I Will Fear No Evil
1 Samuel 23-26
6th Sunday after Pentecost–July 16, 2017 (am)
The most recent event we’ve encountered in the stories of 1Sa. is absolutely chilling on every level. King Saul, spiraling down with increasing speed, put to death not only all the priests at the house of the Lord at Nob, but all the inhabitants of that town—man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep (22:19), the seven-fold list of complete destruction. This was a holy war! It was such a despicable command that the king’s guard wouldn’t even carry it out! (22:17) But Doeg the Edomite was there. The Edomites were descendants of Esau (Gen.32:3) and historically no friends of Israel. But Doeg was Saul’s chief (shepherd) (21:7) and he was more than willing to carry out the king’s decree against Nob. 2218 …And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod.
This is horrifying! How are David and his men supposed to respond to that? How do you overcome a king who can massacre one of his own cities, populated in-part by his own holy men, with no accountability? How do you respond to a tyrant with absolute power of life and death over his subjects?
But things aren’t always what they seem. And there are signs that a power greater than Saul’s was at work here! We see a foreshadowing of that in the closing words from David in last week’s passage, spoken to Abiathar, the only surviving priest of Nob: 2223 Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping. Where did that confidence come from when Saul had just done what he’d done? How does David speak with such certainty about Abiathar’s safety? Let’s look at this passage from two angles.
An Overview of David’s Continuing Flight from Saul
The answer to our questions is that David’s confidence and certainty, no surprise, come from the Lord, even in the midst of his season of wilderness wanderings. He’s already calling out to the Lord like a king over God’s people.
Saul, on the other hand, is entirely preoccupied with eliminating David. He’s the prince of Israel with the nation’s army under his command, yet we’ll see here that he wasn’t able to find David, even when he knew from intelligence reports right where David was! Meanwhile, David was relying wholly on God, and therefore was confident of His protection and preservation. And, quick aside, it’s almost comedic to see who could find David and who couldn’t in these chapters!
But first, we need to see evidence of David’s tactics as compared to Saul’s. And we see that right from the start of c.23. 1 Now they told David, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors.” Saul was not fulfilling his responsibilities as king, to protect God’s people from their enemies (10:1). But when David heard of the Philistine attacks, he 2 … inquired of the Lord—there’s the difference! That one remaining priest from Nob who had fled to David at Keilah, had come down with an ephod in his hand (6), the breast piece of a priest that is used to communicate with God. It held the Urim and Thummim by which the priest could receive clear answers, yes, or, no.
So, David asked, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” 3 But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” “We’re being pursued by the king of Israel! How can we engage a neighboring enemy in battle?” Good question! And David didn’t presume an answer. 4 Then David inquired of the Lord again. And the Lord answered him, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines and brought away their livestock and struck them with a great blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
But let’s see how Saul fares against his enemy. 237 Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” Everything was stacked against David. There was no way out! 8 And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men, the definition of a losing battle. 9 David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Let that sink in. David models the only right response in this, or any, situation. Call out to God! 10 Then David said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. 11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will surrender you.” Wow, that’s gratitude! 13 Then David and his men, who were about six hundred (cf. 22:2), arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. Again, wow! Deliverance! 14 And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.
But you know what happened next, right, after Jonathan’s visit (16-17) (he seemed to have no trouble finding David!)? 2319 The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? 20 Now come down, O king, according to all your heart’s desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.” Ziph was in Judah!
But watch God act to protect His anointed from hopeless circumstances. 24 … Now David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the Arabah to the south of Jeshimon. 25 And Saul and his men went to seek him. And David was told, so he went down to the rock and lived in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. 26 Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. And David was hurrying to get away from Saul. This is either a suspense thriller or a comedy! As Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid against the land.” God sent an enemy nation to attack His people in order to protect His anointed from the hand of His pursuer! “God allowed full freedom of action to all individuals and groups (in this story,) but yet he overruled so that his will prevailed” (Payne 317). 28 So Saul returned from pursuing after David and went against the Philistines. Therefore that place was called the Rock of Escape. 29 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of Engedi.
