as our Deuteronomy 17 (laws concerning Israel’s king) passage commanded.  We read nowhere that Saul has gotten a copy of the Law that He is studying.  Whether power has gone to his head, or worry has overcome his thoughts, He has committed a capital offense against God, one from which He will not recover.

Yet even in this, God continues to be faithful to the people of Israel.  We will see this in our reading tomorrow.  The narrative today ends on a strange note, talking about iron and swords in the land of Israel.  This will be continued tomorrow… stay tuned!



Day 79: 1 Samuel 8-10; Israel's Last Judge and First King

Well, it was bound to happen eventually.  Israel has been living like the people they failed to remove from the land of Canaan on and off since they first settled there.  They have followed the gods of other nations, forsaking their God and breaking the Covenant often.  It seems only natural then that the people would demand a king like those of the nations surrounding them as well.  We read that this saddens Samuel and that he takes it offensively.  Yet God clears this up for Samuel, pointing out that it is indeed not Samuel’s leadership that they are rejecting, but rather God’s.  The people don’t want God to be king over them anymore, they want something, or rather someone, that is more tangible, visible… perhaps, maybe even real?  Who knows what was going through their heads at the time, but it seems as though they are just worshiping whatever, whenever… it is not difficult to make the leap that if people are just doing whatever they want whenever they want to what or whomever they want for worship, perhaps the gods are not real.  I’m sure that the stories of what happened in Egypt… maybe even in the conquest of Canaan have passed into legend by this time.  How sad that everything has become so… sad.

Israel is a nation that has the hope and promise of God as part of their very nature.  They were not only to live as God’s people, but were also meant to be a blessing to the whole world.  Yet they have forsaken all of this, following after worldly things… and now they want a king to rule, judge, and direct them.  Perhaps they hope that an earthly ruler would direct them towards a heavenly one.  This is certainly what the King should be doing, serving almost as an Icon, ever pointing towards the Lord.  This takes us back all the way to Deuteronomy 17, God lays out rules for the coming kings of Israel.  Even though the people want a king like other nations have a king, the Law clearly states that the king of Israel wasn’t to be like any other king.  Deuteronomy says that the King is not supposed to “acquire many horses” or wives, wealth, etc., but was to get a copy of the Law which he would read day after day, night after night… that He would follow “the Shema” to the letter and be an example to the people of Israel what it means to truly follow after God.

I encourage you to read the post “Beggar” by Cody Raak, a good friend of mine.  At first it may seem to be going in a different direction, but I think that it gets at the idea that the Laws for the king were getting at.  Our strength is not to be set in our own wealth, knowledge, or military might, but rather in our relationship with God which is made stronger the more we spend time in His Word, as Psalm 1 readily points out.

At the end of the day, it is interesting to see Israel’s thinly veiled rejection of God and easy to ask why they would do such a thing.  Sure, their leadership wasn’t looking so great (why is it that the sons of religious leaders seem to always go bad?), but wouldn’t that just be more of an encouragement to turn toward the God that got them there in the first place?  We can sit on this end of the words and think, “how could they possibly do this?”  Yet I wonder if the situations in many churches today are not dissimilar to this.  Pastors are being removed at an alarming rate by their congregations.  While I believe that sometimes this can be necessary (things like abuse, heresy, and pedophilia), too often this simply happens because the pastor isn’t telling the congregation what they want to here.  We would rather have pastors that sooth our ears with the messages of moralistic living and the love of God rather than those that contain in them some element of sin that makes us uncomfortable.  Are we too, like the people of Israel, demanding a leader that words for us rather than turning to God in our times of “spiritual dryness” or lack of leadership?  I wonder…

In the end though, we see that God is willing to allow this.  He is not discouraged or put-out by it.  He doesn’t up and leave when the people make this poor decision.  Instead He becomes intimately involved in the selection process, again working His will for the right person to come forward, even if he is hiding amongst the baggage (clearly he didn’t hide well enough).  God is not moved, shaken, or ever surprised by our mistakes, poor choices, or lack of vision outside ourselves… He knows that we will make the wrong decision.  He knew it from before time began… yet He still maintains His covenant relationship with Israel, and with us, and He still sent His Son to die for us, “even when we were dead in our transgressions and sins.”  Praise God!