Some of you here remember the spring of the year 1943. The news at the time was dominated by World War II. Up to this point, things had gone rather badly for the Allies. Hitler had ravaged Poland, gone on to conquer Norway, Holland and Belgium, and humiliate France. Only the courage, sacrifice and the tenacity of the RAF had kept the German army out of Britain. Greece had fallen, Moscow had come within a few miles of being occupied and up to that point, Germany dominated North Africa. In the spring of 1943 all that was about to change. German General Erwin Rommel’s Nazi tanks were sent reeling westward in retreat across the Libyan Desert when Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery’s British forces defeated them at El Alimein. From the west a little-known American general named Eisenhower rallied his men after the humiliation at Kasserine Pass and began to push the Germans he faced east. Eventually the Germans were squeezed into Tunisia in a giant pincers movement. In a series of fierce battles in May 1943 thousand of Germans were killed or captured while others fled to Sicily and Italy. It was the first great Allied victory of World War II. Six months earlier, Winston Churchill had spoken to England about what the attack on North Africa meant. He knew that it was only the first step in a long battle that must eventually include an invasion of Europe and the total destruction of the Third Reich. These were his words: “This is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
That is how I feel as I come to the end of this series on the early years of the life of David. This is not the end of the story, or even the beginning of the end. It is only the end of the beginning. When first we met David, he was a shepherd on the hills outside Bethlehem. As we leave him, he is ready to become king of Israel. In between we have traced his slow rise from obscurity to prominence. We have traced the tools God used to form David into the kind of King he wanted David to be the most obvious tool, of course, being trials, difficulties and injustice – mostly at the hands of King Saul. In all these trials David had a choice – he could become bitter or he could become better. He chose to submit to God and become better. Through trials his character was shaped. He learned obedience, humility, forgiveness and faith. He gathered much wisdom and knowledge of the character of God. He, through the songs he wrote, became the greatest comforter of broken hearts the world has ever known.
David’s final lesson comes from one of the saddest moments of his life as he learns that Saul and Jonathan are dead. As we study his response, we will see the greatness of his faith.
. When last we met David, he was returning to Ziklag to rebuild the town after it had been burned by the Amalekites. That whole episode was one of the lowest points of his entire life. Now he returns with his men, their rescued families and their plunder to begin the process of rebuilding. They never finish the job because on the third day word comes that the Israelite army has been routed by the Philistines and that Saul is dead. That means that there is a power vacuum and it is time for David to begin to rule – not all of Israel at first. First of all his kinsman, the tribe of Judah, install him as king.
The story of Saul’s death is given to us in I Samuel 31.
“Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa” (v. 1).
The Israelites were vastly outnumbered and were fighting against superior numbers and superior weaponry. Evidently the main battle took place on the plain of Jezreel with Saul and his key officers stationed on the lower slopes of Gilboa. That was good strategy as long as the battle stayed fairly even. Once it turned against Israel and the men fled up the mountainside, there was no way of escape, and a slaughter ensued.
“The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua” (v. 2).
After the initial moves and counter-moves, the battle turned against Israel and the soldiers retreated up the slopes. Saul uses his entire battlefield prowess. He and his officers and sons draw their swords and prepare to join the battle as the Philistines press toward him. The Philistines, having identified, Saul, shoot their arrows and hack their way through the troops trying to protect him. His sons and most loyal troops rally around Saul and probably succeed in killing many of the enemy but soon are overwhelmed by sheer numbers and the reckless hate of the Philistines.
“The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically” Saul said to his armor-bearer, ’Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me’” (v. 4).
In order to fully understand this, one point needs to be made. The Philistines were a bloodthirsty bunch. If they do find Saul alive, they will subject him to unspeakable torture before he dies. Saul’s fears are fully justified.
“But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and three of his sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that day” (vv. 5-6).
This kind of reminds me of the Canadian troops at the Battle of Hong Kong - brave men fighting for their country, vastly outnumbered, going down to death in a blaze of glory. The comparison is apt because that’s indeed how David views the matter-Saul and his men died the death of heroes defending their homeland.
Saul committed suicide. His suicide was simply the end of a long process of self-destruction. His life illustrates that natural advantages and even divine blessing does not guarantee a successful life end. Saul’s life shows us that a good beginning is great but it is what happens after the good beginning that makes the difference. The tragedy of Saul’s life is that he had so much going for him, and through his own stubbornness, impulsiveness, disobedience, impatience, jealousy, distrusts and anger, he blew it all. As the poet said, “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘it might have been.’”
Some days later David received the news of Israel’s defeat and Saul’s death. That story is given to us in II Samuel 1. You will remember that David was supposed to take part in this battle on the side of the Philistines but that the Philistine generals, rather wisely, I think, insisted that Achish, David’s Philistine patron, send David packing because they couldn’t trust him. David went back to his home village of Ziklag while the rest of the Philistines went to battle against Saul. When they get back, they discover their village has been raided, burned and plundered by the Amalekites. Meanwhile the battle takes place and Saul is killed on Mount Gilboa. Three days later a man comes running into the village with his clothes torn and dust on his head. He has come, he says, with news from the battlefield. The news is that Israel has been defeated and Saul and Jonathan are dead.
