providence

Are You Persuaded to Worship God?

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila.– Acts 18:12-18 ESV

If you recall, during the time Paul was ministering in the city of Corinth, God had given him a vision, telling him to keep doing what he was doing. He reminded Paul not to be afraid, but to trust in His providential plan and protective power. We know from Paul’s own words, written to the believers in Corinth some time later, that he had struggled with feelings of fear when he first arrived in the city. He confessed, “I came to you in weakness – timid and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3 NLT). And while, at this point, nothing negative had happened up to him in Corinth, it was just a matter of time. And God had given Paul His unwavering assurance that all would be well.

“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” – Acts 18:9-10 ESV

And then, almost like clockwork, the inevitable happened. A year and a half later, well into Paul’s ministry there, “some Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the governor for judgment” (Acts 18:12 NLT). Luke is very specific in terms of his timing, using the proconsulship of Gallio to provide a firm date for this scenario. Gallio was the Roman proconsul or governor of the province of Achaia. Interestingly enough, Gallio a Roman citizen of Spanish descent, whose brother happened to be the Stoic philosopher, Seneca. In some sense, the Roman proconsul served as kind of a supreme court and his decisions on legal matters were binding, containing the full backing of the bēma or judgment seat. This was a raised platform from which the proconsul tried cases brought before him. Their accusation against Paul is simple, but direct. “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law” (Acts 18:13 ESV). Basically, they are claiming that Paul is proselytizing Roman citizens, a crime according to Roman law. The Jews or any other religious were free to promote their religion, but not among those who were of Roman citizenship. These men were trying to get Paul in trouble with the legal authorities. It is the same tactic used by the Jews in Jesus’ day, who tried to set Him up as a revolutionary and radical, who was stirring up trouble. When the had appeared before Pilate to state their accusations against Jesus, they had said, “This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king” (Luke 23:2 NLT). They tried to portray Jesus as an insurrectionist, stating, “he is causing riots by his teaching wherever he goes—all over Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem!” (Luke 23:5 NLT).

The Jews in Corinth are attempting to use the same ploy in their confrontation with Peter, attempting to set Paul up as some kind of radical revolutionary who posed a threat to the government of Rome. One of the last things the Roman government wanted was anyone disturbing the peace or rocking the proverbial boat. They allowed other religions to practice their faith openly and without government interference. But if they stirred up trouble or attempted to sway the allegiance of Roman citizens away from their dedication to the Emperor, they would face stiff consequences. 

But Gallio, sitting on his dais, interrupted the proceedings, even before Paul had an opportunity to defend himself. The proconsul simply stated, “Listen, you Jews, if this were a case involving some wrongdoing or a serious crime, I would have a reason to accept your case. But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters” (Acts 18:14-15 NLT). He turned them down flat, deeming their case as non-admissible in his court. He saw through their little ploy and labeled their case as fraudulent and frivolous. It had no business being brought before him for consideration. To him, this was nothing more than a theological dispute among Jews. He could have cared less and, in so many words, told them so. What is easy to miss here, is the weight of Gallio’s apparent non-decision. He had chosen to reject the case, but in doing so he was giving legitimacy to the Christian religion within all the Roman provinces. His action carried weight and set a precedent that would influence the decisions of other, less-powerful proconsuls. From this point forward, the Romans would merely view Christianity as just another sect of the Jews. They would refuse to see it as dangerous or a threat to the Roman way of life or the stability of the government. In their minds, it was a non-factor. This determination would provide a fertile soil in which Christianity was allowed to continue it spread. Because the Roman empire was so vast and encompassed a great many foreign nations, the gospel was given a freedom to go wherever Emperor’s power reigned – all the way to Rome itself.

Paul, while not necessarily vindicated, was at least liberated. But the Jews would find that their attempt to get Paul in trouble would backfire on them. Luke records that “they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue” (Acts 18:17 ESV). The phrase, “they all” most likely refers to the Gentile audience who had gathered to hear what Gallio was going to do. When they heard him reject the case, their anti-Semitic sentiments welled over, causing them to lash out at the Jews by grabbing one of the men who had most likely dragged Paul before the proconsul. Gallio did nothing about this obvious act of vigilantiasm, most likely thinking it would discourage the Jews from bringing their internal debates before him again. 

For Paul, it was business as usual. He continued to preach and spread the gospel. Paul would develop a strong affection for the church in Corinth, later penning two separate letters that he would use to encourage and, in some ways, admonish them in their faith.

4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. 6 This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. 7 Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 NLT

Paul’s work among the Corinthians had not been without its opposition, but there had also been an eager reception on the part of many. God had made it clear to Paul that there were many in the city who were His (Acts 18:10). He had already chosen them for salvation. All Paul had to do was share the gospel, boldly and faithfully. The results were totally up to God. And God not only saved these people, He filled them with His Spirit and equipped them with all the spiritual gifts they would need to grow as individuals and as a congregation. As Paul later wrote them, they were enriched because of Christ. They were gifted because of Christ. They were going to stay strong to the end, because of Christ. In essence, they were in partnership with Christ – doing His will, growing His church, spreading His gospel and furthering the scope and reach of His Kingdom on this earth. 

This little scene involving Paul, the Jews and Gallio, the Roman proconsul, can be easy to blow right by when reading through the Book of Acts. It can be even easier to see it as some kind of divine payback or justice for the Jews because of their efforts to oppose Paul and the message of the gospel. But for us as believers, this event should act as a reminder of the sovereignty of God. The actions of the Jews are almost predictable. They were only doing what they thought to be right. They saw Christianity as a growing threat to Judaism, and they saw Paul as its primary proponent. They were blind to the truth, but didn’t realize it. The Gentiles who beat Sosthenes were only doing what the believed to be right and true, protecting the integrity of their Greek culture and the Roman rule under which they lived and because of which, they enjoyed peace and security. And Gallio was simply doing his job, refusing to waste his time or governmental resources listening to a case that had no merit or business being brought before him.

But all of these people were operating under the divine umbrella of God’s will. He was silently, invisibly accomplishing His preordained prerogatives through the lives of men, whether they realized it or wanted it. Sometimes we mistakenly think that we can somehow thwart or inadvertently derail the plans of God. When we read these words of Jesus in his model prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV), we somehow get the wrong impression that we are the ones who bring about God’s will. We have to pray for it or request it. We have to help make it happen. But God’s will is going to be done whether I help or not, pray or not, and even desire it or not. The Jews could drag Paul before Gallio, but not without God’s permission. The proconsul could refuse to take the case, but not apart from God’s sovereign will. The Gentiles could beat the local leader of the Jewish synagogue, but their actions, while unjust and ungodly, would somehow be used by God to further the spread of His Son’s Kingdom. We have no way of knowing how the events of that day impacted the local Jewish community. Perhaps it made them more receptive to the gospel. It could have put a damper on their desire to stand up to Paul and oppose the message he was proclaiming. We don’t know. But God does. None of the things we see happening in the Book of Acts were arbitrary in nature. Every action had a God-ordained reaction associated with it. Seemingly chance encounters were really divine appointments. What appear to be the spontaneous reactions of unruly mobs would end up producing amazing God-inspired outcomes. The entire Book of Acts is a primer on the sovereignty of God, providing us with a behind-the-scenes glimpse into God’s irrefutable involvement in the world as He unfolds and fulfills His plan of redemption for a lost and dying world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Called By God.

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” – Jeremiah 1:4-10 ESV

The verses above contain the conversation Jeremiah had with God concerning his calling to be a prophet. They reflect Yahweh’s sovereign selection of Jeremiah and Jeremiah’s reluctant response to the news. It is easy to read these words and miss the significance of the fact that Jeremiah was talking with God Almighty. We are not told how Jeremiah received this news from God. The text simply says, “Now the word of the Lord came to me” (Jeremiah 1:4 ESV). Was it in the form of a vision? Was it an audible voice? Did an angel appear? We don’t know. But suffice it to say, that Jeremiah was probably a bit surprised to hear from God, no matter how it happened. And, when he heard what God had to say, it obviously caught Jeremiah by surprise. Jeremiah was probably as young as 16, and no older than 20, when he heard this call from God. Which explains Jeremiah’s response: “I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:7 ESV). Hearing God speak to him was shocking enough, but when he heard what God had for him to do, Jeremiah was understandably dumbfounded. He was just a kid. What was God thinking? He didn’t have what it took to be a prophet. But God opened up his conversation with Jeremiah with a statement that should have brought the young man comfort.

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5 NLT

Notice what God says. He tells Jeremiah that He knew (yada’) Jeremiah before gestation. The Hebrew word provides a glimpse into God’s incredible omniscience and sovereignty. He knew, had an awareness of, Jeremiah long before he was even conceived. This was not some last-minute selection process where God looked down from heaven and spied Jeremiah and determined he would make a good candidate for a prophet. No, God had pre-ordained Jeremiah’s birth and his ultimate appointment as a prophet. Jeremiah had been created by God for his role as a prophet. In speaking of Jeremiah’s appointment, God used the Hebrew word, qadash. It most often gets translated as “sanctify” and it usually means to consecrate or set apart as sacred. God was telling Jeremiah that he had been set apart by God for His use. He had been created by God for a specific purpose. He was not a cosmic accident or a byproduct of random chance. He had been fore-ordained and set apart to be God’s divinely appointed spokesperson. And that word “appointed” is the Hebrew word, nathan, which most often gets translated as “give”. God was giving Jeremiah to the nations as a prophet. Jeremiah belonged to God and was being sent by God to minister to His people.

And yet, Jeremiah responds to this astounding news by telling God, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6 ESV). All God’s talk of Jeremiah being preordained and created specifically for this role fell on deaf ears. To Jeremiah, this all sounded like a case of mistaken identity. God must have gotten him confused with someone else. So he attempted to inform God that he was too young and too ill-equipped for this assignment. But what Jeremiah failed to comprehend was that the God who had set him apart even prior to his conception, knew things about Jeremiah he didn’t know himself. God hadn’t just made Jeremiah for the job, He had equipped him to accomplish it. Within Jeremiah’s DNA were all the qualities and attributes he would need to do what he had been created to do.

God rejected Jeremiah’s attempt to use his young age as an excuse. God was not going to be limited by what Jeremiah believed to be a chronological deficiency. And his inability to speak was not going to be a deal-breaker either. God had made Jeremiah specifically for this job. He was perfectly suited for the assignment. He just didn’t know it yet. So, God simply told Jeremiah, “you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you” (Jeremiah 1:7 NLT). The only thing Jeremiah had to worry about was obeying God. He was going to be told where to do and exactly what to say. Jeremiah wasn’t going to have to come up with a criteria or agenda. He wasn’t going to have to write any speeches. God had all the details pre-planned, down to the very words Jeremiah was going to say. Not only that, God knew how it was all going to turn out. Which is why He told Jeremiah, “And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you” (Jeremiah 1:8 NLT). At this point, Jeremiah had no idea what it was that God was going to have him say. He wasn’t even sure where he was being sent. But God knew. And God was fully aware of how Jeremiah’s assignment was going to turn out. All Jeremiah needed to know was that God had created him for this role and that the outcome was completely up to God.

God touched Jeremiah’s lips and told him, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9 ESV). This symbolic gesture was designed to assure Jeremiah that the words he spoke would be the words of God. Yahweh would be using Jeremiah’s lips to deliver His message to the nations. He would be speaking on behalf of God. And Jeremiah’s assignment was “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10 ESV). In these words we have a synopsis of Jeremiah’s message. He was going to tell the people of Judah about God’s plan to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians. They would be destroyed because of their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God. But one day, they would return to the land and be restored to God. God would rebuke, but He would also redeem. He would punish, but He would also pardon. 

