1 Samuel 24:1-22 – How to Handle An Enemy

David and Saul in the Cave by James J. Tissot (1836-1902)

After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So, Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.

He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

“Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

So, David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. (New International Version)

Sometimes reconciliation is neither possible nor wise.

King Saul was unstable. Although initially appreciative of David’s service, Saul became jealous. And that jealousy eventually grew into suspicion, then paranoia.

It became so bad that David had to flee and went on the run. Saul was convinced David wanted his kingship, so he hunted him like an animal. He wanted him out of the limelight and out of the way – permanently.

There are times in everyone’s life that another person actively and intentionally seeks to do us harm. How do we handle such a situation? How might we respond in a way that gives us peace of mind?

David continually had enemies throughout his life. And the vast number of those who opposed him, did so despite the fact that David didn’t deserve it.

“We retaliate instead of reflect, and we burn hot in the flames of revenge rather than cool our heels in the pool of patience.”

Craig D. Lounsbrough

Saul came looking for David with an army five-times the size of David’s rag-tag group of men. Yet, Saul had no idea that he had ambled into being a sitting duck.

What would you do in that kind of situation?

Picture the person who gives you the most grief. Maybe they purposely speak bad about you or try and oppose you at any opportunity. Perhaps there is a boss or someone in authority who seeks to undermine you every chance they get.

And now, the tables are turned. You have the chance to publicly put them in their place. You can put an end to the madness. What are you going to do?

In David’s situation, his men made the logical assumption that God ordained the turn of events. So, go ahead and off Saul. Become the king. After all, God already told you that you would be king. Now he’s giving you the opportunity. It’s right there. Take it, man.

“Retaliation is a dog chasing its tail.”

Libba Bray

But David didn’t take advantage of having the upper hand. He didn’t kill Saul because he was convinced it wasn’t the right thing to do. In fact, David felt terrible for even considering the idea. He wasn’t going to take matters into his own hands.

So, David left it in the hands of God. Since God anointed him as the next king, David reasoned, then God would make it happen. He didn’t need to do God’s job for him. David’s theological perspective was this: God is my defender; God will take care of me; God will judge another’s sinful behavior.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a story in the importance and necessity of non-retaliation. What’s more, it’s a lesson in treating all people with respect, even if they don’t seem to deserve it, at all.

This lesson in no way infers that we sit idly by and refuse to hold another accountable for their actions. It just means we aren’t the judge, jury, and executioner.

Once Saul realized he had been a sitting duck, he repents… or does he? He admits to his wrong, even emotionally reacts to it. But here’s the bottom line to all overtures of repentance: It must result in a change of attitude and behavior. And Saul didn’t offer that.

So, the story ends pretty much as it began. There’s no reconciliation because there’s no true repentance on the part of Saul. The disturbed and paranoid king ends up continuing his murderous pursuit of David. *Sigh*

Folks like Saul have no intention of changing. They only want to hold onto their power and control. They’re only happy if others are giving them accolades and kudos. And if they’re not getting recognition, there’s hell to pay.

Beware of false repentance. Don’t be fooled by a person who has a pervasive pattern of self-interest, then, all of a sudden, feels sorry. It’s likely they’re doing that because they don’t have the upper hand – and they desperately want it back.

More importantly, don’t play their game. Instead, live by the ethics of God’s kingdom. You’ll be glad you did.

O God: Give me strength to live another day. Let me not turn coward in the face of its difficulties. Let me not lose faith in other people. Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness. Preserve me from harm and keep me from harming others. Help me to keep my heart clean, and to not become disheartened by the evil of others. Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see the good in everything. Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness and make me a conduit of your blessing to others, in the name of the strong Deliverer, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 Samuel 3:1-18 – Speak Lord, For I Am Listening

Stained glass of the boy Samuel at the bed of Eli the priest

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So, he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore, Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore, I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So, Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” (New Revised Standard Version)

There are two different ways of being silent.

Old Testament narrative stories are typically arranged in such a way that we can perceive clear contrasts between two different people. In our lesson for today, the boy Samuel and Eli the priest are contrasting characters. They each display a different way of silence – one good, and one not.

Stained glass of Eli and Samuel in Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford, England

Samuel takes a posture of listening. He is quiet so that he can hear the voice of the Lord. Samuel responds with few words. 

Eli is also quiet – but for all the wrong reasons. His sons are also priests who receive sacrifices from God’s people. However, they do not handle their responsibility with any care for what the Lord really desires or wants.  Eli knew what his sons were doing, and he was silent about it.

Wisdom knows when to speak and when to be silent. And when being quiet is required, it is to be for the purpose of listening. 

Listening is a lost art and a forgotten skill today. Many people are so concerned to express their opinions and say what they want to say that the virtue of listening is not valued. Yet, God puts a premium on taking the stance of listening.

A person who talks too much gets into trouble. A wise person learns to be quiet.

Proverbs 10:19, ERV

Busyness and constant locomotion are the bane of listening well. Taking precious time to stop and truly listen to another is very much needed in today’s world. If we are to hear God’s voice, it will require being still and silent for long enough to listen to what the Lord is saying to us.

Many folks are also quite uncomfortable with silence. They seek to fill any quiet space with noise so as to avoid facing what is really going on inside the soul. I once attended a pastor’s retreat in which I got to know a church planter in an urban ministry. He grew up in a large family and incessantly talked. The man was a beehive of words and was constantly moving. 

Having been to these types of retreats before, I knew what was probably going to happen, and it did. The retreat host made a pronouncement after dinner on the first day that there was to be absolutely no talking until lunch the next day. There was to be a full eighteen hours of total silence.

