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David’s Doubting in 1 Samuel 27: Observations from Spurgeon

October 9, 2013 2 comments

From this week’s Spurgeon reading, sermon #439 “The Danger of Doubting”.  Spurgeon here focused on 1 Samuel 27:1, “And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.”   I have briefly considered this text before in this post, in thoughts from Bible reading.

I also remember this passage, from an example (several years ago) of bad preaching: a pastor preaching through a “David” series, came to this passage and proclaimed the natural man’s way of thinking (and thereby revealing his own superficial and “natural man” thoughts):  that David did this because he didn’t have any other choice, and how hard-pressed and in danger David really was that he had to do this.  Nothing was said about the true significance of what happened here, this as one of several times that we observe of David’s declension.

Within the overall context of David’s life in 1 Samuel this is one of many times of his up and down times, of David’s experiences in and out of fellowship with the Lord — and sixteen months later (1 Samuel 30:6) we see David back in fellowship, after the Amelekites raided Ziklag and the people talked of stoning him:  “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”  Spurgeon’s sermon gets more specific, noting several ways in which David erred here, and how applicable it is to us as well:

1. The thought of David’s heart was false. There certainly was no evidence to prove it. On no one occasion had the Lord deserted His servant; he had been placed in perilous positions very often, but not one single instance had occurred in which God’s strength was not sufficient for him. The trials to which he had been exposed had been varied; they had not assumed one form, only, but many; yet in every case He who sent the trial had also graciously ordained a way of escape. David could not put his finger upon any entry in his diary, and say of it, “Here is evidence that God will forsake me.”

2. It was contrary to evidence:  What reason had he to believe that God would leave him? Rather, how many evidences had he to conclude that the Lord neither could nor would leave him? “Your servant slew both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them.” That was good reasoning. Why not reason like that now, David?

3.  It was contrary to God’s promises.  Here Spurgeon notes the Davidic covenant:  Samuel had poured the anointing oil on David’s head—God’s earnest and promise that David would be king. Let David die by the hand of Saul, and how can the promise be fulfilled? Many times had God assured His servant David that He had chosen the son of Jesse to be the leader of His people; let him die, and how can that be true? It was, therefore, contrary to the promise of God that David should fall by his enemy’s hand!

4.  It was contrary to what David himself had often said.  A great observation here from Spurgeon’s own personal experience:

I remember on one occasion, to my shame, being sad and doubtful of heart, and a kind friend took out a paper and read to me a short extract from a discourse upon faith. I very soon detected the author of the extract; my friend was reading to me from one of my own sermons! Without saying a word he just left it to my own conscience, for he had convicted me of committing the very fault against which I had so earnestly declaimed. Often might you, Brothers and Sisters, be found out in the same inconsistency.

Lordship Versus Free Grace: Was King Saul Saved?

August 6, 2012 7 comments

From a recent online discussion that started with a list of the seven suicide accounts in the Bible, the question came up as to whether certain Old Testament individuals, King Saul and Solomon, were saved.  (I briefly considered this very matter a few years ago, concluding that Solomon was saved but not King Saul.)  A few people insisted that — regardless of all the scriptural evidence to the contrary — because of Samuel’s words to Saul, “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me,” that meant Saul was saved and went to heaven.  As I realized during this discussion, even one’s interpretation of the biblical data on a particular person or event comes from that person’s presuppositions about something even more basic:  the understanding of salvation and sanctification, and the type of life (and fruits) manifested in saved and non-saved individuals.

