Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Sparing Saul Again (1 Samuel 26)

David once again discovered that enemies can be persistent in their opposition. In this chapter, the Ziphites, who had betrayed him before to Saul, do so once again. So Saul was again seeking for him, even although in the cave his life had been spared by David (as described in 1 Samuel 24).

David realised that his loyalty had to be retold to Saul. How could this be done since Saul had superior forces on his side? Normally, his forces would prevent David getting near to Saul. So before David did anything he went and assessed the situation. Such preparation is necessary whenever we engage in an important action.

The situation David saw could have told him not to get involved. Saul seemed impenetrable, surrounded by his army and protected personally by his commander Abner. But David saw a way whereby he could do what was right, and when there is such a way it is right to take it. Saul had to be retold about the loyalty of David.

David asked for a volunteer to accompany him. It is unlikely that David wanted the volunteer to fight against Saul’s army, so he probably wanted a witness to his actions because his plan bordered on the unbelievable. David and Abishai were to walk right into the middle of Saul’s army. Was this foolhardy or was it a plan of faith? It was the latter, and God honoured it by ensuring the army remained asleep.

Abishai interpreted their easy access to Saul as evidence from heaven that the king should be killed. Yet, as on the occasion in 1 Samuel 24, David knew that interpretations of divine providence do not override divine instructions, and he knew it would be wrong to kill the king. And if Abishai killed Saul, how would David’s loyalty be revealed? Instead David took Saul’s spear (with which Saul had frequently tried to kill David) and a water jar and left the camp.

David then stood on a hill-top and addressed Abner and Saul. Abner had failed to guard Saul and the king could easily have been killed. When Saul responded, David again asked him why he was pursuing a loyal subject without cause. What could Saul do but acknowledge once again that David had behaved in an appropriate manner.

The challenge that comes out of this incident is how far we will go in order to ensure that a person understands that we are serving the Lord. David did what he had to do, and the Lord helped him to do so. He will help us if we show similar determination, even if others think the effort is unnecessary and even foolhardy.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Wait for God to deal with it (1 Samuel 25)

The death of Samuel is described in three words, perhaps indicating that all he had to do when the time came was to die. Perhaps he was disappointed to see the youth he crowned as king not come to the throne. But then who does see all the outcomes of their activities for the Lord? It is inevitable that God’s servants die with some of their longings about other people unfulfilled.

As far as David was concerned, he was still on the move. He was now the leader of a disciplined group of men, evident from the fact that they had not behaved inappropriately when they reached the area in which Nabal and his men were living and working – indeed David’s men had guarded them from any threats. So he asked Nabal for some food, since he was holding a feast for his workers.

Nabal’s refusal was delivered in an insulting tone, which when David heard about it made him angry and he set off with 400 armed men to deal with Nabal. Fortunately for Nabal, he had a wise wife Abigail, who took it into her own hands to solve the situation, which she did by providing food for David and his men.

When she met David, she revealed that she understood the role that David had in the plan of God, and that she was sure he would reach the throne. Yet she informed David that he would not want to reach there with regrets at having slain innocent blood, as he might have done if she had not intervened.

David recognised that the Lord had sent her to prevent him from committing a great wrong. How often the Lord does this for us! We may imagine that an intended course of action is a correct response, then someone intervenes or something crosses our path and causes us to think again.

What had motivated David to engage in a wrong response was a wish to defend his own reputation. Nabal had insulted him. Yet the situation was that no one would have paid any heed to Nabal’s opinion, which means that David did not need to defend his reputation. Yet if he had persisted in his desire to defend it, he himself would have done lasting damage to it. How good God was to send Abigail to intervene!

Abigail did not keep her actions secret from her husband – she would have been wrong to do so. He became afraid of what might have happened if she had not intervened. Yet he showed no repentance for his wrong words against the man God had chosen, and ten days later God struck him down.

When David heard what had happened to Nabal, he praised God for keeping him from sinning in such a foolish way. David had learned a valuable lesson in leaving things with God for him to sort out.

God also provided David with a godly wife in Abigail to replace Michal whom Saul had ‘divorced’ from David. Exactly how Saul could do this is not clear, and his plan did not work because later on David insisted on having her back (2 Sam. 3:13-14).  But David seemed to be determined to build a royal house, which probably explains why he had more than one wife. Or maybe he had not waited for God to give the one of his choice, and so ended up with two wives.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

How to treat your enemy? (1 Samuel 24)

It is very unpleasant to have an occasional dispute with another person, especially if the other individual is hostile. Sometimes the antagonism can be very strong, yet at least the person being opposed knows it will soon be over. But what does it feel like to have a persistent enemy, who never gives up but keeps on returning with the intention to harm? This is the situation in which David found himself with regard to Saul.

