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.

Psalm 120 – Gaslighting Trouble

Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer in the 1944 film, “Gaslight”

I’m in trouble. I cry to God,
    desperate for an answer:
“Deliver me from the liars, God!
    They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.”

Do you know what’s next, can you see what’s coming,
    all you bold-faced liars?
Pointed arrows and burning coals
    will be your reward.

I’m doomed to live in Meshech,
    cursed with a home in Kedar,
My whole life lived camping
    among quarreling neighbors.
I’m all for peace, but the minute
    I tell them so, they go to war! (The Message)

I wish we lived in a world where people always speak and live the truth in love, without lying, pretense, or posturing. But we don’t. Not everyone embraces a life of encouraging others through truthful affirmation and selfless acts of service.

In reading today’s psalm, I immediately think of all the patients I’ve seen as a chaplain on my behavioral health unit who have been gaslighted.

“Gaslighting” is a recent term, yet the concept is as old as Satan’s interaction with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The word comes from the 1944 movie, “Gaslight,” starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In the attempt to drive his wife insane, the husband rigs the gaslights of the house so they will flicker at night. Whenever his wife comments on it, her husband flat-out lies and says the lights are not flickering at all. I’ll let you watch the film yourself to see what happens.

A person who “gaslights” uses psychological manipulation to gain and assert control over someone or some group. Gaslighters actively undermine others, using their words against them, plotting nefarious plans for them behind their backs, lying without so much of a blink of an eye, and turning family or friends against someone – all with the insidious agenda of increasing their power over that person and solidifying their dependence from the victim.

All of this gaslighting behavior is done with a smile, said with syrupy words to hook you, rather than help you. That, of course, makes it hard to spot – which is why it is so devilish. If the gaslighter can get you to doubt yourself, your abilities, or your perception of reality, then they can worm themselves into your life and plant their thoughts inside you.

Gaslighters don’t want peace. They want conflict. People at war give them an opportunity to gain more influence and power. Plus, they just plain like to watch others fight amongst themselves. It gives them a sense of control.

Today’s psalm is part of the psalms of ascent – songs used by the community as they walk their pilgrimage to Jerusalem and up the temple mount. The people collectively lament the gaslighting activity of those who oppose and hate them. And they turn to God, who abhors gaslighters, seeking solace and safety from their evil ways.

The gaslighter’s end is certain. They will have to contend with the God who will not be manipulated by anyone. Although it is not our job to punish sinners, it very much is our responsibility to see and avoid gaslighting as much as possible, as well as, God forbid, becoming a gaslighter ourselves. To that end, take note of some of the manipulative marks of gaslighters and patterns of gaslighting:

  • Pitting people against one another. This is done a variety of ways through gossip masked as trying to help, subtle slander, and carefully placed lies.
  • Avoiding responsibility. The gaslighter never owns their words and actions but are experts at blaming others for whatever goes awry.
  • Creating fights and conflicts. Gaslighters chronically avoid the dirty work. They get others riled-up at each other, then sit back and look for an opportunity to seize control over the warring parties.
  • Sucking-up to others. Flattery is a well-worn tool of gaslighters. They are masters at buttering-up people to get what they want.
  • Comparing people. This is just another way of driving a wedge between people. “Why can’t you be like ___?”
  • Mistreating the weak and powerless. The weak have no value for the gaslighter because the powerless have nothing to offer them. So, oppression becomes a means of getting the weak out of the way, like they’re some pesky insect to get rid of.
  • Bragging about accomplishments and stealing other’s. Gaslighters will always take the credit for an accomplishment and then boast about it, all the while badgering the victim.
  • Not keeping promises. Usually there’s a bait and switch where the gaslighter will promise something, then switch the rules or tell a bold-faced lie that they never promised that.

There is much more gaslighting behavior, but you get the drift. The best way to deal with a gaslighter? Get as far away from them as you can, find genuine supportive relationships, and leave them to God.

Today’s psalm can be your prayer to the Lord, offering a heartfelt plea to the Divine Being who does the opposite of gaslighting: strengthening you, giving you power, listening to your voice, and loving you with complete altruistic motives.

Eternal Father, you created us in your own image and likeness, but sin has warped the minds of humanity so that there is much injustice and much carelessness of the rights of other people in this fallen world. I pray you will right every wrong and vindicate those being treated unjustly. Keep us, your people, from trying to take matters into our own hands for vengeance. Give justice and peace to all those who have been cruelly and unfairly treated. May the injustice they have endured be the means to draw them into the saving arms of your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Micah 5:2-5a – He Will Be Our Peace

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Therefore, Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

 And he will be our peace. (New International Version)

An Awful Situation

In the prophet Micah’s day, there was no “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” After the reign of King Solomon, Israel was divided between north and south. Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. 