If 1 Samuel 28:19 is the only text in the Bible to show that King Saul was a saved, regenerate man, I first note that Saul did not take any comfort in that message from Samuel.  The rest of that scene makes very clear, how very frightened Saul was: he “fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear” and no strength in him, not even wanting to eat.  This is a far cry from the scene where the thief on the cross was told that he would soon (that day) be with Jesus in paradise. Saul’s behavior is also nothing like David’s declaration in 2 Samuel 12, a peaceful assurance that “I shall go to him,” where his deceased infant son was.  Samson, another suicide case mentioned, met his death very differently from Saul: calling upon the Lord in that moment.  Samson knew he was going to die very shortly, and though his circumstances were quite different at that point, he did not cower in fear in light of his present physical pain and suffering and his certain physical doom, his impending death.  Job too showed that same understanding of death as a place of rest and peace.

The “answer” to Saul’s fearful reaction: that Saul was just upset and troubled by his circumstances, that he was reacting (as any ordinary person would) who wants to win the battle and continue his rule.  Also, that people in the OT didn’t have the same understanding about the afterlife as in the NT (citing the above example of the thief on the cross, while ignoring the OT examples given), and that the thief on the cross didn’t have anything in this life to lose (such as Saul who still had rule over a kingdom).

Really?  Saul’s behavior in that scene shows what had already been demonstrated previously in his life: his desperate attempt to cling to this life and to cling to the throne, even though he knew, as he had acknowledged to David when David spared his life, that David was to have the kingship.  At the point of death, no one who has a right relationship to the Lord is going to act all scared and panicked about the announcement of his death merely because he wants to win the battle, continue his rule and keep his earthly possessions.

The best explanation of Samuel’s message, that “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” is to recognize that the word used there is Sheol:  it does not refer to paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom, or even to hell (the place of the damned), but to the intermediate place of the dead, a place that has two compartments. Thus, saying that Saul and his sons would be where Samuel was, is not a case for salvation, but to the fact that they would be in that temporary holding place before the resurrection, a holding place that we know has two compartments within it.

Going beyond the incident in 1 Samuel 28, though, the abundance of other scriptural evidence portrays Saul as an unsaved man with sins that are categorically different from the fleshly sins that the great OT saints, such as David and Moses, fell into at times in their lives.  Saul directly disobeyed a direct order from God, to slay the Amelekites, and even presumed to offer the sacrifices himself.  Saul persecuted David (the type of Christ), failing to recognize the Davidic covenant promises; he also slew God’s priests (not a light thing to dismiss).  Then he swore an oath of safety to a medium, the very thing not allowed in the word of God, which plainly says to not allow a medium/sorceress to live; and he sought guidance from that medium.

What came about next in the discussion:  that person’s concept of “Free Grace” salvation, apparently of the extreme Zane Hodges variety, that no matter what kind of life a person may lead he or she is still a regenerate, saved individual.  The above analysis was wrong, they said, because that is just focused on the idea of keeping a list of merits and demerits, a type of laundry list, and by that type of legalistic reasoning no one could be saved.  And after all, Moses and David fell into great sin.  So the “Free Grace” reasoning concluded no difference at all between the lives of Moses, David, and King Saul.

But pointing out the many scriptures regarding King Saul is not building a laundry-list or “merits and demerits” type case of “how many sins” any given person committed. Rather, it is a look at the overall character of that individual. Was that person’s life characterized by certain types of sin, or were those sins the momentary lapses of a life that had an overall tenor of godliness? It can also be related to 1 John, what John describes about those who are saved, that they do not continue sinning, that their life is not characterized by sin.  The real issue, behind the discussion of King Saul’s eternal fate, is what God’s word itself says: that people are known by their fruits, and that believers do produce fruit.

Yes, Moses had momentary lapses, as did David in his sin with Bathsheba; they were weaknesses of the flesh, expressed in emotions such as impatience and physical lust. Those sins did not characterize the lives of those men, but were the exception rather than the rule. King Saul’s sins, beginning with the reasons the kingdom was taken away from him, were especially theological in nature, as noted above.

I close with excerpts from S. Lewis Johnson’s message concerning Saul and the 1 Samuel 28 passage, from his “Lessons from the Life of David” series.