Jeremiah didn’t need to doubt his calling. He didn’t need to worry about his qualification. He didn’t even need to worry about whether he would be successful or not. God had it all under control. From beginning to end, this was all part of God’s sovereign plan. There were no loose ends. There were no aspects of the plan that had not been taken into account. No matter how Jeremiah felt about his qualifications or how he might later view the success of his efforts, God knew what He was doing and had already determined exactly what was going to happen. All Jeremiah had to do was go and speak.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

His Way Is Perfect.

“He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
    and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from guilt.
And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to my cleanness in his sight.

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
You save a humble people,
    but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
For you are my lamp, O Lord,
    and my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”  – 2 Samuel 22:17-31 ESV

 

This section of David’s psalm contains an interesting contrast. In it we will see David continue to exalt His God, while at the same time, seemingly praising himself for his own blamelessness, guiltlessness and righteousness. At first blush, it would appear that David is bragging about something he has no right to claim. Even if this psalm was written in the early days of his reign, immediately after the fall of Saul, David was far from a sinless man. And yet he claims, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right; he restored me because of my innocence” (2 Samuel 22:21 NLT). But wait, there’s more. “I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not turned from my God to follow evil” (2 Samuel 22:22 NLT). And then he audaciously claims, “I am blameless before God; I have kept myself from sin” (2 Samuel 22:24 NLT). What is going on here? Is David delusional or simply suffering from an overactive sense of self-worth? One of the things we have to remember is that this passage is virtually identical to Psalm 22, written in the early days of David’s reign. This chapter opened with the descriptor: “David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” So this is very early on in his career as king. So context is critical to understanding what David is either saying or claiming. When we read the word, “blameless,” we tend to interpret it as meaning sinless. But it is a word that speaks of integrity of heart or wholeness of character. David was simply saying that he was rescued by God because he had done nothing to deserve God’s displeasure or punishment. David’s suffering under the hand of Saul had not been due to his own sinfulness. He had been the innocent victim of Saul’s anger and jealousy against him. When this psalm had originally been written, David had been coming off years of life as a fugitive, under constant threat of losing his life because of Saul’s hatred for him. And when David writes, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right. He has seen my innocence” (2 Samuel 22:25 NLT), he is simply acknowledging that he had done nothing to deserve his suffering. He had been given two opportunities to take Saul’s life and had refused to do so, out of respect for the Lord’s anointed. He had feared God more than he he despised his own circumstances. David had a clear conscience before God.

But this psalm is less about David than it is about God. It is an acknowledgement that God was all-knowing and fully aware of the circumstances surrounding David’s life. David’s suffering had not been the result of his own sin, but the divine will of a sovereign, all-powerful God. He had seen David’s plight and heard his cries, and He had responded. He had rescued. He had shown Himself faithful to David because David had remained faithful to Him. He had responded to David with integrity because David had shown himself to be a man of integrity. Not all the time. Not every moment of his life. But within the particular context in which this psalm was originally written.

What makes this psalm so interesting is its placement at the close of Second Samuel and at the end of David’s life. It had been written early on in his life, but reappears here when David’s reign in coming to an end. It reflects a reality that David had experienced in his life, but that had not been true every moment of his life. We know of his sin with Bathsheba. We are well aware of the murder of Uriah. We have read about his many faults and failings. David was not always a man of integrity. He didn’t always do the right thing or react in the proper manner. He didn’t always seek God or rely on Him for help. Sometimes he took matters into his own hands. But David did know that, in principle, God rescues the humble, rewards the righteous, and restores the innocent. 

But David’s point in all of this is to exalt God, not himself. He is simply trying to state an indisputable reality when it comes to God’s relationship with men. He doesn’t reward the wicked. He doesn’t smile down on the prideful. He refuses to forgive the sins of the wicked, as long as they remain unrepentant and self-reliant. David states, “God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection” That had been David’s experience. He had seen it proven true in his own life. At no point along the way, could David point his finger at God and accuse of Him of dealing falsely or faithlessly with him. God’s way is perfect, even when David’s way was not. God had always dealt faithfully with David. And we have seen that to be the case all along the way as his life’s story has unfolded before us. Even when David had sinned, God had dealt with him lovingly and faithfully. God had repeatedly rescued and restored him. Yes, David had suffered for his sins. He had been forced to endure the consequences of his disobedience to God. But nowhere along the way had God proven unfaithful, unloving or unwilling to keep His promises to David. His ways are perfect. All His promises prove true. He is there when we seek for Him. But He is also there when we fail to recognize or rely upon Him. David may have left God on occasion, but God had not left David.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lord Had Ordained.

Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

Then Absalom said, “Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.” And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said to him, “Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.” Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” Hushai said, “You know that your father and his men are mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we shall come upon him in some place where he is to be found, and we shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and all the men with him not one will be left. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.” And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom. – 2 Samuel 17:1-14 ESV

It is next to impossible to discern the will of God, unless He chooses to reveal it. All we can do is look at the external circumstances and wonder what it is that He is doing or whether He is doing anything at all. Paul to the believers in Rome, “Oh, how great are God's riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT). Solomon, David’s own son, would speak of the unfathomable ways of God in the book of Ecclesiastes. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). Sometimes it is clear what God is doing. Other times, it is almost impossible for us to even sense His presence. But the Bible paints a picture of God that shows Him intimately involved in His creation and within the lives of men. Because of our limited, earth-bound perspectives and our inability to see beyond the physical dimension in which we live, we fail to see God at work. And even when we sense He might be up to something, we question His ways. But He would have us remember:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

So when David found himself being forced to abandon the city of Jerusalem because of a military coup orchestrated by his own sin, he had no idea what God was up to. He was left to wonder if God was punishing him and had chosen to give his kingdom to another. Or perhaps, God had something else in store. David had no idea just what God was up to, but he was willing to believe that God was behind all that was happening to him and around him. He had even sent Hushai, one of his personal counselors, back to the city of Jerusalem, to act as a spy within the administration of Absalom. And this decision, while apparently David’s idea, would be used by God to accomplish His will concerning Absalom.

 

Ahithophel, another one of David’s former advisors, had betrayed him, having helped Absalom in his planning of the coup that would displace David as king. He had become a close confidant and advisor to Absalom. It was he who had given Absalom the advice to publicly humiliate David by sexually assaulting David’s ten concubines on the palace roof. But it is important for us to recall that this event had actually been foretold by God Himself. He had warned David that this very thing would happen, in exactly the manner it happened (2 Samuel 12:11-12). So Ahithopel’s advice to Absalom had actually been the will of God. The Almighty had used this unfaithful, wicked man to accomplish His will concerning David. And now, Ahithophel came to Absalom with yet more advice. But this time, God would choose to use another source to accomplish His will. Ahithophel most likely felt like he was on a role. He had the new king’s ear and it was to his advantage to make sure David was eliminated as a possible threat. So he asked Absalom for permission to take 12,000 men and hunt David down while he was weak and weary. He swore to kill only David and promised Absalom, “Then you will be at peace with all the people” (2 Samuel 17:3 NLT).

But God had other plans. So, while Absalom was pleased with the advice of Ahithophel, for some reason he decided to seek other counsel and turned to Hushai. It is important to remember that David had been the one to send Hushai back to Jerusalem, having told him, “Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice” (2 Samuel 16:34 NLT). And now, God orchestrated things in such a way, that David’s plan would actually happen. Hushai was able to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel, but only because God gave him the opportunity. The text makes it perfectly clear that this was all God’s doing.

For the Lord had determined to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, which really was the better plan, so that he could bring disaster on Absalom! – 2 Samuel 17:14 NLT

Where did Hushai get the idea for his plan? God. Where had Ahithophel gotten the idea for Absalom to do what he did to the ten concubines of David? God. The Lord had ordained all that had happened. He was behind the events taking place. Absalom’s takeover of the kingdom could not have happened without God’s permission. Even Ahithophel’s betrayal of David was all part of God’s plan. And yet, these very thoughts cause a great deal of discomfort and confusion to many. They wrestle with the idea of God either causing or allowing evil to happen. They struggle with questions regarding the free will of man and seeming fatalism involved in the sovereign will of God. Did God cause Ahithophel to betray David? Was God behind Absalom’s plans to overthrow his father’s government? There are aspects regarding the will of God and how He brings it about that we will never fully understand. The ways of God are beyond our capacity to understand or figure out. The capacity to comprehend how He accomplishes His will is way beyond what our finite minds can handle. And yet, just because we can’t discern or explain the ways of God does not mean we should refuse to see Him at work. Moses would have us remember this important reality concerning God:

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even approve of how He does things. But who are we to question God? What right do we, the creation, have to disagree with or disapprove of the ways in which the Creator works? The apostle Paul warns us, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20 NLT). The prophet Isaiah had a similar warning:

"What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop, you're doing it wrong!' Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be?'” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

In our desire for autonomy and self-sufficiency, we have bought into the lie that we are somehow in charge of our own fates. That is what led Absalom to do what he did. He had convinced himself to believe that he was a self-made man and in charge of his own future. But he failed to realize that it is God who directs the affairs of men. God does not cause men to sin, but He uses their sinful dispositions to accomplish His divine will. The prophet Isaiah provides us with yet more helpful insights into understanding how God works.

He boasts, “By my own powerful arm I have done this. With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it. I have broken down the defenses of nations and carried off their treasures. I have knocked down their kings like a bull. I have robbed their nests of riches and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs. No one can even flap a wing against me or utter a peep of protest.”

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it? Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:13-15 NLT

Our natural tendency is to want to elevate the power of man and to negate the sovereign will of God. Man’s innate desire to be god, is what drives him to reject the power of God. And yet the story of David continues to remind us that our God is in control of all things and at all times. The Lord had ordained the events surrounding David’s life. And He had a perfectly good reason for all that was happening.


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Light In the Darkness.

Now Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him. And when Hushai the Archite, David’s friend, came to Absalom, Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” And Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” And Hushai said to Absalom, “No, for whom the Lord and this people and all the men of Israel have chosen, his I will be, and with him I will remain. And again, whom should I serve? Should it not be his son? As I have served your father, so I will serve you.”

Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom. – 2 Samuel 16:15-23 ESV

Absalom entered Jerusalem. His carefully and patiently planned coup had come off without a hitch. Without lifting a sword or shedding a drop of blood, Absalom had stolen his father’s throne and elevated himself to the highest position in the land. And yet, from God’s perspective, nothing had changed. David was still the anointed king of Israel. God had not chosen Absalom to replace David. But God was using Absalom to fulfill the words He had spoken against David for his sins of adultery and murder. The prophet, Nathan, had given David the bad news:

“This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 NLT

And in keeping with His word, God saw to it that this was exactly what happened. Based on the counsel of Ahithophel, Absalom took the ten concubines who had been left behind by David to maintain the palace, and had sexual relations with them. This was intended to be an insult to David, showing that Absalom had not only taken David’s kingdom and palace, but everything that had once belonged to him. And this final slap in the face to David was done in public view so everyone would know exactly what was happening. A tent was erected on the roof of David’s former palace and the news was of what Absalom was doing was spread throughout the city. But it is essential that we recognize this all part of God’s will. He had warned David this very thing would happen. From that very same roof top, David had spied Bathsheba bathing and lusted after her. He had sent for her and slept with her. Then to cover his sin and the unexpected news that she was pregnant, he would have her husband executed. David’s sin had been done in secret. But God’s discipline of David would be for all to see.

