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Finding Strength in the Lord

David - A man after God's own heart  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:02
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Finding strength in the Lord 1Samuel 30:1-25 I wonder, do we sometimes consider our current life situation and think what we must be doing wrong? Things seem hard for us where as surely, we reason, if we were living close to God life would be straight forward, problem free! Ah, but would it? Last week when we left David he’d just married Abigail, widow of Nabal of the clan of Caleb, having been saved by her from destroying Nabal and all who belonged to him and so making a very big mistake by blotting his copybook with the people of Israel before he ever became their king. Well after that incident the chapters that follow tell us how firstly, Saul once again tried to kill David who had yet another chance to kill him, though, on this occasion too, he refused to take the opportunity instead once more using it to show Saul that he wasn’t seeking his life. By this time, however, David realised that eventually Saul might well be successful in capturing him and so he decided to leave Israel and to escape into the land of the Philistines. You may remember that he’d already tried to escape there but the Philistines were suspicious of his motives and so he hadn’t stayed long. That was when he was on his own though, now he’d 600 men and this time he was accepted, winning them over and convincing Achish son of Maoch king of Gath, that he was an ally. He was even given a town by Achish where he and his men and their families could settle; the town of Ziklag. It appears that Achish trusted David implicitly, and yet David wasn’t completely honest with him because He gave the impression that he was subservient to the future king of Gath where as in reality he used his position, living in an out-of-the-way town, to secretly raid and destroy whole settlements of some of the historic enemies of Israel who lived nearby. These were the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. It was the Amalekites of course who Saul refused to completely wipe out as he was instructed to by God, and which led to his rejection as King. The Philistines weren’t aware of all this though, and so when Achish was heading off on a three day march along with the rest of the army, in order to meet Saul and the Israelites in battle, he saw nothing wrong with asking David to take his men and go with him. Even though, the truth was that David had no intention of fighting against Saul. And no doubt once in the battle he’d have joined forces with his own people against the Philistines. Now Achish didn’t suspect him, but the wiser Philistine commanders did and refused to allow David and his men to go up to the battle lines. Instead they were sent back to their homes and families back in Ziklag. And so we come to our passage today. After three days David and his men arrived back in Ziklag tired from their march and undoubtedly low in spirits having been unable to help their fellow Israelites and probably fearing for the result of the battle. However things immediately got worse for them when they discovered that the Amalekites had taken advantage of their absence and had invaded the whole region, attacking Ziklag itself, burning it to the ground and taking hostage all those who were in it; both women and children. Imagine then the feelings of David and his men. They’d of course have feared the worst for their families, considering that when they’d attacked groups of Amalekites they’d left none alive to tell the tale. I wonder how we’d have reacted in such a situation. Probably in the same way as they did. As anyone naturally would who’d lost that which was most precious to them ... by weeping, by expressing our utter devastation, by shedding tears of remorse. David and his men were both exhausted from their two long marches to and from the battle lines and emotionally distraught and so, together, they wept aloud until they’d no strength left to weep. And then, as so often happens when the first emotional response is over, they began looking around for someone to blame. And of course the men had to look no further than their leader, David. He it was after all who’d led them against the surrounding peoples, who’d led them on a futile march in support of the Philistines, leaving their families behind unguarded. Surely he should have realised that this was putting them in danger. They’d have started talking amongst themselves, remembering perhaps little things that he’d said to them about their going to fight on the side of Saul against the Philistines, supporting the one who’d chased them to this town, the town where their hopes and dreams had been crushed. And, as they did so, so they’d have become more and more bitter. “Let’s stone him”, they said. And David heard them, and despite the fact that he also was grieving for his two wives he now had something else to worry about. In some ways, perhaps, we shouldn’t blame his men. He was their leader after all, they’d trusted him and now they found themselves in the deepest of pits from which there appeared no way out. Now though they could at least have the satisfaction of seeing the one who they felt was to blame paying for his mistakes… Of course it’s not always easy, even for us, to keep a right perspective or to resist the temptation to apportion blame, when disaster seems to have fallen ... there are plenty of people having the blame levelled at them at the moment, are there not? But then the truth was that no one would have benefited if they had stoned David, least of all themselves. Because then they’d have been leaderless and under Gods judgement for killing his anointed one. So how then did David react to their accusations and anger, did he hit back at them, as we might have, did he go into even greater outbursts of grief? Actually a number of the psalms give us an insight into how he might well have felt at this time. One in particular, Psalm 55, where we read: “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, ‘Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest – I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.’” And then David cries out, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship.” How much more cutting indeed it is when it’s our friends who turn against us! And yet David, attacked by enemies, accused by friends, totally at the end of his tether didn’t despair because as we read in verse 6 of our passage: “But David found strength in the Lord his God.” When he was at his lowest then that’s when he remembered the Lord, and he received the strength that he needed to continue. And then he knew what he must do, he must seek the Lord’s will. So that he called Abiathar the priest telling him to bring the ephod, which was the article of high priestly dress that contained the Urim and Thummim, objects by which God’s will for his people was determined. And David enquired of the Lord laying the whole situation before Him, asking him if he should pursue the Amalekites, and he was assured that he should, that he and his men would be successful. So then both David and his men received new hope from God, they were lifted up by him out