During all this experience David was being tested by God and being prepared by God for his future role as king of Israel. Sometimes it was easy for David to work out what he should do with regard to Saul's attempts. Usually all he had to do was merely to move on and keep away from Saul. But what would he do if things were not that straightforward?

In this chapter, the author describes a situation in which Saul the pursuer found himself unwittingly in a possible place of danger from David. Saul, with his 3000 men, was searching carefully for David and was drawing close to finding him. In fact, he seems to have David surrounded and was probably anticipating success soon. Maybe David was wondering how he would escape from Saul. Perhaps he and his men were even having a prayer meeting in the cave.

This story tells us that God can change a situation very quickly. Almost in a moment Saul the pursuer became entrapped by his intended victim. Despite his men being close at hand Saul found himself alone with his hated rival. How would David react here?

David's friends were quick to read this providence as indicating God had put Saul into David's hands. David, however, instead of harming Saul cut off a piece of his clothes. He did this because a higher principle told him how to read providence. It would be wrong for David to harm the king because he was still the Lord's anointed. He knew that biblical principles govern providence, and not the other way round.

So sensitive was David that he was disturbed by even his little action against Saul. Sensitivity is always appropriate regarding how our actions affect others, even if they are against us. The sensitivity is connected to what God thinks of our actions, because sensitive people in this sense are aware that God is testing them.

It would have been possible for David to have said nothing about the incident to Saul. But such silence would not have been right. If he had kept quiet Saul would not have known how graciously God had dealt with him through his servant David. Nevertheless David spoke about his actions in a humble manner, describing himself as little more than a dead dog or a flea. He also reminded Saul that he also faced divine assessment and judgement.

David 's actions and words spoke powerfully to Saul. His behaviour convinced Saul that David was the man whom God had blessed and he even asked David to be kind to his descendants. Did David's mercy when he was on the run convince Saul that David would be merciful when he reached the throne? There is no doubt that what we are when things are against us reveals the kind of persons we are.

David passed the test on that occasion. Mercy is normally the attitude to show towards those who are against us. In doing so, we are like God. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Helped by God (1 Samuel 23:14-28)

The experiences of believers can vary very quickly and we see examples of such in what happened to David after he left Keilah. He realised that in Saul he had a permanent enemy who would continue to try and destroy him. Yet since he was a believer he would anticipate help from God. How did God do so?

First, God arranged for David’s friend Jonathan to come and see him. The author informs us that Jonathan strengthened David’s hand in God. How did Jonathan do this? He reminded David of God’s promises to him about being king and he informed David that when that time came he would serve David loyally. Those statements indicate Jonathan’s faith because circumstances at the time pointed to a different outcome. There is a lesson here about how we can strengthen one another – speak about God’s purposes and promises and indicate that we will serve one another.

Second, God delivered him from false refuges. David had gone to live among the Ziphites. Yet they were not on David’s side and informed Saul that they would help him capture David. The fact that they did not capture David indicates that they themselves were not very strong, so they would not have been much of a refuge in any case for David. David was not aware of their treachery initially and may have assumed that he was safe. But God was looking after David, and let him know that he was not safe there. We are not told how God did this (perhaps through using the ephod that Abiather the priest had). We too can find ourselves in places that we think are refuges, but which are not. God can warn us through his Word or through one of his people about such false refuges, and we should thank him for doing so.

Third, God worked in providence to remove the threat of Saul from David by allowing the Philistines to invade elsewhere in the land. This invasion caused Saul to cease searching for David and go and deal with the Philistines. Yet it is noticeable that God did not arrange for this deliverance until Saul and his men had come very close to where David and his men were, on the same mountain. Sometimes God delays the time of deliverance until almost the last minute. We may wonder why he does this, yet the providential deliverance for David was effective whenever it happened. And it is often the same for us.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

David to the rescue (i Samuel 23)

The Philistines had attacked the Israelite city of Keilah at harvest time. News came to David of the attack and in his response we see growing evidence of him becoming the leader that God wanted over his people. An evidence of this development is his desire to know whether or not God wanted him to go and save Keilah from the Philistines.