Like so many other times in the Scriptures, God was using an enemy to teach His child a lesson. God was using an unexpected source as a means of discipline in the life of one of his children. And it would seem that the counsel Ahithophel provided to Absalom came directly from God Himself. God was using this former counselor of David, who had treacherously aided Absalom in his overthrow of the kingdom, to accomplish His divine will concerning David’s punishment. This was all part of God’s plan. At no point was God out of control or up in heaven shaking His head in surprise at all that was taking place. God was using these events to accomplish His will and He had more in store for Absalom than his surprising ascension to the throne. While, from a human perspective, all looked lost, God was in complete control of every single aspect of this entire affair. As demoralizing and humiliating as all of this was to David, God was at work. He was simply fulfilling what He had promised and accomplishing all that He had planned. What appeared to be an unmitigated disaster was actually part of God’s sovereign will.

There is an invaluable lesson in this chapter for each of us who claim to be children of God. When we encounter difficulties and trials in our lives, it is so easy for us to automatically assume that God is somehow out of control. We have somehow convinced ourselves that the presence of difficulties in our lives is a proof of the absence of God. When we see our enemies celebrating their victories over us, we jump to the conclusion that God doesn’t care. It would have been easy for David to assume that God was now with Absalom. After all, he had won the hearts of the people. And David could think of plenty of reasons why God would want to replace him as king. But David didn’t have access to the mind of God. He had no idea what God was doing behind the scenes. And one of the hardest things for the child of God to do is to trust God, regardless of what we see happening around us. From a human perspective, it all appeared as if Absalom’s plans had succeeded. But the Scriptures would have us remember that God’s plans trump those of men each and every time.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

You can make many plans, but the LORD's purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

The LORD of Heaven's Armies has spoken – who can change his plans? When his hand is raised, who can stop him? – Isaiah 14:27 NLT

Absalom believed his plan had succeeded. And it had. But only because God had a greater plan in store for all involved. While Absalom gloated over his victory from the throne in Jerusalem and David mourned over his fate somewhere along the banks of the Jordan, God was working His plan. He was orchestrating affairs in such a way that both men would be in for a surprise as to how this whole affair turned out. God had chosen David to be king, and nothing Absalom did was going to change that fact. He could take over David’s throne temporarily, but not permanently, and only because God had allowed it. David found himself defeated, dethroned, and demoralized, but God was not done yet. He was still God’s choice to be king. His son, Solomon, would be God’s handpicked successor, not Absalom. And while things looked bleak, God was in full control.

When our circumstances create uncertainty and leave us in a state of doubt and confusion, we are to look to God. He is always on His throne. His power is constant. His will is unavoidable. His plans are unstoppable. His love for us is inescapable. It was during this difficult time in David’s life that he penned the words of Psalm 3. They reflect his trust in God’s unfailing love for him – even in the darkest moments of life.

O Lord, I have so many enemies;
    so many are against me.
So many are saying,
    “God will never rescue him!” Interlude

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
    you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
I cried out to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy mountain. Interlude

I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side.

Arise, O Lord!
    Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
    Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
Victory comes from you, O Lord.
    May you bless your people. – Psalm 3


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Dazed and Confused, Yet Confident.

When David had passed a little beyond the summit, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of donkeys saddled, bearing two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, “Why have you brought these?” Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who faint in the wilderness to drink.” And the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.’” Then the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” And Ziba said, “I pay homage; let me ever find favor in your sight, my lord the king.”

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.– 2 Samuel 16:1-14 ESV

It seems that with each step David took, the news got worse. All he was trying to do was leave the city in peace and before he could get past the summit of the Mount of Olives, yet another individual shows up with bad news. Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, arrived with a couple of donkeys loaded down with supplies. When David asked Ziba why he was there, he explained that Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul, had decided to align himself with Absalom, in hopes of getting back what was rightfully his as an heir of the former king. Ziba’s news had to have stung David deeply, because he had shown great mercy and love to Mephibosheth, allowing him to live in his palace and eat at his table. He had kept a vow he had made to Mephibosheth’s father and now, Mephibosheth was returning the favor with betrayal.

But later on in the story, we will discover that Ziba had been lying. When David eventually returns to Jerusalem, Mephibosheth is one of the first ones to greet him, and he explains to David what really happened that day.

Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down from Jerusalem to meet the king. He had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem. “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?” the king asked him.

Mephibosheth replied, “My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best.” – 2 Samuel 19:24-27 NLT

But when Ziba showed up that day, it was impossible for David to know what was really going on and, at that point, David would have not been surprised by anything he heard. That Mephibosheth might have decided to betray him was not shocking news to David. He took it in stride and determined to reward Ziba for his kindness by giving him all that belonged to Mephibosheth. Of course, this reward would remain unclaimed by Ziba as long as David remained in exile and Absalom was on the throne.

The next thing that happened to David was even more disconcerting and disturbing. As he and his retinue continued their escape, they passed by the town of Bahurim, where a man came out and began to verbally assault David, cursing him and accusing of being a man of bloodshed. As David went on his way, this man followed, spewing his words of anger and resentment and throwing stones at the former king. Shemei, it seems, was related to Saul and he had some long-held resentment toward David for having replaced Saul as the king of Israel. He even seems to blame David for Saul’s death, as well as that of Abner and Jonathan. His accusation that David was a man of bloodshed was another statement that had to have hit David hard. While David knew he had played no part in the death’s of Saul, Jonathan or Abner, he would have been reminded of his role in the death of Uriah. It is likely that he recalled his refusal to deal with the actions of his own son, Amnon, which eventually led to Amnon’s murder by Absalom. David was a man of bloodshed. He knew it well and lived with the knowledge of that fact each and every day of his life. And while he had been forgiven by God, he would never forget the events of his life that had led to the discipline of God. Even now, David could not be sure whether all of this was yet another demonstration of God’s displeasure with him.

The words of Shemei had to have hit David hard.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

David was dazed and confused. He was reeling from the rapid-fire series of events that had left him without at throne and on his way into exile yet again in his life. What had happened? How did everything fall apart so quickly and unexpectedly? What was God doing? And what had David done to deserve it?

There are moments in all of our lives when we question what God may be up to. We struggle with understanding the nature of the events surrounding our life and almost immediately begin to wonder what we have done to make God angry with us. We tend to see the presence of disorder or disaster in our lives as a sign of God’s displeasure with us. And David would have felt the same way. He was unsure of the cause of these events, but almost automatically assumed it had something to do with him and was the result of something he had done. He was trying to trust God, but it was difficult. Wave after wave of bad news engulfed him, leaving him reeling and wondering what he had done to deserve this fate.

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, there will always be well-meaning friends who step in to give us advice. In their effort to ease our pain, they will say things meant to encourage and comfort us, but so often, their words will lack Scriptural backing or the authority of God. Abishai, out of love for David, offered to silence Shimei by cutting off his head. While that would have done the trick, David refused, saying, “If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?” (2 Samuel 16:10 NLT). David was not willing to commit further bloodshed in an effort to eliminate this discomfort in his life. It it was God-ordained, then there was nothing to be done. He went on to tell Abishai and all those with him, “My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT).

It is so easy to believe that the removal of the discomfort in our lives will solve our problem. We can so easily convince ourselves that the elimination of whatever is bothering us is the key to restoring our joy and contentment. But David knew that his hope was in the Lord. Killing Shimei would not resolve his problem. Silencing the words of an angry man would not make David’s life any better or easier. Only God could bring peace in the midst of the chaos and restore David’s joy. David had a strong belief that all things come from the hand of the Lord. He believed in the sovereignty and providence of God. Like Job, David lived by the mantra, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). David was dazed. He was confused. But he was confident that God was in control. He may not have fully understood why these things were happening, but he was fully assured that God knew. And in time, God would make His will in all of these things plain to David.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God's Will In Unclear.

And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” And the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house.

And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king. Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him. And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.

And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city. Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.” The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Go back to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there. – 2 Samuel 15:13-29 ESV

It is difficult to read this text and not wonder why David, when he heard news of Absalom’s coup, simply abandoned the city and refused to put up a fight? What would have caused the king to give up his kingdom so quickly and easily? Was he giving up or just relocating his seat of government in case Absalom attacked the capital? Many of these questions will remain unanswered because the text doesn’t tell us. When David received the report, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:13 ESV), he showed no surprise. It is as if he had seen it coming. As obtuse as he could be at times, David wasn’t completely oblivious to Absalom’s plans. And just as the people of Israel had switched their allegiance from Saul to David years before, he saw it happening again. This time it was his son who had won the hearts of the people. So David abandoned the capital, perhaps to prevent it from facing destruction in the event of a war.

But there is a certain degree of resignation in David’s words recorded in this passage. It was not as if he viewed this whole affair as a bump in the road. When he spoke to Ittai, the leader of the men from Gath, David told him, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go” (2 Samuel 15:19-20 NLT). Those don’t sound like the words of an optimistic man. He was already referring to Absalom as king. His abdication of the throne was a done deal. And he had no idea where he was going or what he was going to do. The only indication that he had hopes of one day returning are the fact that he left ten of his concubines to maintain the palace for him. But everyone else left. For the second time in his life, David found himself running for his life, but this time he was not alone. He had followers and loyal subjects. Even 600 Philistine soldiers who had followed him from Gath and pledged themselves to his service, refused to abandon him in his time of need. And as David and his retinue left the city, “Everyone cried loudly as the king and his followers passed by” (2 Samuel 15:23 NLT). He still had loyal subjects. Not everyone had turned against him, but it seems that he knew that Absalom’s smear campaign against him had been successful. He was forced to give up his kingdom without a fight. 

And as David left, the Levites attempted to bring the Ark of the Covenant along. But David refused to let them do so. He allowed them to offer sacrifices, but demanded that the Ark be returned to the city. It is at this point that we get a small glimpse of David’s hope that he might one day return, but it is accompanied by a certain degree of doubt. 

“If the Lord sees fit,” David said, “he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle again. But if he is through with me, then let him do what seems best to him.”  – 2 Samuel 15:25-26 NLT

David had no idea what was going to happen. He had evidently received no word from God regarding the outcome of these events. As far as David knew, his kingship could be over or this could be yet another difficult reversal of fortune that God would one day remedy. But we see reflected in David’s words his reliance upon God. His return to Jerusalem would have to be God’s will, if it was going to happen. If God had determined to replace David with Absalom, there was nothing David could do about it. If David had learned anything from his years of running from Saul, it was that all of Saul’s efforts to kill David were a waste of time, because God’s will that David be king was irrevocable and unstoppable. So, if it was God’s will to make Absalom king, David knew it would be useless to try and stand against it. David was willing to trust God. If God was through with him, so be it. If God wanted to return him to power, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, including Absalom.

The hearts of the people could be fickle. The nation of Israel was still a loosely held together confederation of independently minded tribes. Each was out for its own best interests. David’s construction projects in his new capital did nothing to line their pockets. His moving of the Ark to Jerusalem had made some angry. His building of a fancy palace had made others jealous. His affair with Bathsheba had caused many to doubt his competence to be king. Absalom had raised serious doubts about David’s leadership capabilities and undermined his reputation as a just and caring king. The tribes of Israel were quick to change sides and seek out their own selfish agendas. But David knew he could trust God. No matter what happened, he knew God was faithful. God’s will might not be crystal clear, but His character was unquestionable. God might not be telling David what the future held, but David had no doubt that God held the future. So, he would trust God. When God’s will is unclear, it requires that we trust Him. When His plans appear uncertain, it demands that we wait patiently for Him to show us what He will do or what He would have us do. Life can be filled with dark days and moments of uncertainty, but one thing is always certain: God is in control at all times. He knows what is happening and He also knows how He is going to use what appears to be the worst days of our lives to accomplish something for our good and His glory.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Here We Go Again.