Well, we read c.24 a few minutes ago, so we know what happened at Engedi. And it c.26 we see an echo of this same series of events. Again, the Ziphites tried to assist Saul by telling him where to find David (26:1). And Saul pursued him again with five times the number of troops David had (26:2). But this time, rather than cutting off a corner of Saul’s robe in a cave, David and a friend, Abishai, Joab’s brother (26:6), snuck into the middle of Saul’s camp at night (26:7), because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them (26:12), and they took his spear and water (bottle) from right beside his head. But David would not put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed because that was not his place. 2610 And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish.” “God will do it, I will not” (11).
David’s follow-up conversation was more with Abner than with Saul this time (26:13-16), but it brought a similar response. 21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” As he finished, Saul didn’t quite affirm his certainty that David would become king as he did back in 2420, but he blessed David, and affirmed that he will do many things and will succeed in them (26:25).
Then, in between these two mirror chapters is the focal-point encounter between David’s men and another rich but foolish man, Nabal, who had a beautiful and wise wife, Abigail (c.25). David’s men had been protecting Nabal’s shepherds in the field (16) and now they had been sent to see if Nabal would provide them with some food on a feast day (8). Nabal not only refused, but he insulted David, saying, 10 “… There are many servants who are breaking away from their masters. 11 Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” Well, that didn’t sit very well! 13 And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!”…—no asking God. He was planning to wipe out Nabal and all his men. (22) But Abigail intervened, accepted responsibility for the situation (24), asked forgiveness (28), and urged David not to bloody his hands with personal revenge against a fool like Nabal (26, 31, 33). And by the end of the story, God had taken the life of Nabal in judgment (38). And Abigail became David’s wife (42).
Bottom line: not only is God’s anointed saved from an enemy who pursues him relentlessly with superior power, but he is also saved from his own rash retaliation against a very similar enemy whose offense was of a like kind, but whose personal standing is not so easily discernible. God is protecting and preserving His anointed from others and from himself, and God will surely fulfill His purpose and promise to him.
A Word to God’s People in Their Times of Testing
We see David facing two unyielding enemies in this passage, one who wants to destroy him and the other who wants to dismiss him. And what he learns, and we along with him, is that both are in the Lord’s hands. God will take care of both enemies of His anointed no matter how hopeless the scenario. Abigail said it best in our theme verse this morning: 2529 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. God is your protector, in all things, when you are His anointed. David needed to remember that in his dealings with Nabal.
And this morning we can sit here saying: “Wow, it would surely be nice if v.29 could be said of us!” We, too, have enemies, even if we’re just talking about all of the hardships and struggles of this life—and sometimes even the successes that turn out to be empty! We have enemies that constantly threaten to draw our eyes away from the Lord—that press us to turn toward human solutions when we should, like David, be turning to the Lord! Sometimes our enemies are actual people who dislike us or oppose us, people who cause us to react like David initially did to Nabal. But we cannot afford to forget that behind all of these is an enemy who is actually bent on our destruction, not just our dismissal, for God has warned us in His Word that Eph.612 we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Then He goes on to tell us how to fight this battle, how to armor up. And He reminds us in another place that 2Co.104 the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
This tells us that we, like David, cannot fight our battles alone, or with our own weapons. We’re not equipped for it. That is God’s job. He has already fought our battles on our behalf. And He has won! He won in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ who stands as the Lord’s true Anointed—the full and final One! And when we are found in Him, by faith in His finished work of victory on our behalf, then Abigail’s words to David v.29 are also spoken to us: 29 If men rise up to pursue (us) and to seek (our) life, then (our) life shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord (our) God. And the lives of (our) enemies—whether they are people or circumstances, tests or trials, discouragement, disease, even death itself—he shall sling them out as from the hollow of a sling. That is our legacy in Christ! Psa.234 Even though (we) walk through the valley of the shadow of death, (we) will fear no evil, for (He) is with (us)…, answering our prayers, fighting our battles, enabling our victories.
Are you thankful for Him today?