 (reading the text) And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams.”  He doesn’t say by priests because, after all, he’s the one that slew the High Priest, so he seems to want to avoid that.  “Therefore I have called you that you may reveal to me what I should do.”

Isn’t that interesting?  We won’t go directly to the Lord God, who has spoken.  But we’ll go to a witch.  And we’ll go to the witch with the idea that we can put over to people that we are really interested in knowing what God is going to do.  So Saul’s distress is the distress of disobedience.  It’s not that he has a poor self-esteem.  It’s simply he’s disobedient.  And because he’s disobedient, that’s what happens when individuals are disobedient to the word of God.  He’s already been given his answer, over and over.  He wants to know his fate, but he wants to know it without repentance.  If only the dead Samuel would favor the one God has frowned upon.  Can you imagine that?  God has spoken and said, the kingdom has been torn from you, Saul.  You’ve lost your kingdom.  So Saul will say, I think that I would like to talk to Samuel in order that he may do me some favor, delivering me from the judgment of God, when God has already spoken that this is what’s going to happen.  Amazing, amazing, truly amazing.

. . .

Divine mercy is free.  But it’s righteous in its flow.  The notion that God must help everyone in trouble is not scientific and is wrong.  Because there are individuals who do not seek the will of God and therefore, when they seek out of disobedience and clinging to their sin, God just as in the case of Saul, is silent.  It’s too late.  Too late often individuals appeal to the Lord God.  In the case of Saul, it was too late.  He had, it seemed, clearly by his actions, brought on the judgment of divine retribution.  And that is ultimately what comes to him.  Those who have the opportunity, hearing the gospel message, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as the jailer did, and do not respond and persist down through the years in not responding, the time may come when, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, may be written over their lives.

Various Scripture Thoughts for Today

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

God’s Divine Providence, Fore-ordination, and Omniscience, as Shown in 1 Samuel 23

From S. Lewis Johnson’s “Lessons from the Life of David,” I’m now in 1 Samuel 23, a chapter that shows God’s amazing providence in the ways that He delivers David from Saul.  The incident at Keilah, where David inquires of the Lord if the men of Keilah will give him over to Saul, shows both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, with no contradiction in these two seemingly incompatible ideas.  But an appeal exclusively to God’s sovereignty, in the case of Keilah, would have left David and his men passively waiting around for Saul to show up and to be handed over to Saul by the Keilahites.  After all, God said they would hand him over to Saul, so leave it to fate.  But no, David understands the message from God and decides that it’s time to get out of Keilah.

This incident from David’s life also shows God’s divine foreordination and omniscience.  Our God not only knows everything that will come to pass, from beginning to end, past to future — He even knows the things that could happen given certain contingencies, and He knows what the men of Keilah will do given a set of circumstances.

In my daily Bible reading, I’m a few weeks away from 1 Samuel, back in Joshua 15 — a very tedious chapter filled with lists of land descriptions and names of the many cities and villages given to the tribe of Judah.  Yet amongst the many obscure names listed there are a few familiar names, including Ziklag, and Keilah.  I probably would have missed the reference to Keilah but for the SLJ bible study in 1 Samuel 23 today.

Another verse to add, from today’s readings, to go with the above theme of God’s providence and sovereign control:
Proverbs 16:33, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

God’s Faithfulness and Promises
From some of my other recent readings, some great verses that show God’s faithfulness and His great promises:

(From list 7) — Isaiah 61:11:   For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

The first part of that verse reminds me of Genesis 8:11 (list 2):  God’s mercy in bringing forth the new world after the flood.  The dove found the olive leaf, a sign of new plant life, that God was already causing the earth to bring forth its sprouts.  Isaiah 61-62 also tell us that, as surely as we can observe plant life, so we can count on God to fulfill what He has promised, that He will “cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations” at His second coming.  God’s promise to restore Israel to the land, and to give them great blessings and prominence among the nations, is just as sure as what we can observe in how the earth and gardens bring forth the plants.

