As David witnesses the beginnings of Nathan’s prophecy about his own household bringing calamity upon him, I want to focus on an interesting coupling of proverbs. First, Proverbs 26:4 reads, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” This idea is simple: if you try to correct a fool or get into a disagreement with a fool over their foolish actions, you might just prove to be a fool yourself. Getting into a disagreement with a fool often is a waste of time and certainly only going to raise your blood pressure. Yet immediately after comes Proverbs 26:5: “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” This proverb presents a kind of “on the other hand” type of wisdom. If you do not correct a fool they will go about patting themselves on the back, thinking that they are wise. If we pass on correcting a fool we allow them to persist in their foolishness. These two proverbs intentionally lead the reader into a sort of catch-22 situation where wisdom becomes necessary. There are troubles that come from correcting a fool and troubles that come when you don’t correct a fool. Which trouble will you choose? The wise person recognizes both possibilities in every situation and acts accordingly. This is another instance of Proverbs not telling us how to act in every situation, but giving us insight into our world to help us live wisely in all situations.
Nathan’s prophecy against David exemplifies a kind of wise confrontation that I believe is similar in many ways to Jesus’ parables. Consider the artfulness of Nathan’s rebuke of David’s behavior. Nathan tells a story that outrages David. In David’s incensed state he learns from Nathan that the story is actually about his own behavior against Uriah. David has lost all wiggle room to be defensive and justify his actions. David exclaims that this made-up wealthy man, who has stolen a poor man’s only lamb to show hospitality, is worthy of death. Yet David’s actions were far worse. Nathan has placed David in a state of ironically pronouncing his own death sentence. Though God wills to spare David, David will face a lifetime of domestic opposition, and the child born out of his adulterous encounter will face David’s curse through death. Could Nathan have simply told David about God’s judgement? Certainly, but David likely would not have seen God’s justice quite so plainly.
Nathan brings David through story into clear understanding of his wickedness against Uriah, Israel, and God. As God’s people today, may we remember that we are called to admonish sin when we see it in our brothers and sisters in the faith. Better still, when we admonish, may we do so wisely and artfully to win people over to understanding of their wrongs like Nathan does with David.
Over the years, I have heard many sermons which focus on all of David’s sins in 2 Samuel 11 leading up to his treachery against Uriah. Many note David sending Joab to battle for Israel instead of doing his duty as king. Others focus on how lust gets the better of David, and he transgresses against the commandment against adultery. The list continues, of course. Today I want to suggest that we have known for some time that these events would been coming. David relates to women and wives just like the kings of the nations that do not know YHWH. David’s polygamous ways have shown that he expects to have as many women as he desires. Though today we read the first clear biblical statement about God’s displeasure with David (2 Samuel 11:27), this is not the first time we have seen David’s proclivity towards sexual sin. What we would call egregious sin does not simply happen overnight. David’s heart had become fixated on sexual satisfaction, and his power could get him his heart’s desire. This is a terrible combination for a king called to lead God’s people. It is also terrible for David and his relationship with God. What will God do about David going off the rails? Tomorrow we will find out.
The writer tells us twice that Mephibosheth is lame in both feet. Why is this important? Before the story of Mephibosheth, in 2 Samuel 8, David conquers his strong enemies and their great armies. Still, David’s greatest enemy thus far proved to be the former king, Saul, who sought to kill David, but David refused to kill him because of Saul’s position. If David wanted to finally get revenge against Saul’s family, nothing could signal Mephibosheth’s powerlessness to defend himself against David more than being forgotten, as well as his lame state. Mephibosheth is completely neutered of power. Yet David made a covenant with Jonathan years before to care that they would seek other’s best interests (1 Samuel 18:3). Though we are not told the details of David’s obligations to the covenant, we understand later that he felt obliged to care for Jonathan and his offspring. Mephibosheth, in spite of seeing himself as little more than a dog, is the recipient of David’s lavish kindness and thus, God’s lavish kindness.
Like Mephibosheth we all have things about us, sins or characteristics, that make us feel unworthy of kindness or hope. Yet God has made a covenant to seek our best long before our birth (Ephesians 1:3-10), just like David made a covenant long before Mephibosheth could enjoy its benefits. Now we, like Mephibosheth, look forward to eating at the true King’s table even though we are powerless to protect ourselves from death. Praise be to God for showing us such lavish kindness.