“’I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,’ the young man said, ’and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and riders almost upon him. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, “What can I do?” He asked me, “Who are you?” “An Amalekite,” I answered. Then he said to me, “Stand over me and kill me! I am in the throes of death, but I am still alive.” So I stood over him and killed him, because I knew after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my Lord.’” (vv. 6-10)
The man is a liar. He didn’t kill Saul. He made up this story because he thought David would be glad to hear that Saul was dead. After all, that’s how most of us would react if we heard that our worst enemy had suddenly died.
What likely happened is that this Amalekite was a battlefield scavenger. After the battle was over and the Philistines had left the battlefield – probably due to darkness, he went to rob the dead bodies by night. He found Saul and was able to loot his treasures. He realized that if he took the crown and band and brought them to David, he might get a reward even greater than Saul’s bling. It made sense on a human level to expect David to rejoice.
If you think David was happy to hear of Saul’s death, just ask the Amalekite. Of course, you’ll have to dig him up to ask him. David was not at all happy with the man who claimed to have killed Saul. David had made the decision long before that he was going to support God’s program in the world. That meant he would show respect for those whom God had placed over him. That’s why he refused to kill Saul when he had the chance. So when this Amalekite comes with the story that he killed Saul, David had this greedy Amalekite killed on the spot. He died regretting his lie.
III. David then composed a lament called the Song of the Bow. He wrote it and then ordered that the men of Judah learn it by heart. We would call it a eulogy. If you want an insight into David’s heart, read these verses. The theme is repeated three times-"How the mighty are fallen” (vv. 19, 25, 27).
He begins by saying,
“Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.” (v. 20)
David’s main concern is the death of Saul not become an occasion for the enemies of God to rejoice. Therefore, he says, keep it quiet. Again, we see the type of man God had moulded David into. He was willing to take his personal issues with Saul and minimize them for the sake of the glory of God and his Kingdom. He once again looked beyond his own problems with Saul to the greater good of God’s people. And so rather than encouraging people to shout out Saul’s humiliation and demise, he tells them to keep it quiet. Instead of having people proclaim that Saul got what he deserved for his disobedience and pride and murderous threats to David, he tells them to try and minimize the happiness of Israel’s enemies. David displayed an amazing humility here.
Pride and arrogance love it when people mess up. It makes people feel better about themselves when the strong man falls, the smart man does something stupid, the pretty woman makes a fool of herself and the holy man sins. You can tell how insecure a person is by how much they put other people down. You can tell a person has a low self-esteem when they feel the need to publicize the downfalls of others. That sort of thing not only demeans us but it harms the cause of Christ. Whenever a good man falls, it gives the scoffers another reason to laugh at the Christian faith.
We don’t have to share every piece of bad news we hear – no matter how juicy. So what if it’s true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Then keep it to yourself. “Tell it not in Gath!” Keep your mouth closed about the weaknesses of others. Unless there is an actual biblical reason, and unless you are telling the news to the right people at the right time in order to bring about justice and to promote healing, why not just keep it to yourself? Not everything needs to be broadcast.
Then David sings about the death of Saul and Jonathan and says a good word about each man. Just remember that Saul hunted David down like a rabid dog and certainly would have killed him. Now he is dead. You would think David might say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” David doesn’t even say a word about what Saul had done to him.
When David writes his eulogy, he dwells on three of Saul’s admirable traits:
a. His courage in battle. “The sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied” (v. 22).
b. Second, his close relationship with Jonathan.
“Saul and Jonathan-in life they were loved and gracious and in death they were not parted” (v. 23).
c. Third, his advancement of the nation in prosperity.
“O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold” (v. 24).
Very few people in this world are all bad. Everyone has some good qualities. When we are in a conflict with someone it is easy to forget that. And so we dwell so much on the bad that the good gets blotted out in our eyes. David is careful not to let this happen with Saul. He encourages people to remember Saul’s positive qualities and forget the negative ones.
It’s almost like David had read what Paul wrote over a thousand years later in Philippians 4:
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things.
When we are in a conflict with someone, it is a good thing to remind ourselves about the person’s good qualities. Now, unless you are in conflict with Hitler or Stalin, chances are the person you are having issues with isn’t totally bad.
What is the principle at work here? It is the principle of honoring those whom God has used in your life even when they have turned against you. In David’s case that meant honoring a man whose major goal in life had been to kill him. And yet the principle stands: From Saul, and through Saul, and because of Saul, God had been working in David’s life. Saul had been God’s instrument to prepare David for the throne. If David was a diamond in the rough, then Saul was God’s chisel to remove the rough edges and expose the beauty within. Indeed, God had chosen David to be king and he had also chosen Saul to be the unwitting instrument of preparation.
If you put together the various lessons David has learned, three of them go together. When David spared Saul’s life in the cave at En Gedi (I Samuel 24), God was teaching him to spare his enemies. When David snuck into the camp after midnight and took the spear but did not kill Saul (I Samuel 26), God was teaching him to love his enemies. And now that Saul is dead (II Samuel 1), God is teaching David to honor his enemies. First to spare, then to love, then to honor. Great, Greater, Greatest. This last lesson is the highest point of the spiritual life, and many of us never reach it.