In the eighth-century B.C.E. the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. They deported many of the Israelites and re-populated the cities with their own people.  This is why the Jews in Christ’s day looked down on Samaritans. They pejoratively viewed them as “half-breeds,” a mix of Jewish and Assyrian descent.

The Assyrian takeover of Israel not only left the northern kingdom in shambles; it had a huge impact on the southern kingdom of Judah. Even though Judah had not been conquered, they were still forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians. 

The problem was exacerbated with the leadership of Judah seeking to maintain their power and lifestyle. They did not look to God for help and ignored the needs of the people. Judah’s leaders expected the poor common folk to shoulder the burden of the tribute to the Assyrians. In addition, thousands of refugees from Israel were flooding into Judah and Jerusalem. They had lost their homes, their land, and had nothing but their lives. So, the already scant resources in Judah were pushed to the brink.

Those in authority and power, the ones with resources to make a difference, didn’t. Instead, they took advantage of the situation by buying fields and land at a fraction of its worth because people were just trying to survive. In some cases, the leadership leveraged their power by simply pushing people off their own land and taking it over.

There Is Hope

Into this awful situation, Micah prophesied judgment to the leaders oppressing the people – and hope for the poor and the displaced. Micah said a new kind of leader will come – one with humble origins, like the common oppressed people of Judah. The refugees, the displaced farmers, and the poor will have a champion. He will feed them and shepherd them, leading them to green pastures. This leader will serve the people.

Christians discern Micah’s prophecy as speaking of Jesus – which is why we look at Scriptures like this one during the season of Advent. Just as the ancient Jews needed hope and the promise of a different ruler, so today we, too, need hope and the anticipation of security, peace, and goodwill.

Christ’s leadership and power is different than earthly politicians and officials. Over the centuries, Israel and Judah were so filled with bad kings and self-serving leadership, that Christ’s disciples could barely conceive of anything different. So, Jesus said to them: 

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, NIV)

A Shepherd Leader Is Coming  

The people of Micah’s day needed to see beyond their terrible circumstances and to realize hope – better days ahead with food, peace, and protection. We, too, feel the insecurity and the anxiety of living in today’s world. We want leaders to be wise and just toward the vulnerable, the poor, and the displaced. Yet, while we look to elections and politicians for hope, the prophet Micah is jumping up and down, pointing us to a different leader – a shepherd leader.

Micah says the shepherd leader will come from Bethlehem. When Micah gave his message, King David had been dead for nearly three-hundred years. The nation had strayed far from those days when David led the people with God’s covenant love and kindness. Yet, another shepherd leader is coming and will bring restoration, renewal, revival, and hope!

“Bethlehem” is two Hebrew words put together: beth is “house,” and, lechem is “bread.” Bethlehem means “house of bread.” God communicated to the people that the coming shepherd leader will provide food and care for them.

The Bread of Life

Jesus is the Bread of Life. He generously feeds us so that we will offer both physical and spiritual bread to others. Jesus satisfies all our hungers and cravings in this life. We may not wonder where our next meal is coming from, nor struggle with going to bed hungry. Yet, we hunger for security in our world, satisfaction in our daily activities, loved ones to know Jesus, and for peace. Our spiritual stomachs growl, hungering for spiritual food. Many are spiritually starving because they are searching for peace and goodwill in everyplace but Jesus.

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:35-40, NIV)

Satisfaction, contentment, and peace have come from the most unlikely sources: Bethlehem and Nazareth. Can anything good come from villages in Judea that don’t even show up on most maps in the ancient world?  Peace, hope, and goodwill can and do come from the least expected places and people. 

Joni Eareckson Tada and Corrie Ten Boom are two women that changed their worlds, despite being ordinary people with weakness. The two of them once met many years ago. Joni remembers the encounter: 

“I relive each moment of my visit with Corrie after she was paralyzed by a stroke. Helpless, and for the most part dependent, I felt our mutual weakness. Yet I am certain neither of us had ever felt stronger. It makes me think of the Cross of Christ–a symbol of weakness and humiliation, yet at the same time, a symbol of victory and strength….  A wheelchair may confine a body that is wasting away. But no wheelchair can confine the soul that is inwardly renewed day by day. For paralyzed people can walk with the Lord. Speechless people can talk with the Almighty. Sightless people can see Jesus. Deaf people can hear the Word of God. And those like Corrie, their minds shadowy and obscure, can have the very mind of Christ.”

The Good Shepherd

Jesus Christ is our peace. He was not born in the halls of power, did not attend the best schools, or make lots of money. Nothing on his earthly resume was remarkable enough for anyone to seek him for any leadership position. And yet, Jesus stands and shepherds the flock in the strength of the Lord, providing everything we need. 