But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul's army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David. And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.

Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool. And Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men arise and compete before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.” Then they arose and passed over by number, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. And each caught his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent's side, so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is at Gibeon. And the battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David. – 2 Samuel 2:8-17 ESV

The fact that verse 8 starts with with the word “but” should tell us something. The is something about to happen that is going to stand in direct contrast to the events of the first seven verses. David had received a warm welcome from the people of Judah, but that was to be expected, since he was of the tribe of Judah. David knew he was going to have a more difficult time winning over the rest of the tribes of Israel and convincing them to make him their king. That’s part of the reason behind his overtures to the men of Jabesh-gilead, because they were of the tribe of Gad. The nation of Israel, while having been united under the leadership of Saul, was still little more than a loose confederation of 12 tribes. Their relationships with each other were typically fractious and contentious. Now, David was attempting to unite them under his leadership and sovereignty as king.

But that’s not the only “but” in these verses. There was yet another facing David’s quest to become the king of Israel. It seems that not all of Saul’s sons died with him on the battlefield. There was one name left out: Ish-bosheth. He was the youngest of Saul’s four sons and would have been about 40-years old when his father and brothers fell at the battle of Gilboa. His given name was Eshbaal,which provides us with an interesting insight into King Saul. Baal was a Canaanite deity. And the name Eshbaal means “man of Baal”. So Saul names his youngest son after a false god. Interestingly enough, the Jews would not repeat the name of this pagan idol, so they substituted the word, “boshesh”, which meant shame of confusion. So, Eshbaal became known as Ish-bosheth. And the son Jonathan, who will appear later on in the story, was known as Mephibosheth.

But back to Ish-bosheth. It seems that this one son of Saul either survived the battle at Gilboa or was not even present. And Abner, the commander of Saul’s armies, decided to use this sole surviving son as a tool to keep David from ascending to the throne. Keep in mind that Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, as was Abner, his uncle. So it seems that Abner was attempting to keep the crown within the ranks of the Benjaminites.

So, Saul “appointed him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel” (2 Samuel 2:9 ESV). This would have been way out of Abner’s area of responsibility as Saul’s former commander in chief. It was not up to him to choose and appoint the king. The Israelites were to be a theocracy, ruled over by God Almighty. It was up to Him to choose their king, just as He had chosen Saul. Abner did not have authority or permission from God to do what he did. But he didn’t let that small detail stand in his way.

Lest we think this was small matter that was of little or no significance, notice that Ish-bosheth was made king over Geshur. That was an area within the territory belonging to the tribe of Manasseh. Jezreel was in the land belonging to the tribe of Issachar. And then the text goes on to include the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin and “all Israel”. So effectively, Abner crowned Ish-bosheth as king over all Israel, even countering David’s claim to be king over Judah. And we’re told that Ish-bosheth reigned for two years. This was no short-lived, flash-in-the-pan event. Once again, David found himself with serious opposition and facing another enemy from within his own nation. Saul was dead, but his son was alive and so was Abner. And Abner had probably never forgotten the little lecture David had given him at Gibeah, after David had snuck into their camp and taken Saul’s spear and water jug as he slept.

“Well, Abner, you’re a great man, aren’t you?” David taunted. “Where in all Israel is there anyone as mighty? So why haven’t you guarded your master the king when someone came to kill him? This isn’t good at all! I swear by the Lord that you and your men deserve to die, because you failed to protect your master, the Lord’s anointed! Look around! Where are the king’s spear and the jug of water that were beside his head?” – 1 Samuel 26:15-16 NLT

Abner even led his troops into battle against David and his men, meeting them at the pool of Gibeon. The initial conflict was an agreed-upon battle between 24 men, 12 from each side. This mini-battle ended in a draw, with all 24 men dead. But that was not the end of the hostilities. It was followed by a pitched battle between the forces of these two opposing kings. Many would die that day. Like our own Civil War, this battle represented brother fighting against brother. It characterized the divided nature of the kingdom at that time. And this was the contentious atmosphere in which David was forced to begin his reign.

David’s path to the throne had been anything but easy, and it was not getting any smoother. He had been anointed by Samuel years earlier, but it had taken a long time before a crown was placed on his head. And even when it was, it represented the allegiance of a single tribe, his own. Winning over the other 11 tribes and solidifying his God-appointed position as King of Israel was going to be difficult and drawn out. There were still lessons for David to learn. And God was providentially shifting the mindset of the tribes of Israel from autonomous people groups living in isolation and under self-rule to that of a single nation united under one king. God was unifying what had been fractious. He was solidifying what had been disparate. He was making of the divided tribes of Israel a great nation that would be ruled by a great king who was a man after His own heart. The days ahead would be rocky. They would be filled with disappointment. Many would die. Others would loose loved ones as a result of the battles that followed. David’s fledgling kingdom would suffer before it ever experienced any success. But it was all part of God’s sovereign plan.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

At Long Last.

After this David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” And he said, “To Hebron.” So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David brought up his men who were with him, everyone with his household, and they lived in the towns of Hebron. And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.

When they told David, “It was the men of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul,” David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead and said to them, “May you be blessed by the Lord, because you showed this loyalty to Saul your lord and buried him. Now may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you. And I will do good to you because you have done this thing. Now therefore let your hands be strong, and be valiant, for Saul your lord is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.” – 2 Samuel 2:1-7 ESV

David had waited a long time for this day. He had spent countless months waiting and endured sleepless nights wondering what God’s plan was for his life. His memory of his anointing by the prophet, Samuel, was distant but always on his mind. What had it meant? Why had God selected him and then allowed him to endure the pain of loss and the ignominy of exile and the fugitive lifestyle for all those years? David had been hunted like an animal, betrayed by his own people, on two different occasions narrowly escaped death by his own father-in-law, and had been forced to find refuge in caves and among the enemies of Israel. But God had not left or forsaken him. God had not abandoned His plans for him. And while David may not have always understood what God was doing to him, he trusted that God had good things in store for him. David’s confidence in God can be seen in the psalms he wrote regarding God, many of which were written during the darkest days of his life.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid? – Psalm 27:1 ESV

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
    be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
    Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
    O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation! – Psalm 27:7-9 ESV

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices! – Psalm 37:5-7 ESV

David had committed his way to the lord. He had trusted. Not perfectly and not always peacefully. He had had his moments of doubt and had made his fair share of decisions based on fear and not faith. But in spite of it all, he had continued to place his fate in the hands of God. And now God was revealing to David the plans He had made for him so long ago. Long after David’s initial anointing by Samuel, he was anointed the king of Judah.

David had arrived in Hebron, a city within Judah, because he had sought the counsel of God. After he had received the sad news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, David didn’t jump to conclusions or rush into action. He didn’t just assume that, with Saul’s death, he was now de facto king of Israel. Rather than rushing back into the land of Judah, claiming his rightful place as king, David waited and turned to God for guidance, asking, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And when God said, “Go,” David asked, “To which shall I go up?” David wanted specifics. He wanted details. He had learned that God’s will was not something you played around with. It was dangerous to attempt to do God’s will your own way. It usually didn’t end too well. So, David wasn’t taking any chances. And when he arrived in Hebron, a city in the southern portion of Israel, near the border with the Philistines, he received a warm welcome from the people of Judah.

There is not a lot of fanfare associated with David’s anointing as king by the people of Judah. There does not appear to have been much pomp and circumstance. It simply says, “And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah” (2 Samuel 2:4 ESV). Much like his initial anointing by Samuel, there is a certain sense of anonymity associated with this event. At this point, only the most southern tribe of Judah, his own tribe, recognized David as king. The rest of the country knew nothing about it. It is similar to what happened after David had been anointed by Samuel. He simply returned to the pasture and his job as a shepherd. No one knew anything about it. Now, after being anointed as king by the people of Judah, nothing much seemed to change. He had the backing of one tribe. But the other eleven tribes were unaware that David was even still alive.

It is interesting to note, that as his first official duty as king, David sought to recognize the efforts of the men of Jabesh-gilead for what they had done to retrieve the bodies of Saul and his sons and give them proper burials. He blessed them for what they had done and assured them of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. The people of Jabesh-gilead had a special affection for Saul. Not long after his anointing as king of Israel, he had rescued them from the Ammonites, who had captured their city. Forty years later, when Saul‘s body had been hung on the wall of Beth-shan, the men of Jabesh-gilead had undertaken a very dangerous journey to retrieve it. David was grateful for what they had done and wanted them to know it. He also wanted them to know that he had been anointed king of Judah. Jabesh-gilead was on the other side of the Jordan and in the territory belonging to the tribe of Gad. In contacting them and blessing them for what they had done, David was employing diplomacy in an effort to unify the nation after their defeat by the Philistines and the fall of their king.

David knew the days ahead would be difficult and long. He was not going to be able to waltz into the land and expect everyone to greet him as their king. His acceptance would come in stages. In fact, as we will see in the next verses of this chapter, David’s God-ordained kingship over all of Israel would face an immediate challenge. His work was cut out for him. Long-held hostilities between the northern and southern tribes was going to erupt and men with ulterior motives and alternative plans would make David’s ascension to the throne of all Israel difficult and drawn out. But God’s will would be done. And David was content to do God’s will God’s way, not matter how long it took.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

Man On the Run.

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.

Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord. His name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsmen.

Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.” – 1 Samuel 21:1-9 ESV

The next ten chapters of the book of 1st Samuel will chronicle the life of David as he spends the next years of his life running from King Saul. Having received the news from Jonathan that Saul was out to kill him, David made his way to Nob, which was about two and one-half miles southeast of Gibeah. There, he sought out Ahimelech, the high priest. David was running out of options. He could no longer go home. His relationship with Samuel, the prophet, had reached an end. David most likely knew that turning to Samuel was the worst thing he could do, because that would be what Saul expected, and so Samuel would be under surveillance. David had said his final goodbyes to Jonathan, knowing that they would probably never see one another again. So, in need of food and shelter, David turned to the high priest.

His arrival at Nob caught Ahimelech off guard. He was surprised and a bit scared to see David arrive by himself, without his usual allotment of troops. It seems that Saul’s volatile nature was well-known and justly feared. Ahimelech jumped to the conclusion that David had showed up as an agent sent by Saul to wreak havoc on the priests of God. This would ultimately prove not to be a farfetched idea. Because in the very next chapter, we will see Saul command the execution of every single priest in Nob because ended up aiding and abetting David (1 Samuel 22:6-23).

David assured Ahimelech that he was not there to do them harm. He lied to the high priest, assuring him that he was on a top-secret mission for the king, the nature of which he was not free to divulge. This deception was used to obtain food and to keep the high priest from asking further questions. It also reveals a certain sense of fear and lack of trust on David’s part. He was not yet willing, ready and able to put all his reliance upon God. He was in a tight spot and was willing to lie in order to preserve his own life. As time went by and David began to see God’s miraculous provision and protection, he would grow increasingly more confident in God’s capacity to care for his every need. But at this point in the story, David was fairly new at this whole fugitive lifestyle, and was simply doing whatever he had to do to stay alive.

When David asked Ahimelech for bread, the only thing the high priest had available was the showbread that was put on display in the tabernacle as part of a weekly sacrifice to God. The book of Leviticus provides us with important details regarding the showbread. It was to be changed out weekly, and the old bread was to serve as food for the priests. But they must eat it in a holy place and only while in a purified state. It was considered holy.