Some might think this is some sort of punishment. However, that line of thinking likely expresses how much we prize our words and how much noise means to us. 

The sole purpose of the retreat’s imposed silence was for listening to God. Some of us are so busy moving from one thing to another, and constantly talking, to the point of drowning out the voice of the Lord. 

When we broke our silence the next day, the pastor confessed that in his whole life, he had never been quiet for more than fifteen minutes. He said this:

“Those eighteen hours of silence were the loudest hours I ever experienced. My mind was so noisy and so filled with stuff that the evening nearly drove me nuts. But in the morning, as the noise started to fade away, I could begin to hear the still small voice of God.” 

This wonderful brother went back to his church a different pastor, determined to sit still long enough and be quiet long enough to hear what God wanted for his life and work.

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

Blaise Pascal

If we want to hear God speak to us, we can take the same approach as the boy Samuel and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Then, be quiet and listen…. 

Any fool can babble on about their gripes and opinions. But in the Bible, talking is generally viewed as being overrated. Solitude and silence are prized so that we might listen and learn.

Genuine listening can be scary. We might want to avoid what God is saying because it may be something we don’t want to hear. Eli got bad news from Samuel’s listening to God. Yet here is where words are to follow listening. When we take the time to listen to God, we must do and say what God tells us. And God might tell us to say or do something we may not want. 

Therefore, we must take up the shield of faith with which to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one who wants to keep us trapped in either a cycle of constant chatter without listening, or continual silence without acting upon what we hear from God. We need to have times of silence so that we hear God speak, and we must act in faith to say and do what God calls us to.

Loving God, we admit we are uncomfortable with silence; we do not like to listen because it is such hard work.  We confess to you our idol of filling every nook and cranny of our lives with being busy and productive, achieving and doing. There are so many words and so much information we hear every day that we do not hear your voice. We admit we keep looking for you to act without first listening to what you are saying to us.  We confess we feel that we cannot get away with you; and feel powerless over the forces at work in our lives.

Today, we choose a posture of listening to your Holy Spirit speak to us through your Holy Word. As you speak and have spoken, fill us with the courage to act upon what you tell us to do. We lean into the faith we have in the Lord Jesus so that our lives may be shaped and formed in ways that please you. Be gracious to answer us and lead us to the green pastures and quiet waters of your sacred space. Amen.

1 Samuel 2:1-10 – A Hope Fulfilled

Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
    The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
    I rejoice because you rescued me.
No one is holy like the Lord!
    There is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.

“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
    Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
    he will judge your actions.
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
    and those who stumbled are now strong.
Those who were well fed are now starving,
    and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
    and the woman with many children wastes away.
The Lord gives both death and life;
    he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
    he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust
    and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
    placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world in order.

“He will protect his faithful ones,
    but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
    Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
    the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
    he increases the strength of his anointed one.” (New Living Translation)

This is the song of Hannah, a woman unable to conceive children. She offered a heartfelt petition to God for a child. Hannah’s prayer was answered. A thousand years later, Mary, the mother of Jesus, took this same song, reworked it, and personalized it, to voice and sing her own praise to God. (Luke 1:46-55)

Hannah dared to hope. It might seem from the perspective of one who has never struggled with being childless that offering a prayer for children is easy. However, when hope has been dashed and all seems impossible, putting oneself out there to ask, even to beg, is downright hard. In the fear of having what little hope remains be crushed, it is far easier to stay away from God and keep the prayers to oneself.

Hannah actively sought divine help and risked praying and emoting. The Lord heard. Hannah’s weeping turned to singing. And, like Mary’s Magnificat, Hannah quickly moved from her own experience to the experiences of people everywhere. Hannah focused on the God of the impossible and the divine accessibility which exists when we become vulnerable and put ourselves out there in risky hope.

“Hope is to our spirits what oxygen is to our lungs. Lose hope and you die. They may not bury you for awhile, but without hope you are dead inside. The only way to face the future is to fly straight into it on the wings of hope….hope is the energy of the soul. Hope is the power of tomorrow.”

Lewis Smedes (1921-2002)

The great reversal of Hannah’s condition from barren to fertile gives hope for the weak to become strong, the hungry to be filled, and the lost person to be found. In a world where God is the Sovereign, nothing needs to stay the same – nothing is carved in stone. Since no part of our existence as humans is outside the purview of God, there is always the possibility of change, of a reversal of fortunes.

The underdog has a champion with God. The misfits, the exploited, and the downtrodden – those who cannot lift themselves or pull themselves up by their bootstraps – are precisely the persons whom the Lord raises up. God’s providential care shall oversee them, and justice will be dispensed with perfect equity.

It is one thing to hope; it is another thing altogether in daring to hope against all odds and while others poo-poo your dreams. Godly hope is not wishful thinking; it is a confident expectation that God will show up and be gracious, merciful, and kind.

The place of crying and weeping is important because it is our tears which find a better way.

Anyone can offer cheap praise. Yet, the person who sits with their sadness and feels the heart-wrenching agony of a hope unfulfilled is the one who is able to give genuine praise and to sing with authenticity. Since their hope was planted and watered with tears, their joy in the harvest is abundant and plenteous.

As Christians anticipate the season of Advent, allow the daring hope of Mary and Hannah to conceive a fresh hope in your own life so that you will give birth to new life.

God of hope, in these times of change, helplessness, and uncertainty give us courage to overcome our fears, and help us to build a future in which all may prosper and share together, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.