God makes an unconditional covenant with David reminiscent of the ones made to Abraham on a few occasions in Genesis. When David desires to build a house for the ark of God, God’s prophet Nathan warns against such an action. Speaking the words of YHWH to David, Nathan explains that God has never asked for a house to be built for Him. Rather, God intends to build a house for David instead, one that will last forever; David’s house will not be a building, but a lineage of kings. 2 Samuel 7:17 summarizes this covenant well: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” For God to work out this promise, at first glance, must mean that kings will forever spring up from the line of David. There is another option, however. God could also place one king in David’s line on this throne forever. In the New Testament, even before Jesus is born, this is the very thing God intends. When Gabriel visits Mary to tell of her child to be born, he promises her that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33).
God’s promise to David shaped Israel’s self-perception, and their lack of kings on David’s throne during their days in exile would have caused crises of faith and understanding. Jesus is God’s response to such question and fulfills God’s promise to David in unexpected ways. God did not intend to promise an infinite succession of kings, but a king whose session is infinite.
David will not tolerate vigilante justice against his foes. When David is brought Ish-Bosheth’s head by Rekab and Baanah, he has them executed for murder. Upholding justice is a key part of being a righteous king over Israel. In the face of much antagonism, David has been unwavering in his devotion to the crown and to Saul’s family. Now David will take over as one who has shown commitment to upholding justice towards all fellow Israelites. There are still flaws, however, in David’s character. 2 Samuel 3 makes clear that David now has six children by six different wives, and Michal, David’s first wife, is set to join the family. Though David’s virtue is evident in most areas of his life, his polygamous ways foreshadow problems. No matter what problems we see with David, Israel is in better hands with their new king than they ever were with Saul.
As Israel continues to have an authority crisis at the beginning of 2 Samuel, I would like to focus elsewhere for a belated Father’s Day post based on a famous proverb. Proverbs 22:6 states, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” For years I have heard people question their past parenting because they have witnessed their own children abandon faith in God and deviate from virtue. One of the more painful aspects of this questioning from the faithful is their familiarity with the verse above. If raising children in the way they should go means as adults they will not depart from it, then it seems like many have failed to raise their kids on the right path. I would argue that though this is possible, a better understanding of what the proverbs intend to communicate would help assuage parental anguish over the chosen direction of their children.
The proverbs are not unconditional promises but statements about how the world works and how to live wisely in the world. Generally speaking, if you want your child to grow into virtuous people you need to raise them to that end. Do virtuous adults come out of disastrous households? Absolutely, that does happen. Are some children raised with emotionally, physically, and spiritually supportive homes as well as discipline, only to reject their parent’s ways? Of course, this happens. This proverb is not telling us what will happen in all situations, but telling us in all situations the most likely way to produce the hoped-for goal of raising up wise, God-fearing adults. It is far more likely to happen in homes led by wise, God-fearing adults. The proverbs are less like promises and more like directives for living wisely in our complex world.
Our world has been at war for some time now. The end of 1 Samuel is about the first two kings of Israel waging war on two different fronts. 1 Samuel 30 tells of David and his followers going back to Ziklag to find their property and their families, which were raided by the Amalekites. David eventually overtakes the Amalekites and recovers all property for his people. 1 Samuel 31 briefs us on Saul and his sons being defeated by the Philistines. The Philistine response in victory over Saul is to humiliate the fallen king by nailing his body to a wall along with his sons’. We see in all of these instances just how ruthless Israel’s neighbors are in war and in victory. 1 Samuel ends with Israel suffering a humiliating defeat and all of a sudden kingless while living in a war-ravaged land.
This is neither the first nor the last book of the Bible to end on a low note. In a world of happy endings, I find the Bible incredibly honest about our predicament and the frustration of a world in conflict. As I write, a mosque has been attacked in London and a terrorist attack in Paris has been foiled. Last week a man from Illinois opened fire on Republican officials, harming one. These stories are just the ones large scale news companies deem interesting. Daily, people throughout our world face great violence. The Bible paints a realistic picture of the power struggles and the consequences humanity has always faced. Thankfully 1 Samuel isn’t the end of the entire Bible. It just ends on a similar note to most of our days. The end of 1 Samuel invites us to look at our world and hope for a better one. Scripture will inform that hope as we continue.