“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord's food offerings, a perpetual due.” – Leviticus 24:5-9 ESV

Ahimlech’s reticence to share the bread with David and “his men” was based on the requirement that the bread was holy and not to be eaten by anyone who was impure. David was able to assure that his soldiers were ceremonially pure because there were no soldiers to begin with. David was alone. And he had not had sexual relations with Michal that day, because he had been forced to leave her several days prior. David took the bread and, according to Jesus, he was not wrong in doing so.

“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” – Matthew 12:3-4 ESV

Jesus referred back to this historical, real-life event, comparing what David did with the disciples eating the heads of wheat on the sabbath. The Pharisees, with their legalistic mindset, had accused them of “harvesting” on the sabbath. For Jesus, the actions of the disciples were justified because they were simply meeting the normal human need to eat. Jesus used the same reasoning on another occasion, when He said to the Pharisees, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12 NLT). According to Jesus, David was simply trying to stay alive, so his actions were necessary and, therefore, justified.

But what David didn’t know was that his actions were being observed by someone who was on Saul’s payroll, Doeg, the Edomite. This man was the in charge of all of Saul’s flocks. It may be that Doeg had it in for David, because he was jealous of his success. After all, David had started out as a shepherd, but risen to a place of power and prominence in the king’s court, and had even married into the king’s family. Perhaps Doeg hoped that by ratting on David, he would be elevated up the royal food chain and move from the pasture to the palace. But regardless of his intent, Doeg would make his way to Saul with news about his enemy’s presence in Nob. David’s respite would prove brief and the role Ahimelech played in helping David would prove deadly.

Having been forced to leave Gibeah in a hurry, David was unarmed and defenseless. So he inquired of Ahimelech whether there were any weapons in the priestly compound. It just so happened that the sword of Goliath, the Philistine champion whom David had killed in hand-to-hand-combat, was in the tabernacle wrapped in a priestly robe. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the giant’s head. David, having retrieved the sword, and with his five loaves of ceremonial showbread, said his goodbyes to Ahimelech and began what was going to be a long and difficult period of running, hiding, and learning to trust in God. In the years that lie ahead, David would find himself experiencing a wide range of life lessons that would increase his faith in God and strengthen his resolve to serve God faithfully. The king David would eventually become was the byproduct of the trials and tribulations of this less-than-pleasant phase of his life. For David, the phrase, “no pain, no gain” could have been the tagline for his life. He would find that persecution would have to precede his coronation. Years of suffering would come before his crowning. The daily experience of loss and pain would preface his eventual reign.

Years later, when David had finally experienced release from Saul’s dogged pursuit and had been crowned the king of Israel, he was able to write:

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies. – Psalm 18:1-3 ESV

A Stubborn Streak.

And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.” And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. On the third day go down quickly to the place where you hid yourself when the matter was in hand, and remain beside the stone heap. And I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark. And behold, I will send the boy, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them,’ then you are to come, for, as the Lord lives, it is safe for you and there is no danger. But if I say to the youth, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, for the Lord has sent you away. And as for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the Lord is between you and me forever.”

So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.

Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.” But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”

Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him. – 1 Samuel 20:16-34 ESV

David and Jonathan had come up with a plan. David would miss the feast of the new moon, knowing that his absence would be noticed by Saul. When Saul inquired of Jonathan where David was, David had instructed Jonathan to tell his father that David had gone home to Bethlehem. If Saul accepted this news without incident, then David would know it was safe to return home. But if Saul became angry and lost his mind like usual, then Jonathan was to secretly let David know so that he could escape. When the fateful day came and David was not at his place for the feast, Saul did miss him, but just assumed that something had come up. But by the third day, Saul became suspicious and asked Jonathan for an explanation, which he did not receive well. He became furious with his son, seeing through his ruse, and recognizing that he and David had conspired against him. Feeling betrayed by Jonathan, Saul lashed out in anger, using very coarse language to express his sentiments.

Saul, now incensed and enraged over Jonathan’s liaison with David, is actually hurling very coarse and emotionally charged words at his son. The translation of this phrase suggested by Koehler and Baumgartner is “bastard of a wayward woman” (HALOT 796 s.v. עוה), but this is not an expression commonly used in English. A better English approximation of the sentiments expressed here by the Hebrew phrase would be “You stupid son of a bitch!” – NET Bible study notes

Saul is beside himself with rage. His own son has taken sides with someone he sees as an enemy and a real threat to his throne. Saul even reminds Jonathan that his actions are going to end up keeping him from inheriting the kingship. “As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!” (1 Samuel 20:31 NLT).

What is amazing in all of this is that Saul had been clearly told by the prophet Samuel that his reign was coming to an end. He was going to be replaced.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV

And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 15:26 ESV

But Saul stubbornly refused to accept the prophet’s words and God’s will. He somehow believed that he could hold onto his throne in spite of God’s statements to the contrary. There is inherent in sin a stubborn streak that seems to reveal itself in a refusal to repent and accept responsibility for God’s just and righteous punishment. Saul had a habit of shifting blame and denying culpability.

When Saul had been confronted by Samuel for offering a burnt offering on his own, rather than waiting on the prophet as he had been instructed, Saul simply offered up excuses: “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12 ESV). He forced himself. He knew what he was doing was wrong. Only a priest was to offer sacrifices to God, but Saul, impatient and impulsive, took matters into his own hands and decided to do things his way.

On another occasion, when Saul had been instructed by God to wipe out all the Amalakites, he once again chose to do thing his own way. The text tells us, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction” (1 Samuel 15:9 ESV). When the prophet, Samuel, confronted Saul about his disobedience, his only response was, “the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction” (1 Samuel 15:15 ESV). He blamed the people. Once again, it was not his fault.

Saul was never one who found repentance easy. He could not bring himself to accept responsibility for his own sinfulness. And he also had a difficult time accepting God’s decision to remove him from the throne for his repeated disobedience. It was as if he truly believed he could somehow get around God’s plan to replace him and remain on the throne by sheer will power. Saul was a fool. He had all the attributes of the fool outlined in the book of Proverbs.

Fools think their own way is right… – Proverbs 12:15 NLT

The words of the godly are like sterling silver;
    the heart of a fool is worthless. – Proverbs 10:20 NLT

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
   fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them.
– Proverbs 1:32 ESV

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs. 12:15 ESV

A prudent man conceals knowledge,
    but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
 – Proverbs 12:23 ESV

Saul was foolish to think he could escape the inevitable judgment of God. He was foolish to think he could defeat the man who had been chosen by God as his replacement. He was foolish to believe that his disobedience to God would not have consequences or that the divine will of God could somehow be circumvented. In fact, Saul lived as if there was no God, a hallmark of the foolish lifestyle. It would be David himself, who would later write, “Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!” (Psalm 14:1 NLT). Saul’s actions revealed his foolish assumption that God was either impotent or irrelevant. Saul was going to do what Saul wanted to do, as if God didn’t even exist. His stubbornness would ultimately be the end of him. But not before he spent the next years of his life foolishly shaking his fist in the face of the Almighty, somehow believing that his wisdom was greater than that of God’s. But he would be proven wrong, as fools always are.
 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Long Wait Begins.

Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah and came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” And he said to him, “Far from it! You shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. And why should my father hide this from me? It is not so.” But David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” David said to Jonathan, “Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit at table with the king. But let me go, that I may hide myself in the field till the third day at evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me to run to Bethlehem his city, for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the clan.’ If he says, ‘Good!’ it will be well with your servant, but if he is angry, then know that harm is determined by him. Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the Lord with you. But if there is guilt in me, kill me yourself, for why should you bring me to your father?” And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! If I knew that it was determined by my father that harm should come to you, would I not tell you?” Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you roughly?” And Jonathan said to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field.

And Jonathan said to David, “The Lord, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? But should it please my father to do you harm, the Lord do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father. If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” – 1 Samuel 20:1-15 ESV

It would still seem as though David was unaware of the true meaning behind his anointing by Samuel. He is at a loss as to why Saul would want to have him killed. He even asked Jonathan, ““What have I done? What is my crime? How have I offended your father that he is so determined to kill me?” (NLT). If David had been aware that he was to be the next king of Israel and Saul’s replacement, then he would have put two and two together and recognized Saul’s attempts on his life for what they were: Acts of jealousy and anger. But instead, David seems to think that he has done something to offend Saul. He is trying to figure out what he could have done to cause such anger in the king that he would want David dead. David even begged his friend Jonathan, “kill me yourself if I have sinned against your father. But please don’t betray me to him!” (1 Samuel 20:8 NLT).

The difficult part of this story is that David’s fear for his life was well-justified. Saul was out to kill him. But what made it all so difficult was that David was oblivious as to the reason. He couldn’t figure out why the king was so angry with, angry enough to want to kill him. How many sleepless nights must David have had trying to determine what he had done to deserve such rage. It seems that David would have gladly confessed whatever it was he had done to offend the king if he could just figure out what it was.Years later, David would compose a psalm that reflects his innate desire to have a guilt-free conscience. David was not one who was content to live with unconfessed sin in his life.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

But no matter how hard he tried, David was not able to not find a sin to confess or a crime he had committed against Saul for which he could accept responsibility. So he was left with no other option than to run for his life. But he appealed to Jonathan in a last-gasp attempt to resolve his situation with Saul.

The reference in this passage to the “new moon” has to do with a God-appointed sacrifice and meal that was to be celebrated on the first day of each new month.

On the first day of each month, present an extra burnt offering to the Lord of two young bulls, one ram, and seven one-year-old male lambs, all with no defects. These must be accompanied by grain offerings of choice flour moistened with olive oil—six quarts with each bull, four quarts with the ram, and two quarts with each lamb. This burnt offering will be a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. You must also present a liquid offering with each sacrifice: two quarts of wine for each bull, a third of a gallon for the ram, and one quart for each lamb. Present this monthly burnt offering on the first day of each month throughout the year.

On the first day of each month, you must also offer one male goat for a sin offering to the Lord. This is in addition to the regular burnt offering and its accompanying liquid offering. – Deuteronomy 28:11-15 NLT

David’s plan was to use this feast day as a means to discern the true nature of Saul’s relationship with him. He usually celebrated this feast day in the presence of the king and his family, but on this occasion, David remain in hiding, and Jonathan would tell Saul that he had returned home to Bethlehem to be with his family. If Saul became angry, as David seemed to know he would, it would be proof to Jonathan that David’s fears were well-justified. And the truth is, Jonathan should have been well-aware of his father’s intense anger with David, because Saul had already commanded Jonathan to kill him. But Jonathan, as a loyal son, was probably having a difficult time understanding what was really going on. He knew Saul loved David just as much as he did. His father’s actions were a mystery to him. Jonathan so wanted everything to return to the way it was before. But, sadly, that would not be the case.

Jonathan made a pact with David, saying, “I promise by the Lord, the God of Israel, that by this time tomorrow, or the next day at the latest, I will talk to my father and let you know at once how he feels about you” (1 Samuel 20:12 NLT). And Jonathan made David swear that, not matter what happened, he would remain faithful to him. “And may you treat me with the faithful love of the Lord as long as I live. But if I die, treat my family with this faithful love, even when the Lord destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth” (1 Samuel 20:14-15 NLT). Jonathan seemed to know that God’s favor was on David. He sensed that David was going to go on to great things, and continue to experience victories over the enemies of God and Israel. And Jonathan also seemed to have a premonition that things were not going to turn out well for he or his father. And years later, after Saul and Jonathan were dead and David was king, David would recall the pact he made with Jonathan, showing favor to Mephibosheth, the sole remaining son of Jonathan.

Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always. – 2 Samuel 9:7 NLT

It is easy to see why God had referred to David as a man after His own heart. With each passing scene we are given a glimpse into the character of this young man. He is faithful and loving. He is diligent and determined to serve his God and his king well. After each attempt by Saul to kill him, David simply returned to duty, conducting himself with honor and integrity. Not once did he attempt to defend himself. We never see him get angry or vindictive toward Saul. He never utters a single harsh word about Saul. All David wanted to know was what he had done to make Saul angry. If he was guilty, he would confess it. If he had done something wrong, he would attempt to rectify it. In spire of all that had happened to him, David continued to treat Saul with respect, viewing him as God’s anointed and the king of Israel. Not once do we hear him utter the words, “This is not fair!” He doesn’t point his finger at Saul and declare him as the guilty one. He doesn’t defend himself before God or even Jonathan, for that matter. He was confused. He was obviously frustrated. But he remained faithful and willing to accept his lot in life as having come from the hand of God. 

Jonathan made a statement to David that rings with prophetic weight: “May the Lord destroy all your enemies!” (1 Samuel 20:16 NLT).  Little did Jonathan know that his words would come true. God would end up bringing about the destruction of Saul, the man who would become David’s most persistent and perplexing enemy. Saul would remain king. He would continue to pursue David, treating him as a fugitive and as an enemy of the state. And yet David would never feel the freedom to defend himself against Saul. He would never sense God’s permission to take Saul’s life. For the next several years of his life, David would be dependent upon God’s mercy and grace to sustain and protect him and to eventually crown him as king over Israel.

 

The Calm Before the Storm.

And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.

And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him. Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.– 1 Samuel 19:1-10 ESV

David had to be one confused young man. On two separate occasions, the king of Israel had tried to pin him to the wall with a spear. But then, the same man turned around and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yet David’s demureness and subsequent delay caused Saul to give his daughter to another man. But this was followed by Saul offering to David his younger daughter, Michal, who David eventually married. He became the son-in-law of the king. He was part of the royal family and best friends with the king’s own son. And yet, unbeknownst to David, Saul was continually plotting ways to rid himself of his new son-in-law, who he believed posed a major threat to his reign. Perhaps David simply wrote it all off as nothing more than a symptom of Saul’s fits of rage. After all, David had originally been hired to serve as Saul’s “music therapist,” playing his harp in order to calm the king when he had one of his bouts of uncontrolled anger. He would have known first-hand just how violent Saul could become. Even when Saul had attempted to kill David with a spear, he probably convinced himself to not take it personally. He had just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But things were much worse than David knew.

Saul was so desperate to eliminate David that he commanded his son, Jonathan, and all his servants to kill him. Basically, he ordered a hit on David. He put a bounty on his head and brought in reinforcements. But Jonathan took this news hard. He and David were best friends. He was being commanded by his father and king to kill someone he cared deeply about. It’s interesting to note that Jonathan, the heir to the throne of Saul, did not perceive David as a threat. He did not share his father’s paranoia regarding David. In fact, he pleaded with his father to reconsider and reminded him of all that David had done for him.

“The king must not sin against his servant David,” Jonathan said. “He’s never done anything to harm you. He has always helped you in any way he could. Have you forgotten about the time he risked his life to kill the Philistine giant and how the Lord brought a great victory to all Israel as a result? You were certainly happy about it then. Why should you murder an innocent man like David? There is no reason for it at all.” – 1 Samuel 19:4-5 NLT

And Saul seemed to listen to the words of Jonathan, vowing to spare David’s life and welcoming him back into his presence as before. But this happy reunion would prove to be short-lived. It would simply be the calm before the storm. The king whom God had rejected and the man whom God had anointed as his replacement were not going to be able to coexist for long. Eventually, Saul was going to have to go away. He was the one who would have to be eliminated, not David. God’s plan to place David on the throne of Israel was not going to be curtailed or compromised by anyone or anything. But things were going to get worse before they got better.

While things appeared to have gone back to normal, with David winning victories over the Philistines by day and playing his harp for Saul in the evenings, the animosity of Saul remained unchanged. And eventually, in one of his tormented moments, Saul attempted to kill David for the third time. David was forced to run for his life yet again. And this would prove to be a foreshadowing of David’s life for years to come. He was about to discover that his lot in life was to be that of a man on the run. He was to become a fugitive, a wanted man with a price on his head and a relentless pursuer on his trail, who would stop at nothing until David was dead. 

David must have looked back on his anointing by Samuel and wondered what it all meant. Why had the prophet chosen him? What had the anointing meant? What had he been anointed for? David must have assumed that he had been chosen by God to be a great military leader, having killed Goliath and given his numerous victories over the Philistines since becoming a commander in Saul’s army. But why would God give him success in battle and then allow him to suffer at the hands of his own king? How was he supposed to do his job when he was constantly having to worry about the king killing him? All of this must have created a great deal of confusion in the mind of David, and led him to have some frank and open conversations with God. In fact, because of all that David was about to experience, he would learn to talk to God with an honesty and openness that only suffering can create. Many of his psalms reflect the nature of his relationship with God, revealing his total transparency and somewhat shocking honesty.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest. – Psalm 22:1-2 ESV

I pray to you, O Lord, my rock.
    Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you are silent,
    I might as well give up and die. – Psalm 28:1 NLT

David was going to learn to trust God. But first, he was going to learn to be honest and open with God. David would discover his own limitations and come to grip with his own weaknesses – the hard way. His anointing by Samuel was just the beginning of his preparation. The Spirit of God coming upon David was instrumental in his early success, but the Spirit of God transforming the heart and character of David was going to be the key to his future rule and reign. What would eventually make David a great king are the lessons he would learn while on the run. The time he spent hiding in caves would play a vital role in preparing him for the crown. David was going to learn a lot about himself over the next few years. But he was going to learn even more about God. What would eventually make him a great king would be his understanding of the greatness of God. 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

Curses, Foiled Again!

Then Saul said to David, “Here is my elder daughter Merab. I will give her to you for a wife. Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord's battles.” For Saul thought, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” And David said to Saul, “Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” But at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.

Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall now be my son-in-law.” And Saul commanded his servants, “Speak to David in private and say, ‘Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now then become the king's son-in-law.’” And Saul's servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king's son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?” And the servants of Saul told him, “Thus and so did David speak.” Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king's son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife. But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy continually.

Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed. – 1 Samuel 18:17-30 ESV

In attempting to rid himself of David, Saul had tried the direct approach. On multiple occasions, in one of his fits of rage, he had unsuccessfully attempted to kill David with a spear. But his failures only fueled his desire to get rid of this threat to his reign as king. So he became more clandestine and creative in his efforts. He would develop plans by which he could expose David to life-threatening circumstances, while making it look like he was innocent and non-complicit.

For whatever reason, Saul had not yet kept his promise to reward the one who killed the Philistine champion, Goliath. He had promised to “enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:25 ESV). And yet, David, the very one who had met the conditions to receive the reward, had not been given Saul’s daughter to marry. And when Saul finally decides to give David his eldest daughter, Merab, to marry, he adds conditions and exposes his expectations. David could marry Merab as long as he agreed to fight Israel’s enemies. And it was this added condition that revealed Saul’s true motivation. He cleverly disguised his intent by telling David, “Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles” (1 Samuel 18:17 ESV). He appealed to David’s sense of valor and his dedication to God. He was going to use David’s faithfulness to God and country as a means to have him eliminated.

For Saul thought, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” – 1 Samuel 18:17 ESV

But David, ignorant of Saul’s devices, simply turned down the king’s generous offer, because he did not see himself as worthy of the honor.

Because of David’s polite refusal to accept Merab’s hand in marriage, she was eventually given to another. But Saul would soon learn that his other daughter, Michal, loved David very much. It has already been revealed that David and Jonathan, Saul’s son, had developed a very close friendship. No doubt, David spent a great deal of time in Jonathan’s company and, as a result, had been able to get to know Michal well. Upon discovering his daughter’s affection for David, Saul saw another opportunity to rid himself of David once and for all.

Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” – 1 Samuel 18:21 ESV

He already had a plan. He would give Michal to David but on the condition that he pay a dowry that consisted of one hundred Philistine foreskins. Once again, Saul would appeal to David’s sense of duty. He knew full well that David came from a less-than-affluent family and would be unable to pay the customary dowry and one fit for the daughter of a king. So he would allow David to use his military skills and his hatred for the enemies of God, the Philistines, to come up with a somewhat unorthodox dowry payment. And in all of this, we are given a glimpse into David’s character. Saul sent his servants to prime the pump and to convince David to strongly consider Saul’s offer of Michal. But David simply responded, “How can a poor man from a humble family afford the bride price for the daughter of a king?” (1 Samuel 18:23 NLT). He knew he was out of his league. He was unworthy to be the son-in-law to the king. He didn’t have the financial means or the family heritage to warrant such a thing. But that was not going to deter Saul. He would actually use David’s financial condition to his advantage, replacing the customary dowry price with that of the 100 Philistine foreskins. He knew that David, being a man of integrity, would take him up on his offer. But he also knew that the risk involved in David accomplishing such a feat was going to be great, and the likelihood of David dying in the process was even greater.

Verse 27 matter-of-factly states: “David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king's son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife” (1 Samuel 18:27 ESV). Much to Saul’s chagrine, David took the king up on his offer and fulfilled the requirement to have Michal as his wife. He even doubled the number of foreskins, just to make sure that he didn’t underpay for the privilege of becoming the king’s son-in-law.

Saul’s plan had failed. His strategy to eliminate David had actually elevated him. Now David was a permanent member of his family. He was married to his daughter and would more than likely give him grandchildren and potential heirs to the throne. And not only that, Saul became increasingly aware that God was with David. Everything he did was successful. And with each successive blessing of God on David, Saul’s fear of him grew exponentially. “So Saul was David’s enemy continually” (1 Samuel 18:30 ESV). This last line is significant, because it reveals that the animosity between Saul and David was one-way. David had done nothing but honor Saul, serving him as his personal armor bearer, court musician, and military commander. While David’s reputation had grown, it never appears that David was out for fame and glory. He was not prideful or arrogant. There is never an indication that he had aspirations for the crown. It is still unclear whether David even knew that his earlier anointing by Samuel had been to make him the next king of Israel. No, David simply served, faithfully and unselfishly. At no time does he seem to see Saul as his enemy, even though the king had tried to kill him with his own hands. He never utters a bad word about the king. Saul’s hatred for David was one-directional. And his attempts to kill David would continue to prove unsuccessful, because God had a greater plan in place. David would be the next king, whether Saul like it or not, and regardless of whether Saul loved David or not. David’s fame would continue to grow. So would Saul’s hatred for David. But God was not yet done. His preparation of David for the throne was not yet complete. Things would get worse before they got better. The tension between David and Saul was about to reach a boiling point and the next phase of God’s king-creating curriculum was about to begin.

King Class 101.

The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.

Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. – 1 Samuel 18:10-16 ESV

Saul had his eye on David. He didn't trust him. He viewed David as a threat to his crown and resented this young upstart’s growing popularity among the people. While he had been grateful for David’s victory over Goliath and the Philistines, it had actually made things much worse for Saul. And it wasn’t long before his oversensitive ego and the “harmful spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:14 ESV) ganged up on him and produced some less-than-normal outcomes.

At one point, Saul was having one of his “fits” and David was playing his usual role as musical therapist, when the king grabbed a spear and attempted to pin David to the wall with it. Not once, but twice. The text tells us that Saul feared David. He knew that the same Spirit of God that used to dwell on him, was now on this young man. And Saul knew that fact did not bode well for him. He was crazy, but sane enough to remember what the prophet, Samuel, had said.