S. Lewis Johnson and “Calvin and Hobbes”

May 26, 2010 Leave a comment

On the Pyromaniacs blog, a recent post highlights a popular show (Lost) and a Christian perspective of our God that has far better planning than human writers of entertainment.  As usual, some of the bloggers in the meta have missed the point of Dan Phillips’ original blog.

In many ways I see the reference to the show “Lost” as similar to sermon illustrations that appeal to our popular culture — which brings me back to S. Lewis Johnson and the comic strip illustrations he often used in his Bible teaching.

In listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Lessons from the Life of David” series, I’m enjoying (again, as with his other messages) the little time-period references he often made.  Johnson did this series in 1990, later than most of his teaching, and I can especially relate since by that time I was a young Christian; I only wish now that I had known about S. Lewis Johnson at that time, to get better instruction in those early years–but now I’m playing catch-up.

Several times in his teachings, Johnson mentions his enjoyment of the funny pages, the comic strips in the newspaper.  Often he mentioned Peanuts — but now we’re in 1990, and so it was interesting to learn that SLJ also liked and read “Calvin and Hobbes,” which had started publication in the late 1980s.  I had not heard of S. Lewis Johnson at that time, but like him I read and enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes.  Anyway, SLJ mentioned a particular strip of C&H, in reference to our fallen nature and the character of King Saul — the character like so many people, that plots and schemes, thinking he’ll get away with something and thinking he can fool God.  Then, even when things don’t work out so well, he doesn’t learn his lesson and just keeps on doing the same things over and over again.  The specific incident is the one where Calvin steals Susie’s doll, tries to offer it back for ransom, dreams about what he’s going to do with the money — and then Susie gets back at him.  But Calvin, like King Saul and so many others, will never learn the lesson.   Here is the actual message from S. Lewis Johnson.  Here is the Calvin and Hobbes strip he referenced, from late August and early September 1990.  (Note:  it’s the last comic series story on the first link, and top part of the second link.)

A Hermeneutics Example: Approaches to the Story of David and Abigail

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

The more I listen to good Bible teaching, the more I appreciate it — and the more I recognize the difference between good and bad Bible teaching.  I also now observe that a preacher who is inclined to allegorize and spiritualize in some areas (such as creation and end times) will exhibit the same tendencies even with narrative historical texts, such as from the life of David.  One such example is 1 Samuel 25, the story of David and Abigail.

The allegorizing hermeneutic looks at this story and just brushes over the surface of the actual story, reading the text along with a few comments about obvious things, like how foolish Nabal was to insult someone who has several hundred men “in your back 40” and that’s like spitting into the wind — and then expanding on one part of the story, Abigail’s petition to David, and portraying it as a wonderful picture of intercession, Abigail’s interceding for her foolish husband and that as a picture of Jesus’s intercession for us, and so on.  It sounds great if you just skim the surface and don’t really think about it, but it doesn’t satisfy the true spiritual hunger to really know God’s word and what it says — and doesn’t do proper justice to the many things that actually are in this text.  One obvious problem with that approach is that the man she was interceding on behalf of (Nabal) was judged by God and struck dead.  If God had instead changed Nabal’s heart for the better and spared his life, perhaps — but again, the text simply does not bear out the spiritualizer’s imagination.

Contrast that approach with the treatment in a good expository lesson through 1 Samuel 25 — from S. Lewis Johnson’s “Life of David” 8-part series.  (He again covered this text several years later in his expanded 40-part “Lessons from the Life of David” series, in a similar manner.)  Johnson looks at the text in three parts, and examines each of the characters:  David, Nabal, and Abigail.  The story has a lot to say about practical Christian living, and SLJ references several Proverbs as well as the parable of the rich man in Luke 12.