The witch of Endor conjuring Samuel on behalf of Saul has always been interesting to me. How does a witch, whom God opposes, conjure Samuel, who is dead? What does this tell us about the afterlife? Before the events of our reading there is little said in the Old Testament about what happens to people when they die. This story suggests that people continue in some fashion after death. Jesus later confirms this truth while arguing for the resurrection of the dead by calling God the “God of the living” because he is “God of Abraham and David” (Mark 12:26-27). That means God is ultimately the one who preserves Samuel’s life. To me, this also means God alone could allow access to Samuel because Samuel had died.
But why would God allow a witch, who is performing acts God hates, to have such access? Remember that Saul is partially responsible for this witch’s actions. My argument is that though this woman has been working in the realm of the demonic, God takes this unique opportunity to warn Saul of his impending doom in dramatic fashion. I know that this is hard for many to stomach, but I cannot ascribe Samuel’s conjuring simply to demons, because we are led to believe this is actually Samuel based on the message and the witch’s reaction; she is shocked and feels duped, and Samuel’s message in death is consistent with his message in life.
This event is one of the first to show that people clearly continue after death, and it also shows that God is on the move to accomplish His purposes even while using human evil.
David is a war hero made to feel unsafe in his own homeland. Saul continues to pursue David even after being spared. In 1 Samuel 26, David refuses to kill Saul again, out of principle, for he does not believe in killing God’s anointed. It is no wonder God delights so much in David. God loves great character, and today I want to call us as a church to reflect on how it takes similar character to fulfill Proverbs 17:9. This verse reads, “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Just like David had opportunities to physically destroy Saul, so often we have the opportunity to destroy people’s reputations or by gossip to tarnish trust between friends. Like David we can choose to protect our neighbor, not by lying for them or minimizing sin, but by protecting them from undue reaction to their sins. Many times, I have been spared from shame and embarrassment for foolish things done or said. Those who loved me still admonished me privately, but did not let the damage spread. I felt spared. May we spare one another by refusing to speak ill of each other, even of our sins. Though it seems less extreme than sparing the life of another, refusing to spread gossip still comes from a merciful heart.
I have had several disagreements about whether the Bible clearly denounces polygamy. Today, I will keep my response to such arguments by simply focusing on David and the fact that God loved him so much in spite of his polygamous ways. Long before David was born, God spelled out expectations for a king in Deuteronomy 17:14-17. These included “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray” (Deuteronomy 17:17). Though our passage does not clearly condemn David for taking Abigail as his wife as well as Ahinoam, we have already read much of Israel’s history in which neither God nor the writer condemns each evil practice when it occurs. God does not lay out his disappointment in David because God has already spoken. Our reading even makes a point to note the strange events where Saul gives away his already married daughter to another man (1 Samuel 25:44).
David is beloved by God and different than Saul, but they both relate to women, sex, and marriage in ways that reflect the practices of foreign kings rather than God’s best. The fact that God doesn’t condemn or punish David immediately doesn’t mean God approves. David will soon enough face significant consequences for attempting to enjoy being a lover and husband to many women. As we read the Bible, let’s be careful to pay attention to what the writers and God are trying to communicate rather than by reading too much into silence. I would argue that the original Jewish readers would already see problems with David’s actions in 1 Samuel 25:41-45 which prepare us for problems he will face as King. Stay tuned to see how this unfolds.
Saul’s unwillingness to kill Ahimelek as well as the guards’ refusal should have been enough to give Saul pause before killing God’s priest. Yet Saul’s blind rage has led him to join forces with a man named Doeg, an Edomite. An Edomite is someone from the region south of what is now Israel. Doeg would have known nothing of YHWH and shows little respect for God’s priest and the town of Nob, even killing women and children. Again, a leader of Israel strikes a pledge with a foreigner, and the people of Israel suffer. Saul would have done well to meditate on our reading from Proverbs: “Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord” (Proverbs 15:33). Saul has abandoned the fear of God for fear of David and has rejected counsel from his guards, proving that Saul is not “at home among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31). May we all have hearts to fear God and heed discipline today.
Perhaps David coined the phrase, “You’re driving me crazy.” Well, probably not, but he certainly would have been right to speak the Hebrew version of that phrase to Saul. Saul, on the other hand, has much to be thankful for in David. David has played music to cure Saul of wicked spirits and has defeated many Philistines in battle, including Saul’s great enemy Goliath. David is husband to Saul’s daughter Michal and best friend to Saul’s son Jonathan. Oh, and David is loyal to Saul even while Saul tries to kill him.