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.” (John 10:14-17, NIV)

Through Jesus there is peace – financial peace, emotional peace, relational peace, social peace, and spiritual peace. Jesus is the One who brings a full-orbed wholeness and wellness to our lives, no matter the situation. Jesus is the shepherd leader who brings peace amidst any and every situation this world throws at us.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11, NIV)

The prophet Ezekiel prophesied in a similar situation as Micah:

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered…. They will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16, NIV)

Conclusion

There is something yet we must do. Jesus said:

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him…. The person who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:29, 51-59, NIV)

We are to ingest Jesus. We must be filled with him. Jesus comes into the very depths of our lives to nourish us. Jesus is our food and drink, our peace, our shepherd, and our king. Believing in Jesus is not simply a matter of agreeing with him or being his fan. Faith in Christ means to give our lives to him. The greatest Christmas gift we can give this season is the gift of our lives to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah.

Blessed Lord Jesus, many have strayed far from your flock – taking matters into their own hands and doing things their own way. Many have let their love grow cold and have chosen to feed in pastures that will never satiate their hunger. May they believe that you died on the cross for all the messed up things done, and good things left undone without you.  You rose from death to give them life. Please forgive us all, change our lives, and show us how to know you. Amen.

Amos 9:8-15 – Grace Has the Last Word

The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
    and I will destroy it from the face of the earth
    —except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,
says the Lord.

For lo, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the ground.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, “Evil shall not overtake or meet us.”

On that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins,
    and rebuild it as in the days of old;
in order that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,
    says the Lord who does this.

The time is surely coming, says the Lord,
    when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
    and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them upon their land,
    and they shall never again be plucked up
    out of the land that I have given them,
says the Lord your God. (New Revised Standard Version)

Doom and hope. Judgment and grace. Suffering and glory. These are the movements and rhythms of the Old Testament prophets. 

There was injustice aplenty in ancient Israel way back in the eighth-century B.C.E. Not only were the poor and needy in the land trampled upon, but the people in power saw nothing wrong with building their wealth and status by taking advantage of the less fortunate. 

Yet, God was not okay with this state of affairs. Thus, the time was imminent when God would deal with the situation by destroying an inequitable and exclusive way of life in which the privileged enjoyed a lifestyle on the backs of the unprivileged.

The Lord clearly communicated that the people will be sent away to a place with no chance to oppress others. Death would come to many. The oppressors shall die by the sword, even though, in their arrogant inebriation of power, they actually believed disaster wouldn’t ever happen to them.

However, it did. And history shows that the prophecy of Amos came to pass. The Assyrians, a powerful people who had their own egregious sins to deal with before the Almighty, were the instruments of divine judgment upon God’s people. Israel was conquered, the people deported, and the proud oppressors became the lowly oppressed.

Even in such a terrible time for Israel as that, judgment doesn’t have the last word – grace does. God would not completely destroy forever. Restoration, renewal, and fruitful times will come as a result of God’s mercy toward a wayward people. 

The Lord spoke a promise that it will not forever be this way. Rebuilding and restoration will eventually happen. God chooses to act with mercy and demonstrate grace because that is what God does. 

We may often get the wrongheaded notion in our creaturely pea-brained heads that God executes judgment to teach people a lesson or make a point, like some capricious schoolmaster who wraps kids on the knuckles with a ruler when they act up in class. But God acts out of holiness, justice, and grace. The Lord maintains righteous decrees while showing mercy to the undeserving.  

Israel deserved only judgment, not grace. God would have been completely justified to destroy rich and powerful oppressors and never restore or renew them. Yet, be that as it may, this is not how the Lord of the universe operates. God’s grace overwhelms human sin. Grace always has the last word.

Try and understand grace and you will be befuddled. Some things just defy comprehension. Sometimes it’s just best to observe and appreciate. Grace is wildly illogical, nonsensical, and unconditionally free. Grace shows radical acceptance where there ought to be only hell.  

God’s grace is downright scandalous. Whereas we might have a stick-it-to-the-man mentality, God is much bigger than petty petulant posturing. The Lord doesn’t sit in heaven and scheme clever ways to irritate sinners and put them in their place, like some belligerent divine bully.

Rather the Lord of all continually conspires within perfect Love how to guide folks mercifully and gently to Truth – utilizing incredibly diverse tools of divine kindness to woo people to the source of amazing grace.

The height of grace, the pinnacle of restoring the fortunes of Israel, came through a baby, by a humble birth in the small village of Bethlehem. 

Jesus came to save the people from their sins. God acted by entering humanity with free divine love so that there could be new life and fresh hope. Therefore, let grace wash you clean. Allow mercy to renew your life. Let worship of the newborn king shape your season and the New Year.

Gracious God, although you are careful to uphold your great holiness, your mercy extends from everlasting to everlasting. May the gospel of grace form all of my words and actions so that true righteousness reigns in my life through Jesus, your Son, my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.