Prelude to a Leadership Transition
1 Samuel 27-30
7th Sunday after Pentecost–July 23, 2017 (am)
Today we encounter one of the most intriguing and challenging sections of 1 & 2Samuel. At times, we even misunderstand what is being said here.
I remember being told in Sunday School for instance, that David used a portion of the time while he was running from Saul to attack Israel on behalf of the Philistines! And David surely was invited to do that—we read in 281 that King Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army” against Israel (29:1). David had earned Achish’s complete trust (27:12; 28:2; 29:6) by the daily raids that he was carrying out, but we’re told by the narrator whom he was attacking: the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites (27:8)—essentially, the common regional enemies of the Philistines and Israel. But clearly Achish was under the impression that David was attacking Israel as part of the dispute they perceived between him and Saul. David would report that he carried out raids against the Negeb (meaning the southern desert regions [BEB]) of Judah, or the Negeb of the Jarahmeelites, or the Negeb of the Kenites (27:10). But in Achish’s mind, David was attaching Judah! 2712 … He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel….
But we don’t want to tell the whole story before we get started in earnest. Let’s just say in advance that what we want to do today is to take a field trip away from this room to just follow David around and learn from him what it looks like to live as a faithful follower of God in the hostile environment of real-life in real-time. Let’s watch this Act unfold in three Scenes.
The Lord’s Anointed Descends into “Egypt” – 27
That may sound like an odd title to hang over c.27, until we remember from the Table of Nations in Gen.1013 (repeated in 1Ch.1:11) that Egypt fathered… 14 … Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came)…. The Philistines are related to Egypt (Leithart 137). And David heads off to (Philistia) in pursuit of safety (27:1).
So, what is going on here? Saul has just affirmed David’s future as the King of Israel twice (once explicitly [24:20], once implicitly [26:25]). David had preserved Saul’s life twice, and Saul responded with apparently humble repentance both times. But suddenly David is saying: 271 … Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand. So, what’s up?
We wish we heard that David called for the ephod again here. But we don’t. It would be great if we heard that God spoke to him through a prophet, or even directly. But we don’t. We just hear David’s reasoning (27:1), and we’re left guessing. But we cannot miss the parallel that we see with Israel of old, when they went down into Egypt during a time of severe famine, and God provided for them there, and then delivered them in the greatest manifestation of His saving power prior to the cross. And we can’t miss that Jesus Himself, the Christ, God’s anointed, was also sent down into Egypt for His protection, as an infant with Joseph and Mary (Mat.2:13). Matthew drew these two events together by quoting Hos.111, that speaks of the exodus, and applying it to Jesus: Out of Egypt I called my son (Mat.2:15). Now, David is living out this same experience as God anointed, and His true son. He’s being exiled from Israel into (Philistia), a son of Egypt, for his protection on his way to ascending the throne of Israel.
At least four remarkable things happen as a result. First, we’re given a living illustration of how to dwell in a hostile land, and serve God faithfully, yet still be held in high regard by the powers that be. David is a citizen of two cities in this passage, two nations, two kingdoms, just like we are. He knows that Achish and the Philistines would never understand his work, so he lets them believe what they want to believe, even knowing it was false. Yet he lived among them as a notably honorable man! Some of you know just what this is like! You work with people who just don’t understand why you do the things you do. I worked closely for nearly a decade with a person whose lifestyle choices I couldn’t endorse on any level. And he knew that! But it never complicated our working relationship. He heard the gospel from me many times. And we actually became good friends. But he never could quite figure out how that was possible for me. I could probably talk for quite a while addressing how it all worked, but David models it for us right here!
A second remarkable thing that happens is that David is taken out of the picture as the Philistines engage Saul and his army. We’ll get to that story in due course, but if David had been in Israel as Achish was mounting for war against Saul, almost certainly he would have risen up yet again to defend the Lord’s anointed. And if he hadn’t, the reader would surely wonder why! Here, though, with David in (Philistia), being sent back to Ziklag by the king, he’s taken out the battle that took Saul’s life.
A third remarkable thing is that, if we took time to lay out the chronology here (see Leithart 145), we would see that the Battle of Gilboa, where both Saul and Jonathan died, was likely taking place on precisely the same day as David was defeating the Amalekites, who had raided and robbed Ziklag while he and his men were away (c.30).
But all that, again, is looking ahead. Here in c.27, as David is receiving the city of Ziklag from Achish as a base of operations, a fourth remarkable thing is happening. Ziklag, which was roughly twenty-five miles SE of Gath where Achish ruled, was actually in territory that was intended for Judah (Josh. 15:31) or Simeon (19:5) in the original tribal allotments, but either it was never conquered (Leithart 137) or it was reconquered by the Philistines (Baldwin 168) at some point. Either way, David is using this time while he’s running from Saul awaiting his coronation as king, to secure the land that had been promised to God’s people ever since Abraham!
All this to say, even though we’re not entirely sure why David thought it was necessary to head back to (Philistia), especially when it had been such a shameful experience before (21:10-15, cf, Psa.34:4-6). But we see very different things coming out of it this time—indeed, remarkable things.
The Deposed King Descends into Darkness – 28
Meanwhile, Saul was coming apart. This story is told in c.28. His experience of consulting a medium is quite familiar—a necromancer (meaning a familiar spirit (BDB), a wizard or fortune teller, one who conducts a séance), here a woman often called the witch at Endor.