Today we see David worn down. He lies to Ahimelek the priest to get bread. David also flees to Gath, where Goliath came from, because he thinks he is safer in the land of his great enemies than among his own people, Israel. David even reaches the point where he pretends to be insane for self-protection. The former strength we have noted in David, like the confidence he had before fighting Goliath, has worn thin. We might call David shrewd in evading the priests and the Philistine king, but he is certainly not as confident and courageous as before. David needs to recuperate. Unfortunately, this is normal when people who should be our allies make themselves our enemies. Such antagonism weakens us, hurts our resolve, and breaks our confidence. Even the strongest of us are not immune to the harm done by those we wish to trust.
Everyone should take Saul’s bad example to heart. When people trust us, we must honor that trust with even greater diligence to seek the good of those in our confidence. If we are not careful, we can do great damage with our power.
Today I want to step away from Israel’s history and the starkly different first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. Though we have been reading the Proverbs for some time, one set of proverbs allows me to show in part how to read this book. Proverbs are sayings of wisdom that will reflect how the wise understand the world to generally work. These proverbs are meant to help us live with care. Proverbs 14:20-21 tells us, "The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends. It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy." The first proverb tells us the truth about how people relate to the poor and rich. If we stopped at verse 20, we would only have wisdom about how the world is. Verse 21 takes us a step further and helps us see what God thinks of the common partiality to the rich and the neglect of the poor. God views such partiality, especially disdain of the poor, as sinful. Additionally, God honors those who care for the poor.
There is a way the world works, and there is a way God works. The wise person understands both God and their world. Our world is still characterized by disdain towards the week and needy, but God honors those who live differently towards the marginalized. May we walk with wisdom towards our neighbors in the days ahead.
Like in a typical sermon, I want to make three points from our Samuel reading today. First, God prioritizes the heart. I will just let God’s words to Samuel teach us about priorities: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). As a pastor, I can never emphasize enough the fact only God’s opinion truly matters. It is good news that God values something which is not simply a product of genes or our social environment. God celebrates those who value goodness.
Secondly, we need to come to grips with the fact that God is in control of demons. We see several times the emphasis that the spirit afflicting Saul is “an evil spirit from God” (1 Samuel 16:14,16). We must be careful with that word “from”. It is enough to say, whatever God’s relationship is with evil spirits that God opposes evil spirits, yet is also sovereign over them. I am inclined to simply say in this situation that God gave the evil spirit wishing to afflict Saul permission. Most importantly, I insist that God does not do evil, but God is also not in a power struggle with evil, for He is Lord over all that is good and bad.
Third, God alone provides the greatest victories. David defeats Goliath because David fights “In the name of the Lord Almighty” (1 Samuel 17:45). That means God’s power and authority on David is the reason for this unlikely victory, not David’s courage. Sure, David is courageous, but God’s name is the cause of David’s courage, not his own skill or will power. We do well to remember this when we hear someone tells us to conquer “goliaths” in our lives. We certainly should take courage to do what pleases God, but this story doesn’t give us a blank check to try the insurmountable either. David and Goliath’s battle is not about behavior first and foremost, but about the strength God gives those that know Him. Before you think about conquering anything, focus your attention on knowing the name and character of God.
As Saul contends for his good intentions in today’s reading, Samuel’s reply leads with the question, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:22) As Samuel answers his own question, we learn something essential about relating to God. Obedience to God is valuable in and of itself, but sacrifice isn’t. The only reason animal sacrifices were valuable to God is because He commanded them for Israel to show them the consequences of sin and the value of atonement, among other reasons. Obedience in faith is far more valuable in the sacrificial system than the killing of animals. In our story God commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites and their animals, and nowhere commanded sparing the animals in order to make sacrifices. Instead Saul relates to God as if appeasing God is more valuable than right relationship with God.
Often in scriptures, God emphasizes this same preference for us to know Him and His ways over having us give things up. On this same theme, years after Samuel speaks, Jesus doesn’t simply say “Deny yourselves daily”, but chases with “and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). If we stop at sacrifice or self-denial we miss God’s best: getting to know God better through the benefits of faithful obedience. God created us not to take away good stuff from us, but to give the best to us.
If we sacrifice anything without attending to God’s commands, we go against the grain of our created purposes. If we sacrifice because God commands, we do so trusting that God is giving us, now or later, something better than what we lose.
If it were possible, Saul would have done well to reflect on the Psalms of his successor David. One line in particular stands out as a great caution against Saul’s behaviors: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Saul just could not be patient.