The method David used was the ephod that Abiather the priest had taken with him when he joined David’s band. On the ephod was a breastplate containing stones called the Urim and Thummim, and through using them the priest obtained direct guidance from the Lord. The answer from God was that David should save Keilah.

Strangely, his followers were reluctant to accept that this was God’s will. So David had to go through the process again and he received the same divine response. This situation would have told David the leader that sometimes those he led would be reluctant to follow God’s clearly revealed will. The same problem happens today when a pastor teaches accurately a command from the Bible and for one reason or another the believers he leads refuse to obey it. What should he do in that situation? He should keep on teaching what God requires until it is obeyed.

The reason why David’s men were reluctant was fear. In general they were afraid that Saul would find them and now they were afraid that the Philistine band would be too powerful for them. Fear of men was incapacitating them and it incapacitates many believers still. The Lord in his kindness gave David a specific promise of victory (v. 4), and this promise would have encouraged his men. Thinking about the promises of God is one effective way of dealing with fear.

David and his men won a victory over the Philistines at Keilah. Yet their victory had the potential of trouble. Saul heard about where David was and realised that in a military sense that David would be an easy target if he stayed there. So the king made plans to attack the town. David heard about Saul’s intentions, and again David’s response was to bring the matter to God. Using the ephod, he asked several questions of God.

Although it was right for David to pray, did he ask the right petitions initially? When he spoke to God, David asked about two details: (a) would Saul come and (b) would the city of Keilah deliver David into Saul’s hands? God only answered (a), but did not answer (b) until David extended the request to include his men as well. Perhaps David was only focussing on his needs rather than also focussing on the needs of his men. The prayers of a leader have to include those he leads.

So David was now following God's revealed will, and so should we. We don't need the method that David used because we have God's revealed will in his Word.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

David’s followers identify themselves (1 Samuel 22)

We saw in the previous chapter that David had descended very low when he had pretended to be mad in Gath. Yet it was also then that his spiritual recovery began, as we can see from the heading of Psalm 34. It was a renewed David who made his way to the cave of Adullam. Verse 6 of that psalm indicates that David recognised that although he was poor as far as his own resources were concerned he did have access to God in prayer and did enjoy the protection of angels. So perhaps he and his friends were singing the psalm as they made their way from Gath to the cave.

When would we expect to gain followers? I don’t think we would expect many to identify with someone on the run. But I suppose it depends on which direction they are running. When David was on the run from God, he did not have many followers, but when he was on the run towards God and with God, then he discovered that others wanted to identify with him, whatever Saul thought.

What kind of followers would we like? Probably people who have no baggage, without any problems and who were good at everything. David did not gather such followers in the cave of Adullam. Instead he was befriended by those who were in danger (his family), in distress, in debt and despondent. In other words, he was joined by those who had lots of problems. I suspect the cave of Adullam is like a church, composed of people with many needs.

David had recovered his spiritual bearings. He now wanted to keep God’s commandments (seen in his obedience to the fifth, which required him to care for his parents) and listen to God’s servants when they gave him advice (as the prophet Gad did).

What about Saul? He was brooding over the fact that David remained popular with people and suspected that he could not trust any of his servants. The only individual who showed open support for Saul was Doeg the Edomite who informed the king of what had taken place at Nob when David was fed and armed by the priest.

The outcome was inevitable. Ahimelech was summoned and questioned by Saul. Although he showed respect for Saul, Ahimelech saw no reason to say anything bad about David. Instead he courageously reminded the king of the truth of the situation. For his faithfulness the priest must die, along with the other priests and their families, with the dreadful act carried out by Doeg.

Providentially one priest escaped and fled to David. Now there was a king and a priest in exile. Whatever else the followers of David had, they had a king (David), a priest (Abiather) and a prophet (Gad). The future for David’s men was now a lot brighter. I a far higher sense, we have One who combines in himself the roles of prophet, priest and king, which means that our future is bright in a manner that far excels the prospects that David’s loyal friends had.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Deceiving and deceiving and deceiving (1 Samuel 21)

This chapter contains several puzzling features. The incident is referred to by Jesus in Mark 2:25-28 when he defended the disciples against the accusation of the Pharisees over breaking the Sabbath.

Ahimelech was surprised that David did not have an official retinue with him when he arrived at Nob, located close to Jerusalem. Instead he was accompanied by a few young men, who seem to have been standing a short distance away as he spoke to the priest. In order to explain the situation, it looks as if David made up a story about being on a secret mission on behalf of Saul. Ahimelech accepted David’s explanation, an explanation that would cost the priest his life.