When David looks back and weeps for Saul and remembers his good accomplishments, he is not denying the evil he did. Indeed, the record has been written for 3,000 years. But David will have no part in defaming Saul’s memory. Let others draw their own conclusions, but David will speak no evil. David is practicing love here – the love that “… keeps no record of wrongs.” ( I Corinthians 13:5). Love has a quick eraser.
I recently read a story about a Bible College professor who to loan money to students for various purposes such as tuition, books, or family expenses. Whenever a student asked him for money, he would get an I.O.U. from the student and put it in his wallet. Eventually, his wallet was stuffed with I.O.U.s from men who borrowed money but didn’t pay it back. It came to a point where every time he looked in his wallet, those I.O.U.s made him mad. Finally he solved the problem. What did he do? Did he take these men to small claims court? Did he bad mouth them in front of his classes? Did he angrily confront them? No. He simply took all the IOUs out, tore them up, and threw them away. He figured it was better to lose the money than to lose his peace of mind. In a way, David ended up with a huge stack of I.O.U.s from Saul. When Saul died, David tore them up and never thought about them again. David would not let the bitterness control his life. He chose to remember Saul’s good points and he chose to forget everything else.
And the lesson is, Go and do likewise. When the wrongs committed against us are beginning to weigh us down and suck out the joy, leaving us only the ugly residue of hardened bitterness, then it’s time to choose by God’s grace to let go so we can move on with life. Better to suffer a temporary loss than to be stuck forever, chained to the past by the misdeeds of others.
It is only after the battle of Mount Gilboa ends that the Lord deems David ready to be king. We are now going to leave David at this point. Some other time we will look at the rest of his life. Some other time we talk about the other accounts of his life – the restoration of the Ark, his affair with Bathsheba, his conflict with Absalom. As we stand back and look at the long journey from the sheep pastures of Bethlehem to the throne of Judah, three great principles stand out that summarize what we’ve learned from the early years of David’s life.
A. God takes his time to make us into the people He wants us to be.
At least ten years-and maybe more-passed between the time God told David he would be king and the time he actually ascended to the throne. The years in between were years of training and preparation. The story is told of a Texas oilman and his wife who visited Oxford University while on a trip to England. The oilman asked the gardener he kept the lawns so beautiful. The gardener replied: “We plant a seed. We water it. We mow it. We water it-for 500 years.” If you want to raise bean sprouts, you can do it in a week. If you want oak trees, it will take a lifetime.
Paul said this to the Christians in the Greek city of Philippi:
3 ¶ I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Php. 1)
And so, be encouraged. God knows what he’s doing in your life. You don’t have the full picture of what God is doing in your life. He does, and he won’t stop until he’s finished. He will take his time.
B. When God wants to prepare us for royalty, his best tool is adversity.
David would have been another Saul had not God put him through his trouble. Many people pray for patience – and they are usually quite impatient to get it. The problem is that God doesn’t use a magic wand to zap us with it. Rather, he puts us in situations designed to develop it in our lives. There is the old joke about the man who was pushing a stroller and in that stroller was a very fussy, crying and at times screaming baby. The man was saying in soothing tones, “It’s O.K. Albert. Take it easy Albert. Don’t get upset, Albert.” A lady walked up and tried to soothe the baby and as she did she complemented the man on his remarkable patience with the baby. She then said, “I hope you can get Albert settled soon.” The man replied, “Ma’am, his name is Johnny. I’m Albert.”
Albert was developing patience in the face of adversity.
C. The last lesson is that for this to work, we need to cooperate with God.
The main difference between David and Saul was that one chose to cooperate with God and the other one didn’t. One chose to live by the Spirit, the other chose to live by the flesh.
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5)
This sounds much like King Saul lived. His life was marked by hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy. He even went so far as to consult a witch at the end of his life. He didn’t cooperate with the Holy Spirit. But through the processes of adversity God brought him through, David displayed just the opposite characteristics. He never got to the point where he hated Saul. Instead of selfish ambition he was content to wait until God made him king. David’s life more characterized the fruit of the Spirit.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5)
He displayed the fruit of the Spirit because he chose to cooperate with the Spirit. When adversity hit, he yielded to Him. In yielding to the Spirit, he tapped into his power and was gradually transformed.
And so, we leave David here at the end of the beginning. His life as a fugitive is over. The next chapter of 2 Samuel has him traveling to Hebron where the men of Judah anoint him their king. Interestingly enough, he has not come to an end of his troubles. There are still battles to fights, there are still political intrigues he must deal with, there are still temptations to be faced and there are even family issues to be resolved. Yet David becomes Israel’s greatest King. Solomon may have surpassed him in wealth and power and even wisdom, but David was great because he was godly. He became godly in the school of the wilderness. David’s life reminds us that adversity and spiritual growth often go together. We see in his life what we see in our own lives-God is at work and he is in no hurry. God is at work and his best tool is adversity. It may take awhile and the road may be bumpy, but there’s a crown and a throne for those who persevere.
C. 2010 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.