We first encounter Saul’s impatience in his disobedient sacrifices following Samuel’s delay (1 Samuel 13:8-14). In response God tells Saul that he loses out on an incredible reward, the opportunity to have his kingdom established forever, because he could not wait a few hours. Later Saul makes a rash curse against anyone who eats, followed by a rash vow to kill whomever has caused God’s silence on directing ongoing warfare with the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:39). Without knowledge of his father’s curse, Saul’s son Jonathan ate some honey, and thus is responsible for God’s refusal to answer. When Saul discovers this, his impatience causes him to nearly take his own son’s life. This sad situation should remind the reader of Jephthah, the judge who vowed to kill the first thing that greeted him upon returning to battle, only to sacrifice his daughter. Thankfully in this situation, through the wise warriors with Saul, God spares Jonathan the grave punishment of his father’s impatience and self-will. How many troubles do we meet when we are in a hurry to do something instead of being eager to wait on the Lord?
A funny thing happens as Samuel chooses by lot Israel’s new king. Samuel picked the tribe of Benjamin by lot, then the clan of the Matrites by lot, until finally Saul son of Kish was selected to be the new king. There is only a small problem: Saul has decided to hide. In fact, we are told in 1 Samuel 10:22 he is hiding in the “supplies” (also translated baggage or equipment). Saul so fears being king that he hopes to escape his new role by playing adult hide-and-go-seek. In one sense, Saul is showing wisdom, for the task of being king is too great for anyone, especially without God’s complete favor. On the other hand, this action foreshadows how ill-equipped Saul is for the responsibilities that lay ahead.
We could call Saul a coward from this incident, or we could call him wise. Either way, he would not escape from God or Samuel and his particular calling. Saul is the king, and now he must lead. In the days ahead, we will see more of the character flaws foreshadowed through this hiding incident. We will also see evidence that Saul had insight when he chose to hide. Above all else, we will see the problems that arise when Israel desires anyone but God as King.
When Israel demands that Samuel find them a king, they have a mixture of good and bad intentions. Samuel’s sons are not worthy to rule, so Israel rightly expects Samuel to refuse passing leadership to his children. Yet in diagnosing this leadership problem, Israel chooses a faulty remedy by demanding a king immediately. If God had not spoken to Samuel against Israel’s longing for a king, the astute student of scripture might see little problem with Israel desiring a king to establish law and order. After all, God promised Abraham centuries before that some of his descendants would be kings (Genesis 17:6). But Israel’s problem does not arise from desiring good or godly leadership, or even from hoping that God would fulfill promises about kings. Israel’s error is desiring to choose the first king themselves. The people believe they need a person to lead their wars, a king like the nations that surround them. The worst part of their desire for a king is the mistaken notion that such a king would “go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20), the very thing God has done and promised to do time and time again (e.g. Deuteronomy 31:8, Exodus 13:21, Exodus 14:14). It becomes clear that Israel doesn’t just want a king, but God’s promise of a king without needing to trust God alone. In short, Israel wants to replace God.
God will grant Israel their wish for a king, but not before warning that this ruler would use Israel for personal gain at great expense to them (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Reflect on these questions: How do you attempt to replace God with other rulers? What are the costs?
When the Philistines decide to return the ark to Israel, they consult their priests and prophets. These Philistine spiritual guides plan to discern whether YHWH’s judgement has caused all their problems with tumors and deaths. They tie the ark plus their offerings onto a cart pulled by inexperienced and directionless calves to see if YHWH will guide these calves back to the people of Beth Shemesh and Israel. How did the Philistine priests come up with this plan? Why does God choose to honor this wisdom? We are not really told the reasons, but we are to safely assume that this story reflects God’s desire for the Philistines to know who YHWH is, in order that they not trifle with His glorious presence. God is patient with the ignorance of the nations when they pay proper attention to God’s works and character. These Philistines even had appropriate respect for God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt generations ago (1 Samuel 6:6).
Did God tell these Philistines to do exactly what they did through their diviners and priests? I find that unlikely, and certainly we are not told God says anything like this. Still, God honors their curiosity and their attempts at respect. When the ark returns, Israel shows that they must learn hard lessons about respecting God’s presence like the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:19). Only a superficial reading of scripture leads one to believe that God has different standards for Israel than He has for other nations. If anything, God choosing Israel means that His standards for this people are higher. Let this message instruct the church of Christ to consider how essential it is to know God as those who have been called God’s beloved. May we also consider God’s kindness and patience toward those who do not know God so that we might reflect God’s character to our neighbors.