And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 13:26 ESV

And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. – 1 Samuel 13L28 ESV

Saul had put two and two together and reached the conclusion that David was the one who would be replacing him as king, and it scared him. He knew his days were numbered. So to deal with the frustration created by David’s constant presence, he Saul decided to send him away. Part of his reasoning behind this move was likely out of his love for David. He genuinely loved this young man, and regretted his inability to control his anger against him. So by sending David away, he removed any temptation to harm David and provided a distance between the two of them that acts as a buffer of protection.

Saul made David a commander over a thousand men. But this new role did little to solve Saul’s jealousy problem. It seems that David was quite successful as a leader and continued to impress the people with his skills as a soldier. Verse 14 tells us, “And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him.” This phrase is very reminiscent of statements made regarding Joseph during his stay in Egypt. It seemed that wherever Joseph ended up, God was blessing him and all those associated with him. God’s presence assured Joseph’s success, and the same thing proved true for David. His success and subsequent popularity only served to drive an even greater wedge between he and the king. We’re told, “when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him” (1 Samuel 18:15 ESV). All Saul could do was stand back and watch in wonder as David’s stock continued to rise as his own fell. The prophesy of Samuel was coming true right before his eyes. God had rejected him as king. He was ripping the kingdom our of his hands and giving it to someone better than him. This was a difficult pill for Saul to swallow and he would prove to be a lousy patient, refusing to accept God’s remedy for his own disobedience.

And yet, David was loved by all. He was young, handsome, successful and extremely popular. God was with him and all the people were for him. And all Saul could do was wait for the inevitable to happen. But Satan, the arch-enemy of God would not this change in leadership lying down. He was not about to relinquish Saul’s hold on power. Saul was just the kind of king Satan wanted ruling over Israel. He was disobedient to God. He was self-centered and egotistical. He had proven adept at twisting the words of God and blaming everyone but himself for his mistakes. Watching Saul get replaced by a man after God’s own heart was not something Satan was eager to experience. So he would do everything in his power to resist the will of God by influencing the king God had rejected.

The following years of David’s life would be marked by ongoing and increasing animosity between himself and the king. His path to the throne was going to be a rocky one. This would prove not to be a smooth transition of power. But God was in control of the entire process. None of the events recorded in David’s life reflect a flaw in God’s plan or an inability on His part to control the situation. This was all part of the divine strategy for preparing God’s anointed king for his role as the shepherd of Israel. David was going to learn that being in the will of God does not necessarily guarantee a trouble-free life. Becoming the kind of man God intended him to be was going to require painful lessons in failure, defeat, loss, and abandonment. But he would also learn to recognize his own weakness and trust in the power and presence of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

You Call This A Plan?

And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. – 1 Samuel 16:11b-23 ESV

David, the youngest son of Jesse, was eventually brought before the prophet, Samuel. And while the passage describes David as ruddy in color, with beautiful eyes and a handsome exterior, that had nothing to do with his selection by Samuel. God had already told the prophet, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV). While David’s outward appearance had nothing to do with his selection by God, it is interesting to note that he is described as “ruddy.” The Hebrew word is 'admoniy and it can refer to someone who is red-headed or who has a reddish complexion. It is the same word used to describe Esau at his birth (Genesis 25:25).

David was a young, handsome, redheaded, Hebrew shepherd boy. When he walked into the presence of Samuel, Jesse and his seven brothers that day, he would have stood out like a sore thumb. There was Eliab, who by Samuel’s own admission, had the look of a king. Each of the brothers who had heard the prophet say of them, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one” (1 Samuel 16:8 ESV), had to stand and watch as Samuel took the oil and poured it over David’s head. There is no indication that anyone but Samuel knew the significance of his actions. Samuel had not told Jesse why he had come to Bethlehem. He had not indicated the reason for wanting to see each of Jesse’s sons. And even when David arrived, Samuel was the only one to whom God said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he” (1 Samuel 16:12 ESV). What is missing in this scene are any signs of celebration or trepidation. Had they realized that David had just been anointed the next king of Israel, you would have thought that Jesse and his sons would have reacted with either joy or fear. Joy, because it was not everyday that one of your own family members was anointed to be the king of Israel. Fear, because they would have realized that King Saul was probably not going to take the news all that well. Had they recognized the significance of what had just happened, it seems they would have shown more of a reaction. But all that we’re told is that the Spirit of God rushed upon David, Samuel rose up and went to Ramah and, according to verse 19, David simply returned to tending sheep. No party. No celebration. No celebratory pats on the back. But while it may appear that all things remained the same, one thing was radically different.

The Spirit of God rushed upon David. God placed His Spirit upon this young shepherd boy, radically altering his life, just as He had done with Saul. After Saul had been anointed king by Samuel, he had been given specific instructions and was told, “this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage” (1 Samuel 10:1 ESV). The prophet sent Saul on what can best be described as a sort of scavenger hunt, where he would encounter a variety of people along the way and receive various clues, that would eventually lead him to the city of Gibeath-elohim.

“And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. – 1 Samuel 10:5-6 ESV

Saul had received the Spirit of God as well. But with the anointing of David as his replacement, Saul would have the Spirit of God removed from him. “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him” (1 Samuel 16:14 ESV). Saul retained the crown, the symbol of his reign, but He lost the power to rule. With the removal of the Spirit of God, he “turned into another man” again, but this time, not for the better. Without the abiding presence of God’s Spirit, Saul was left to his own fleshly, sinful self. And he was left open to the influence of Satan. We are not told the nature or source of the “harmful spirit” that tormented Saul, but it is clear that God, in His sovereign plan, allowed this spirit to come upon Saul.

“Saul’s evil bent was by the permission and plan of God. We must realize that in the last analysis all penal consequences come from God, as the Author of the moral law and the one who always does what is right.” – Gleason L. Archer Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 180.

It was the presence of this evil spirit that set up David’s transition from the pasture to the palace. He would go from shepherding sheep to serving as the king’s personal servant. And King Saul loved David. What an ironic scene. Here was David, the newly anointed king of Israel, serving as the personal valet to the man he was supposed to replace. At this point, Saul has no clue as to David’s anointing by Samuel. And David seems to be ignorant of the fact that he might be in any kind of danger. Which leads one to believe that he had no clue that Samuel’s anointing had been to make him the next king of Israel. I think David’s awareness of what was happening in his life would happen over time. He would gradually put the pieces together and recognize that he had been chosen by God to be the next king. But in the meantime, his life would never be the same again.

He and King Saul would have a love-hate relationship. There would be moments of genuine affection coupled with inexplicable periods of terrifying hatred and life-threatening anger. Saul’s temperament would be all over the map. His psychological condition would grow progressively worse, as David’s popularity and fame increased. And yet, all of this was part of God’s plan for David’s life. God could have simply removed Saul and replaced him with David. He could have made this an immediate and hassle-free transition plan, but He didn’t. David was going to discover that his road to the throne was to be a rocky one. His anointing by God, whether he understood the full import of it or not, was not going to mean that his life would be easy or trouble-free. Had the prophet sat down with David and given him a full description of what the next years of his life would entail, he might have decided to return to the sheep for good. God’s calling is not a guarantee of the good life. Abraham’s calling by God was accompanied by much sacrifice, years of disappointment, and a constant requirement to live by faith, not sight. Moses was called by God, but faced constant danger, rejection, doubt and questions about his leadership ability. The disciples were called by God, but were also told by Jesus, “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17-18 ESV). Jesus went on to tell them,  “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV).

David was in for a wild ride. He had the anointing of God, but now he was to receive the equipping of God. He had the Spirit, but the Spirit was out to have all of him. He was a man after God’s own heart, but now God was going to give David a heart like His.

Restorer of Life.

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. – Ruth 4:13-22 ESV

The book of Ruth ends on an extremely happy note. Chapter one opened up with three funerals, but chapter four closes with a wedding and the birth of a son. And it is interesting to note that Naomi adopted the son as her own, which stands in stark contrast to her comment to daughter-in-laws back in chapter one: “Go back home, my daughters! There is no reason for you to return to Judah with me! I am no longer capable of giving birth to sons who might become your husbands!” (Ruth 1:11 NLT). Naomi’s misery had been turned into joy. Her pessimism about the future had been transformed into a renewed hope made possible by the birth of a grandson. But this would not be just any grandson. His name was Obed and he would be the progenitor of David, the greatest king Israel would ever have. And as the genealogical record in Matthew 1 discloses, David would be the father of Solomon and from his line would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The genealogy of Jesus ends with these words:

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. – Matthew 1:16 ESV

From the unlikely union of Boaz, a Jew, and Ruth, a Moabite, God would bring into the world the ultimate redeemer, the restorer of life. The birth of Obed brought life and joy to Naomi in her old age. He helped alleviate her despair and restored her confidence in God.

But the marriage of Boaz and Ruth is not the only unlikely union that made possible the coming of the Messiah. In the short genealogy that closes the book of Ruth, there are several names mentioned that would have been highly familiar to the original Jewish audience. The first is Perez. He was the illegitimate son born to Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. The story is a sad and somewhat sordid one. Judah had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah, all born to him by a Canaanite woman. Er, the firstborn, married a woman named Tamar. But Er was wicked and God put him to death, so Judah commanded Onan, the second-born to take Tamar as his wife in order to preserve the name of Er. Onan, in disobedience, would repeatedly refuse to inseminate Tamar, leaving her without a child, so God took his life as well. The third son, Shelah, was too young to marry, so Judah insisted that Tamar remain a widow until Shelah came of age. But in time, Tamar became impatient and, disguising herself as a prostitute, enticed Judah to have sex with her. The result of this illicit union was Perez.

Another key union was that of the parents of Boaz himself. The genealogical record found in Matthew 1 reads: “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab” (Matthew 1:5 ESV). Rahab was the prostitute who harbored the two spies who had been sent by Joshua to scope out the city of Jericho before the Israelites attempted to take it. She was a God-follower and hid the spies, helping them to escape in exchange for her life and those of her family members when the Israelites attacked the city. Eventually, Rahab married Salmon, one of the two spies, and she gave birth to Boaz, the husband of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite. Rahab was a Canaanite. Tamar deceived and seduced her father-in-law to have sex with her. The family tree of Jesus was far from perfect. It contained more than a few bad apples. And yet, God, in His providence, was able to produce from this less-than-ideal lineage a Savior, the restorer of life. Even David was the youngest son of Jesse and the least likely to receive the blessing and anointing of Samuel, the prophet, as the future king of Israel. And yet, God chose David over all the others. God chose to work through Tamar, even in spite of her immorality. He chose to use Rahab, regardless of her profession. He chose to utilize Ruth, even though she was from Moab. God’s ways are not our ways.  His methods may appear maddening to us, but He always knows what He is doing.

The story of Ruth is the story of God as He operates within the everyday lives of normal, yet flawed men and women like you and me. Ruth, while presented as a loving, compassionate and selfless individual, was far from perfect. She was a foreigner, a Moabite and an enemy of Israel. But God still used her. Boaz, while a good and godly man, would marry a Moabite, breaking the Mosaic law to do so, but was used by God to bring about the eventual kinsman-redeemer of all mankind. Naomi, the finger-pointing, blame-casting main character of the opening chapter would eventually become the primary caregiver for her own grandson, graciously given to her by God. What is fascinating when considering God’s plan of redemption for sinful mankind is that He could have simply sent Jesus to earth in the form of a man, and not required Him to be born into a flawed human lineage. But there was a method to God’s seeming madness.