Vv.3-6 give us all we need to know about why he did it. 3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. 4 The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at Endor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. … Saul knew what he was doing! Why else would he (disguise) himself a go under the cover of darkness? The woman reminded this stranger of the king’s decree, 10 but Saul swore to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives—pretty brash—no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” This is a terribly disappointing scene—a disgusting, even disheartening scene—the sitting King of Israel selling himself to the highest bidder just seeking to know what God Himself had promised to reveal if he would walk in obedience and faith, and ask.
But how easy is it for us to do essentially the same thing? How often do our desires win out over waiting on God’s direction when we’re not getting what we want: the job, the school, the spouse we want, or the results we want? Name the area! To pick one, how easy is it for us to believe that it’s actually a degree from the right institution more that the will of our sovereign God that opens doors in our career? We don’t have to visit a fortune teller to be selling ourselves to the highest bidder spiritually speaking. All we have to do is trust in something else for guidance and direction over that which we receive from the God of heaven through His approved means of His Word, His Spirit, and godly (Word-measured) counsel from His people.
Trust in the God of heaven! Receive what He gives as good. Even when it seems like circumstances are aligning against you—say, you’re the anointed king, but you’re living in caves and asking others for food! Trust that God’s will and purpose are being worked out in you, and through you, and around you even then! Trust that all things (are working) together for good! (Rom.8:28) This is what really set David apart from Saul.
Well, as you probably know, Saul wanted this woman to contact Samuel. And Samuel actually appeared! Why God allowed that we don’t really know. But all that came of it was that Saul heard a second time what Samuel had already told him back in c.15—with one notable addition: his death sentence, slated for the next day. 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me….” It’s over for Saul! But…
The Ascending King Is Strengthened in the Lord – 29-30
David is on to a different battle. We’ve already read c.29, so we know he’s been rejected for battle by the Philistine commanders and sent back to Ziklag by Achish. 301 (But) when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites, that group that was supposed to have been eliminated by God’s judgment through Saul (15:1-3), had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire 2 and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. 3 And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. 5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive…. 6 And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, they held him responsible, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. …
So, what did he do? … But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. 7 And, that produced yet again what we’ve come to expect. David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” And that is just what happened.
Along the way they found a young (Egyptian) servant who’d been left behind due to illness (30:11-15). He led them to the Amalekite camp, where a victory celebration in progress (30:16). 17 And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. 18 David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken…. 19 Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all, and distributed the spoil in a manner worthy of a righteous king who recognizes that every victory comes from the Lord (23).
In biblical narrative, the story itself is the point, as we get to watch the process by which a sovereign God works through fallen human beings to achieve His perfect will—in this series, raising up His chosen king, and bringing down the people’s choice. But there can be rich spiritual instruction for us even now, today, in watching how God works.
Four Randomly-chosen Lessons for Today
First, from David, we see that we can serve the Lord while in exile, even though the world around you doesn’t understand what we’re doing. We talked about that a bit earlier. The world around us doesn’t understand why we Christians do the things we do: 1) why we’re so unyielding in our belief that no one can have a relationship with God except through Christ; 2) why we send missionaries around the world when there’s poverty and homelessness right here in the US; 3) why we seem to care more about institutions like marriage and motherhood than we do about people who want to enter into them on their own terms. We can explain these things those who will listen. And conversations on subjects like these are often preliminary to someone embracing Christ and the gospel. But the world as a whole will never understand us on points like these, any more than they understood Jesus in His day. We are in exile in this world. We are citizens of two Kingdoms. The challenge is that the invisible one takes precedence over the visible one. And as long as that is the case, we will be misunderstood. We just have to endure and press on in our mission by God’s grace.
From Saul, we don’t have forever to turn your life around—to come to the Lord in repentance and faith. If at any point Saul had chosen to do that—or we should say, if the repentance he expressed to David had been genuine—he would again have heard from the Lord in answer to his prayers. The kingdom would probably not have been restored to him. That had been taken away as God’s discipline, much like Moses not being allowed to enter the land (Num.20:12). But the Lord delights in obedience, even more than in sacrifice (cf. 15:22). So, if you are at odds with God today, turn around! Come to Him in faith-filled and repentance! Why waste another day in conflict?
From the Amalekite invasion, sin not handled will surely return to steal what is most valuable to us. Saul was supposed to wipe out Amalek (c.15). But he didn’t. And now they are rising up again to attack the people of God and steal away their most prized possessions. So, it should be no surprise when we see in the text that just as Saul is being brought down in fulfillment of God’s Word, so are the Amalekites being brought down by the obedient warfare of God’s anointed. That is great instruction and illustration to us today. It is never good for us to hold on to things that God has forbidden or rejected. It is never good for us to hear the clear commands of God’s Word and soften them, or reshape them. For instance, when He says, that among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality (Eph.5:3 NIV), that is precisely what he means. Or when He says more broadly to make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Rom.13:14), we should hear, and obey. And we could go on.
But finally, what we need to see most is that our response to God comes not from the strength of our own will to hear and heed His eternal Word. No, we find the strength, and direction, and clarity just like David did: by calling out to God in real time and trusting Him to answer by the means He has provided. For David, it was through the ephod of Abiathar the priest. For us, it is through trust in Christ and the resulting ministry of God’s Spirit through His Word in us, and within the fellowship of His people. That is how we hear from God today. And David modeled it for us in his day with compelling clarity in this rich and tangled section of this story.
So, let’s take this as our bottom line lesson from David today—a field trip away from this room, just following David around and learning what it looks like to live as a faithful follower of God in the hostile environment of real-life in real-time.