When he discovered that David wanted food, Ahimelech could only give him the showbread which had been replaced, perhaps that day. The day for changing the bread was the Sabbath (Lev. 24:8), and this detail may be a reason why Jesus referred to this incident.

How did Ahimelech know that he could give those loaves to David since the law said they could only be eaten by the priests (Lev. 24:9)? One possible answer is the reference in the next chapter to the priest enquiring of the Lord on behalf of David (22:10, 15). Perhaps the Lord gave permission, indicating that it was appropriate to put compassion above ceremonial requirements. Even if that is not the answer, it is intriguing that the priest, who was the great-grandson of Eli, was praying that day whereas David resorted to deceit.

Even although he had just told a lie, David proceeded to tell the priest that whenever he and his men went on an expedition they always did so in a sanctified state, which he certainly was not in on his current journey. No doubt David was desperate with hunger, but the combination of desperation and deceit can be explosive.

It is surprising that David did nothing about the presence of Doeg. David had spotted him (1 Sam. 22:22) and had suspected what he would do. Yet David made no attempt to ensure the safety of the priest, a man who was loyal to David even when it was dangerous to be so (22:14-15).  

David and his friends had been forced to flee weaponless. On discovering that the sword of Goliath was stored at Nob, he asked the priest for it and was given it. Rather strangely, he then decided to flee to Gath, the location from where Goliath had come, but not to use the sword against the Philistines. Instead he wanted sanctuary among them. So it is sad to see him trying to find shelter there.

Yet Gath was not a place of security. David may have forgotten who he was meant to fight against, but the Philistines had not. Moreover they recognised him, and not Saul, as the king, a reminder for us that the opponents of God’s kingdom may be sometimes far more perceptive than we might think.

David had to resort to a ruse in order to preserve his life, and pretended to be mad. Instead of being a witness to the power and grace of God in a pagan community, he had to engage in a form of deceit that is embarrassing at best. Yet we cannot forget that God had his hand on David, even while David was running away from him. This downward spiral would only go so far before God turned things round for David.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A good friendship (1 Samuel 20)

His having to escape from Saul forced David to seek counsel from one he could trust. It is unusual to discover that the friend to whom he could turn was the son of Saul. The unusualness of the circumstances, however, should not cause us to lose sight of the wisdom of David’s decision. In times of trouble it is good to have a friend to whom we can turn. Obviously, the best friend to have is Jesus, and we can turn to him for help at all times. It is also wise to have close Christian friends whom we can trust.

Such friendships are not developed overnight, but are the outcome of meaningful contact over a period of time. So we can see that a good friend is someone whose company we enjoy. What else would a good friend do, in a Christian sense?

Such a person would pray eagerly and persistently for his friend (I doubt that someone who seldom prays for a person can be described as a close friend). He would also speak much about Jesus and the salvation he has provided. Aspects of the Christian life would also be a focus of such a friendly relationship. Encouragements and, sometimes, corrective counsel would be part of the relationship.

Jonathan was a true friend to David. As the son and assumed heir of Saul, Jonathan could have used the situation to get rid of his only rival. Yet there is no hint of any resentment in the heart of Jonathan, or of regret that he would not have the role that God had planned for David. Jonathan’s lack of bitterness is a major feature of this friendship and is a rebuke to those who have used petty reasons for destroying what could have been good friendships.

David was very sensitive to the difficulties their friendship raised for Jonathan's relationship with his father. So he devised a plan, which they developed together, that would make things easier for Jonathan to deal with the situation. The plan did reveal the danger that David was in as far as Saul’s enmity was concerned, and Jonathan did not hide the truth from his friend.

Jonathan and David’s friendship survived the intense opposition of Saul. They looked at their friendship not only from current circumstances, but also included future features. What they wanted was peace between their descendants, which is the atmosphere of true friendship. They made a covenant with one another, made in the sight of God. And an interesting consequence of their friendship is that they are still enjoying it in heaven.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Saul’s Decline Deepens (1 Samuel 19)

Saul’s determination to destroy David increased and he even put pressure on his son Jonathan, who was a close friend of David, and on his daughter Michel, who was married to David, to be part of his attempts. He wanted to use Jonathan’s skills in war and Michel’s home, if necessary, to bring about his sinful plans. Here we see the way that sinful intentions can cause a person to use others for his own benefit and when that happens even his family members are regarded as tools for his own devious uses.