Regarding David, SLJ again notes David’s declension in moving away from the stronghold, and that David really didn’t need to go and beg for provisions from Nabal — again a lack of trust.  David’s request was still a reasonable one, though, and in keeping with the culture and the festive occasion of sheep shearing, a traditional time of sharing your abundance with the poor.  David and his men were certainly among the poor, and Nabal had at least that obligation to the poor.  Nabal’s real error, though, for which he was judged, was his failure to recognize God’s anointed — and that can be compared to the wicked sinner who fails to recognize David’s “greater Son” Jesus, and the eternal consequences.

David responds to the insult with rashness and the intent to commit great harm (and this part reminds me of the rash, wicked act of Simeon and Levi in Genesis 34).   Proverbs 26:4, “do not answer a fool according to his folly,” is shown here in David’s mistake.

Abigail is the surprising one in the story, for she shows great knowledge concerning the Davidic promises, in her certainty that David will become king.  The important lesson here is:  “let the coming glory that you are to have regulate your present actions.”  In S. Lewis Johnson’s words:

Abigail’s argument is something like this: David we know you’re going to be king over Israel and when you’re king some day you’ll have grief over the fact that before you became king you lost your temper and you got your men together with your swords in hand and you went down and slew Nabal and all the rest of the men who were associated with him.  So she argues something like this: let the coming glory that you are to have regulate your present actions.

Now, that’s an interesting argument because it’s the same kind of argument that we have in the New Testament, because we are told in the New Testament that we have died with Christ, we have been buried with him, we’ve been raised up together with him, we’ve been made to sit together with him in heavenly places, and in the light of the fact that we have been made to sit together with him in the heavenly places we are to live as heavenly children in this earth in this present season.  It’s the old argument of the Christian life, based on the position that we enjoy in Christ and because we are righteous, we should be righteous in our daily lives.  Because we have this great standing with the Lord, our present state should be comparable to it, so she argues from the basis of his future that he should not do what he intends to do.  So it is a beautiful lesson that the present is to be regulated by the future.  Not simply by the fact that in the future we’re going to be judged, such as we have in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 10 (we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ), but rather you should live in the light of what you are going to be.  In our case we are positionally righteous, we are positionally sanctified and therefore we should live lives characterized by growing experience of sanctification; because we are holy in the sight of the Lord now, we should live in a holy way.

Another proverb tell us, “As an earring of gold an ornament of fine gold so is a wise reprove upon an obedient ear.”  David is a great man and shows himself able to take the reproof.

The last section of the chapter is the “retribution and requital,” where God takes vengeance upon Nabal the next morning.  Here the parable in Luke 12 is especially apt, as well as the truth that “vengeance is mine, I will repay thus saith the Lord.”  SLJ suggests that Jesus may well have been thinking of Nabal when He told the story in Luke 12.  Certainly Nabal fits the bill, the perfect description of the rich man who stores up his treasures in bigger and bigger barns but is not generous toward God, not realizing that “this very night” his life will be required of him.

Various Devotional Thoughts

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Several different devotional thoughts and teachings have helped encourage me in my daily Christian walk.

Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs has a good article in his study through Colossians, about being thankful — a good reminder every day.

Today’s “Morning and Evening” devotional from Spurgeon has a great “evening” edition, from the text of Exodus 17:2 and the prayer of Moses.  As usual, Spurgeon is spot on with his observations, such as this one:

It is far easier to fight with sin in public than to pray against it in private. It has been observed that while Joshua never grew weary in the fighting, Moses did grow weary in the praying; the more spiritual an exercise, the more difficult it is for flesh and blood to maintain it.

The more I continue daily reading and study through God’s word, the more I realize my need for it every day.  A related thought: yesterday’s grace and yesterday’s prayers and thoughts are not sufficient, but continual reminders are needed; even then, sometimes my soul is still dull and sluggish to respond to the things of God.  Thank God for His immutability, His unchanging nature — even though we are often “foolish and slow of heart” (Luke 24: 25), our God is infinitely patient and will never forsake us.  Often I recall the words of the man who exclaimed to Jesus, “I believe.  Help my unbelief.”