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. – Hebrews 5:2 NLT

Jesus was born as a man. He took on human flesh and lived among sinful men and women, yet never sinned Himself. He did what no other human being had ever been able to do: live sinslessly and righteously, in complete obedience to His Father, which made Him the perfect, spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He became the restorer of life, the redeemer of the lost, the sinless Savior of the world.

Unexpected Faith.

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. – Ruth 2:14-23 ESV

In verse one we were introduced to Boaz and told that he was a kinsman or relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband. The Hebrew word the author used is mowda and it refers to a close relative. This is important, because in verse 2o, Naomi refers to Boaz as “a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” And the Hebrew word she used is ga'al, which refers to a close relative who holds the responsibility of acting as guardian and protector for those family members who might be in need.

…to act as kinsman, do the part of next of kin, act as kinsman-redeemer.  (“H1350 - ga’al - Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 30 Dec, 2016)

This provision was established by God in the Mosaic Law.

If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. – Leviticus 25:25 ESV

It also extended to care for widows. In the book of Deuteronomy we read:

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. – Deuteronomy 25:5 ESV

So the kinsman-redeemer was an individual who was required to play a significant and God-ordained role in the lives of those in need. He was to be their advocate, redeemer, protector, surrogate, avenger and benefactor. Strong’s Concordance provides a comprehensive description of the role.

…by marrying brother's widow to beget a child for him, to redeem from slavery, to redeem land, to exact vengeance.

So when Ruth returned to Naomi and informed her of all that had happened and about her surprising encounter with Boaz, Naomi is thrilled. For the first time in a long time, she was receiving a bit of good news. While she firmly believed that God was the one who had brought all the misfortune on her (see Ruth 1:13), she was willing to see that God was the one who had guided Ruth to the field of Boaz. This had been a divine encounter.

The author goes out of his way to remind his readers that Ruth was a foreigner and not a blood-relative of Boaz.

And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest,’” – Ruth 2:21 ESV

This is significant. Ruth is a non-Israelite. Even though, as a Moabite, she was a distant relative because she descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham, she would have been considered a Gentile, a non-Jew. She was not a worshiper of Yahweh. Her people were seen as enemies of the Jews. This makes Boaz’ treatment of her all that more remarkable. He was showing her undeserved, unmerited favor and kindness. But at the same time, he had been impressed with her unconditional love for and commitment to Naomi. He had earlier told Ruth:

“All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” – Ruth 2:11-12 ESV

Ruth, a Moabite, had been willing to leave her homeland and her family in order to care for her mother-in-law. She had stepped out in faith, casting her lot with Naomi and her God, relying on Him to meet their needs and provide for their future well-being. She could have stayed in Moab and remarried, beginning a new life. But she had told Naomi, “wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17 NLT).

There is something familiar in Ruth’s actions. They are reminiscent of what Jesus saw in the lives of the Gentiles among whom He ministered. When Jesus had encountered a Roman centurion whose servant was paralyzed, He marveled at the man’s faith. The centurion fully believed that Jesus had the power and authority to order his servant’s healing and it would take place. And Jesus told His disciples:

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12 ESV

Ruth’s faith in God was seen in her commitment to place all her hope for her future in His hands. She was a Moabite widow living in foreign land with her nearest relative being another widow who had no capacity to care for her. And yet, Ruth got up in the morning and headed to the fields, determined to work, but also dependent upon the favor of God.

Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor. – Ruth 2:2 ESV

And God had come through. He had led her to the field of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer. God had chosen to show favor on Naomi through Ruth, the Moabite. When Naomi, a Jew, had lost all hope, her Gentile daughter-in-law had stepped up, casting all her worries and cares on the God she had committed to follow. And God must have looked down from heaven and said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9 ESV).

 

Naomi the Negative. Ruth the Resilient.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” – Ruth 1:19-2:7 ESV

These verses are filled with contrasts. The most obvious one is the difference between the two women: Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. They both arrive in Bethlehem, but with radically different outlooks. Naomi had left during a famine, but arrived back during the barley harvest. Conditions back home had obviously improved. But she is so busy dwelling on all that had happened to her in Moab, that she fails to notice or appreciate the improved conditions in Bethlehem. In fact, she is so despondent over the loss of her husband and two sons, that she informs everyone her name will no longer be Naomi, but Mara. Naomi means, “my pleasantness” and Mara means, “bitterness.” She is so upset with her lot in life that she goes so far as to change her name to reflect her outlook. She is bitter and hold God responsible, claiming,  “I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed” (Ruth 1:27 NLT). In her mind, it was God who had opposed her and the El Shaddai, God Almighty, who had caused her to suffer. Her reference to God using the Hebrew name, Shaddai, reveals her belief in God’s all-powerful, sovereign nature. She rightly understands God’s omnipotence, but fails to grasp His lovingkindness. She views God as an all-powerful and somewhat angry deity who wields His power unfairly and unjustly. She sees no purpose in her losses and can find no silver lining to the dark cloud of her despair. She believes her fate is in the hands of God, but she finds no comfort there.

But Ruth, the Moabitess, seems to have a different perspective. Of the two women, it would seem that she had even more justification to be negative about her new circumstances. She too had lost her husband. She had also left behind her family and friends and moved to a new country with nothing more than her widowed mother-in-law as a companion. She found herself an outsider, a non-Jew living in the land of Israel. And on top of that, she was a woman and a widow, two things that would not be in her favor in the male-dominated society of the ancient Middle East. And yet, Ruth proves to be a beacon of light in the midst of Naomi’s darkened outlook.

With no means of providing for themselves, Naomi and Ruth are left with no other option than to search for grain in the fields after barley harvesters were done. This was called gleaning and it was a God-ordained policy meant to assist the needy. God had commanded the Israelites:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:9-10 ESV

Rather than wallow in self-pity, Ruth determined to do whatever was necessary to provide for she and her mother-in-law. She asked Naomi for permission to do something about their dire circumstances, saying, “Let me go to the fields so I can gather grain behind whoever permits me to do so” (Ruth 2:2 NLT). With Naomi’s permission, she headed into the fields. And this is where the story gets interesting. The author gives us a not-so-subtle clue that there is more going on here than good luck. “Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3 NLT). Chapter two began with a brief parenthetical introduction to Boaz, telling us that “Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family named Boaz. He was a wealthy, prominent man from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:1 NLT). When Ruth went into the fields, she knew nothing of Boaz or his fields. She simply went to glean. Her objective was to find food, not a husband. Her only motivation was survival. But again, the author lets us know that there is something providential going on here. He writes, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem” (Ruth 2:4 ESV). It just so happened that Ruth decided to glean in the field belonging to Boaz. It just so happened that Boaz showed up at the very same time Ruth was gleaning in his field. What a coincidence. What incredible timing.

It would be so easy to read the book of Ruth as a fanciful love story, a kind of screenplayfor a Hebrew Hallmark movie, where the down-and-out country girl meets the well-to-do city boy and their lives end happily ever after. But there is so much more going on here than a cheesy boy-meets-girl scenario with a sappy everything-turns-out-okay ending. This is about the sovereign will of God regarding His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ruth, this widowed, helpless non-Jewish woman is going to become a major player in the divine plan of redemption. In his genealogical record of the birth of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Spoiler alert: Ruth and Boaz do end up together. They get married and have a son named Obed, who would become the grandfather of King David. And from King David's lineage would come Jesus Christ. God would end up making a covenant with David, saying, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). That promise would be fulfilled in Jesus, whose rule and reign on the throne of David will take place in the millennial kingdom.

Ruth went into the field to find grain. But God sent her into the field to find her purpose in life. She would become a major player in God’s divine plan for the redemption of the world and the eventual birth of the One who will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Ruth, like Mary, was going to be a vessel in the hands of God to bring about His divine will and accomplish His sovereign plan of salvation. The message given to Mary by the angel, Gabriel, sums up the real story behind the story of Ruth. God had far more in mind than providing grain or even a husband for Ruth. He was out to provide salvation to a lost and dying the world.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:30-33 NLT

 

Lost Hope ≠ Lost Cause.

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. – Ruth 1:6-18 ESV

For Naomi, the wife of Elimelech, life had not been easy. She had followed her husband to Moab in order to escape a famine in the land of Judah. But then she was forced to stand back and watch as her husband and two sons died suddenly and prematurely. She was left alone with the two widowed wives of her sons. So it is not surprising to read the words she said to her daughrers-in-law: “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13b ESV). Naomi’s conclusion, based on all that had happened to her, was that God was afflicting her. This reflects her strong belief in the sovereignty and providence of God, but also reveals a poor understanding of the character of God. She could only see her suffering as a byproduct of God’s displeasure with her of His punishment of her for something she had done. In her current circumstance, she found it difficult to find any good coming out of what had happened. The only silver lining she could see was the fact that the famine had finally ended in Judah and she would be able to return home. But she would do so with little to no hope. She even begged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, remarry and start their lives over. She considered herself too old to remarry and had resigned herself to the fact that she would remain a widow for the rest of her life.

Naomi’s bitter and overly pessimistic outlook provides a striking illustration of how easy and quickly God-followers can find themselves living as practical atheists. Naomi obviously believed in God. She believed He was afflicting her, but she did not believe He was power to deliver her. In her mind, she was too old to get remarried and have more sons. Her child-bearing days were over. Had she forgotten the stories of Sarah and her barrenness? Was her God too powerless to find her a husband and provide for her more sons? Could her God not find husbands for Orpah and Ruth from among the men of Judah? Naomi was experiencing a crises of faith. She was having a hard time finding any good in her circumstances or placing any hope in her God. Every word she said to Orpah and Ruth reeked of resignation and resentment.

But Ruth, a Moabite and a pagan, provides us with a powerful testimony of faithfulness in the face of hopelessness. Ruth was not a God-follower, yet she exhibits godly characteristics that put Naomi to shame. Like Orpah, Ruth was young and had a long life ahead of her. It would have been relatively easy for her to find another husband and begin her life over. But unlike Orpah, Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law alone. She begged Ruth, saying:

Stop urging me to abandon you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you! – Ruth 1:16-17 NLT

Here was a non-believer in God, expressing more faith in Him than Naomi, one of His chosen people. Ruth was willing to become a God-follower and to place herself at the mercy of God, willingly accepting His judgment, if she failed to keep her promise to Naomi. Ruth, a descendant of Lot, was going to return to the land of promise. Generations earlier, Lot had chosen the “cities of the valley” and settled outside the land of Canaan. He had pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). Living by sight, he had chosen what appeared to be the best land. But Lot would go from living near Sodom to living in Sodom. And he would find himself running from Sodom, when God determined to destroy it for all the wickedness that took place within its walls. And it was not long after that event, that one of Lot’s daughters chose to have sex with him while he was drunk. And it was from that incestuous union that the Moabites were born. And yet, generations later, here was Ruth, a Moabite, pledging her allegiance to a daughter of Abraham and offering to leave her land and her people behind.

Ruth had no idea what the future held for her. She only knew that she felt a strong obligation to her mother-in-law and was not willing to let her return to Judah alone. Her faithful love for Naomi provides us with a vivid image of the lovingkindness of God. Earlier, Naomi had said, “May the Lord deal kindly with you…” (Ruth 1:8 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was checed and it refers to goodness, kindness, mercy and faithfulness. She was hoping that God would show mercy and kindness to her daughters-in-law, but she did not believe He would do so for herself. And yet, Ruth, a pagan, would show checed to Naomi by remaining with her, even to the point of death. Little did Naomi understand that this checed, shown to her by Ruth, was actually the checed of God. God was blessing Naomi through her unbelieving, Moabite daughter-in-law. And that blessing would have far-reaching implications that would last longer after Naomi disappeared from the scene.