Saul’s powerful love for himself, which in a sense is what jealousy is, failed to take into account that others may have powerful love but express it in other ways. Jonathan was not prepared to share in his father’s sins, but neither was he prepared to allow his father to remain in a state of animosity against David. So he spoke up for David and told the truth about him. It was dangerous for Jonathan to respond in this way, yet courage and consistency shows themselves in times of danger. It is in difficult situations that we see the real character of a person. A godly person dominated by true love will endeavour to bring people together. On this occasion, Saul was persuaded to bring David back into royal service.

Yet Saul was not changed permanently regarding David. The next time David defeated the Philistines, presumably on behalf of Saul and the kingdom, the jealous king could not contain his envy. Instead of pinning a medal on David’s chest, Saul tried to pin him to the wall with a spear. Although David went home, Saul planned to kill him the next day and sent men to arrest him. It was then that Michel showed her love for David by warning him what was happening and urging him to escape. Yet her words about David are not as loyal as those of Jonathan because she gives to Saul the impression that her husband would have killed her if she had not helped him. No doubt, she was frightened of her irrational father, but the author of the book is drawing attention to the fact that all was not well between Michel and David, a situation that will become public later on.

David went to see Samuel, presumably to obtain prophetic counsel. Saul found out where David had gone and sent messengers to arrest him. When they arrived, they saw Samuel and his fellow-prophets prophesying, which may mean that they were engaged in a religious ritual that included praise and prayer and exhortations. Such was the sense of the presence of the Spirit that the messengers were compelled to take part. The same happened when Saul sent another two sets of messengers. Here we can see how God’s power is greater than human expressions of power. The messengers of Saul found themselves unable to resist God and unable to execute their evil intentions.

Saul himself decided to go and sort out the situation. Yet he too found himself unable to do anything about it and even found himself affected by the presence of the Spirit before he came to where Samuel was. Yet Saul’s experience with God was not a healthy or profitable one for the king as he takes off his royal robes. Instead of dignifying his office as king he demeaned it. God was giving visible signs to the people that Saul was unfit to be their king, and their question, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’, indicates that they did not think he was an authentic prophet either.

Saul had the witness of a godly son, had the experience of providence (through his daughter’s response) preventing his evil intentions, had seen the effect of divine power on his agents and even experienced himself the power of God to restrain him, yet he remained on the decline. It is sad to watch a person running away from God.  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Family knots (1 Samuel 18)

Is it unusual to be loved by a son and daughter of a man who hates you? Whether it is unusual or not, David found himself in this situation when the son and daughter of Saul opposed their father with regard to David.

Of course, there are many forms of love and in the friendship of David and Jonathan we have a beautiful example of godly brotherly love. This friendship would be a great encouragement to David for the next few years. It is ironic that David’s natural brother Eliab provided no encouragement for David whereas the son of Saul, who would have expected to be the next king, was delighted to encourage the one who would become king.

Jonathan expressed his brotherly love for David by giving to him gifts that indicated his estimation of David. He provided David with attire and weapons that befitted a leading soldier in Saul’s army. Having received them, David quickly rose in the ranks of the army and the esteem of the people. Yet Jonathan, in having given what may have seemed to be an unimportant present, helped David in the path laid out for him by God. I suppose we should ask ourselves, ‘How am I helping a fellow believer serve God?’ Little things can help often as much as big things.

David’s success brought out the worst in Saul who became furious with envy and even attempted to kill David. When that did not work, Saul resorted to intrigue, first making David a commander of a troop. This also was an attempt to get David killed, this time in battle. How far can jealousy make a person go? Sadly there can be jealousy in the hearts of Christian leaders, accompanied by malicious thoughts and words, and sometimes actions. Saul’s attempt to destroy David failed because the Lord was protecting him. We should ask God to protect our spiritual leaders.

Saul also was prepared to use his own children to demean David, as in the case of his elder daughter Merab whom he promised to David and then gave to another man. He then discovered that his other daughter Michel loved David, and Saul saw in this relationship a way of having David killed in battle. He devised a plan that would involve David having to kill one hundred Philistines and then he would have Michel as his wife.

Again the scheme failed and all it accomplished was to make known in a wider way the competency of David who managed to slay two hundred of the enemy. God over-ruled all the attempts of Saul to diminish David and because God did this David increased in ability and esteem. Need we fear the antics of opponents when God is on our side? We should use those occasions as opportunities to discover God-given abilities that we can use in the service of his kingdom.