of the clinging slough of despond. No longer was their thinking focused in on their troubles, instead they were able to look out upon the sure and certain path the Lord had given them to follow, and they set off once more despite their weary bodies. But then they came to the Besor Ravine, a very steep sided river basin, and this proved just too much for many of the exhausted soldiers so that 200 of them remained behind whilst the other 400 hundred went on. Then these came upon an Egyptian slave who’d been left behind by the Amalekite raiding party. He was a man close to death having not eaten or drunk water for three full days. But, after David had fed and revived him, he was able to lead them to the Amalekite camp where they found the large raiding party spread out over a large plain drinking and enjoying them-selves. So that, despite the fact that they well outnumbered David’s forces, he and his men were able to totally defeat them and rescue all that had been taken from them, as well as from others who the party had attacked. What a wonderful example of God’s continual care for his own and of his oversight of the whole situation! This had all happened to David and his followers, in fact, as a direct result of Saul’s sin in failing to destroy the Amalekites completely when God had told him to do that, and yet the Lord had defended and protected his people, showing his perfect timing by bringing David and his men back early to Ziklag long before the Amalekites had expected them. So that when they felt that they were away from all threat of retribution, they lowered their guard and allowed David and his men to win the victory. Indeed God took care of even the smallest detail; arranging the situation where a member of the Amalekite party was left behind to lead David to the exact spot where the raiding party were. And surely the lord is no less in control of our lives and of our situations … whatever they might be. And so at those times when we feel that there’s no way forward we can be assured that God has our path marked out for us, and we need only turn our attention to him and seek him. And yet how often we weep, how often we worry, how often we shout out in our despair, only to look back, seeing with hindsight the road down which the Lord has brought us. And doing so we realise that though the way might have been difficult, might have been costly to us, our God was always in control, and we needn’t have feared after all. However the problems weren’t over for David: he and his men returned victorious, everything that had been taken was restored to them, their wives and children were all unharmed and in addition they’d all the other flocks and herds that they had found with the Amalekites, a time of great celebration indeed! However when they got back to the two hundred who’d been too exhausted to continue, and so who’d stayed behind with the supplies, there were those amongst those returning after the fight who argued that these men shouldn’t be allowed to share in the plunder. Because after all they hadn’t fought for it, they said. No they should simply take their wives and children go. And again perhaps one can see their point. Those who’d remained behind hadn’t put their lives at risk to rescue all those who had been taken hostage, they hadn’t fought to win the plunder, so why should they have a share? I’m reminded of a lady who I once heard on the radio discussing whether or not those who are in work should be prepared to work fewer hours, giving up part of their pay to prevent colleagues from having to take forced redundancy. She was of the mind that such an idea is unthinkable. After all why should she when she worked so hard and well make such a sacrifice for people who were dead wood and needed to be trimmed? Well, even if her assessment of the situation had been true, which is very doubtful, the point that she was missing was the same as for these men of David’s who asked: “why should men who have proved too week to work for the spoils benefit from them?” The point being, to whom did the spoils truly belong, who was it who’d given the victory to the victors, who was it who’d brought about the circumstances whereby they were successful? It’s interesting that when we have difficulties we often look for someone to blame; whereas when we’re successful it’s very tempting to think that we are the ones who, on our own, have brought that success about. David though saw the truth of the matter, that it was purely through God’s grace and by God’s strength that disaster was turned to victory, and therefore the plunder was His alone to allocate as he wished. What’s more David also recognised that Israel stood or fell as a community. Indeed the whole thrust of God’s dealings with his people surely was, and is, about that. They together are his people and he is their God; and as such they’re to respect and value each other. Indeed many of the rules and regulations that God gave his people, including the last six of the commandments highlighted this vital importance of community. And doesn’t Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 from verse 12, speak about the value of every part of the body, whether they be thought weak or strong? Which David here concurred with making it a statute and ordinance that: “The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle”. Such a tremendous lack of favouritism in a world where invariably we seek out and acknowledge our favourites. Today, of course, we in the church talk a lot about our unity in Christ which binds us together, brothers and sisters in him, the community which we are. But is that acknowledged reality always born out in our dealings with each other, I wonder? What would they say who are outside the church looking in? Do we care or do we criticise, do we bless or do we blame, do we uphold or do we oppose, do we put on pedestals or do we love one another with the love that Christ has first loved us? There’s also a lesson to be learned from the Amalekites. They must have been overjoyed that their attack on Ziklag was so successful. They were able to get away with all the women and children, animals and stores, without even a fight. But as a result they became complacent, assuming that their success would continue. And such complacency is always a danger for us all, and is especially so for Christians and for the Christian Church because success tends to bring with it the temptation to cease depending on God. And it’s no coincidence that it’s when the church is suffering that it tends to grow. So to sum up being a Christian, being part of a Christian community, isn’t meant to be a ride in the park. It will bring with it much heart ache, a good deal of trouble. We aren’t to be surprised by this but neither are we to become bitter, blaming each other for our troubles. Instead, much like David, we should recognise that what matters is how we deal with our troubles, seeing them as the God given means for us to appreciate and experience more of his love and care for us, that we might turn to him, be still before him, and allow him to speak to us. If we do this then, like David we will surely grow in our love for, and obedience to, our Lord, as well as in our love for each other. Amen
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