One important teaching impressed upon me these last few months has been that, as S. Lewis Johnson put it, our salvation gives us many things, but one thing it does not do is “guarantee that we shall never stumble in the Christian life or that we shall not have periods of declension.”   This point especially comes out in lessons through the lives of the Old Testament saints in Genesis, and in the topical series through the lives of Gideon, Samson, and David.  My frequent failures and up-and-down feelings toward God used to plague me to despair, to the point of doubting my salvation — in the face of several years of that tone of teaching at the local church, with its emphasis on the ever forward-moving improvement and sanctification in the believer’s life, without the proper balance of the reality as illustrated in both Old and New Testament saints.  Such teaching — from a weak preacher who describes the narratives of David’s failures as though they were not declensions but what David had to do and thus it was okay for David, and portrays David as actually a better, less sinful man than the rest of us (because of his special chosen status before God and as a type of Christ) — just didn’t address the truth that David and others in the Bible did blunder, and did so quite often.  As S. Lewis Johnson also pointed out in reference to David as a type of Christ, David is not a type of Christ in his sin, in his humanness.  David is a type of Christ (only) in his official activity — “officially he is a type of Christ because he is a king, and thus he represents the Messianic king who is to come.”   We can learn from David’s personal example, but that is different from teaching that David, being a type of Christ, was somehow better and less prone to sin than the rest of us.

This morning my MP3 teaching came from the message  “Declension of David,”  in which we see the steps David takes in his walk away from the Lord (1 Samuel 21), starting with fear — then to deception, lying about need of haste, needing a sword, a flight to Achish king of the Philistines, then to the feigning of madness and being driven away from a pagan king.  But then Psalms 34 and 56, written at the time of these events, shows us the way out of that declension (Psalm 34) and how to maintain a right walk before God (Psalm 56).

S. Lewis Johnson Teachings

March 31, 2010 1 comment

Here is a brief excerpt from the first message in S. Lewis Johnson’s “Life of David” series, an 8-part series he taught in the late 1970s.  He did this series at the same time as the Genesis series, which he makes reference to.  He had recently preached through the section on Esau and Jacob, as here he likens Saul to Esau, the more likeable guy that we could relate to  — in contrast to Jacob and David.  Johnson also makes reference to the Dallas Cowboys’ Roger Staubach.

It’s possible that a man like Abraham excelled David in faith because when we think of Abraham we think of the great exemplar of faith.  He was the great man of faith, and he is the one who is used as the illustration of faith in the New Testament.  Probably Elijah excelled him in forcefulness because Elijah was the prophet of fire, and no doubt some could make a good case for Moses excelling him in communion with the Lord.  But when you look at David as a versatile man, it’s probably doubtful that any of these men excelled David in versatility for he was a man who had numerous talents and gifts given him by God.  He was a man of faith.  He was a forceful man.  He was a warrior.  He also was a man who spent a great deal of time in fellowship and communion with the Lord.  And so he’s a well rounded man of God.

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Acts series, Acts 21, on the matter of Paul’s attitude towards the Mosaic law:

To put it in the words of one of the finest New Testament commentators, “A truly emancipated spirit, such as Paul’s is not in bondage to its own emancipation.”  We are free to put ourselves under law, for a particular reason, Paul says.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not free.  We are free.  We are free to be under the law.  We are free from the law, or we are free for the exercise of the law upon occasion.

But, now, when it comes to the gospel that’s a different matter.  If, for example, our action of being under law compromises the principle of grace, then the apostle will not submit to a legal requirement.  And the finest illustration of this is the passage in Galatians chapter 2, and Titus’ circumcision.  Timothy is desired to be circumcised, in order that they might have ministry and freedom of it.  But in Titus’ case, where the issue was circumcision as a means of salvation, listen to what Paul says about that.

Galatians 2, verse 1, “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.  And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them, which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.  But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:  And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.”