Text: 1 Samuel 18
What do you do when someone throws a spear at you? What do you do when someone does something that hurts you? This question isn’t something esoteric or ethereal or merely hypothetical. It’s a very real question – one that you have faced, and answered, many times. You can’t get through life without having some spears thrown at you. Sometimes they are small, little darts that merely prick a bit – a remark that was maybe meant to be humorous but whose point went a little too deep. Maybe it was a snide, catty remark – a mild, yet malicious barb. Perhaps it was an out and out insult – a cruel review of your character or performance. Or maybe the spear was something much bigger than mere words. Maybe the spear was meant to do something more tangible. Maybe it was meant to hurt you financially or damage your reputation or destroy something you cared about. Maybe it was, as it was in David’s case, meant to kill you. What do you do when someone throws spears at you?
In our Scripture reading we see that David the Giant killer and soothing singer becomes David the target. He didn’t deserve to be. He was the hero – the darling of the people of Israel. Yet that turned out to be a problem for it aroused the jealousy of King Saul. We read in verse six of chapter 18 that when David and Saul returned home from the battle where David killed Goliath, they journeyed through several towns and villages where the women of Israel met them and celebrated before them with singing and dancing and the music of tambourines and lutes and as they celebrated they sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”
We read that Saul became very angry at this song. He said:
"They have credited David with tens of thousands," he thought, "but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?"
This was more Saul’s insecurity speaking to him than reality. Bible Scholars agree that the women by no means wanted to put Saul down or exalt David over Saul. For one thing, Saul was mentioned first in their songs and so he was recognized as having precedence over David. Another thing is that the women were simply using a common Hebrew poetic device called parallelism. Hebrew poetry is poetry of thought, not of rhyme or metre. Our poems sound like:
There Once was an Old Man From Esser
His Knowledge Grew Lesser and Lesser
It at Last Grew so Small
He Knew Nothing at All
Now He’s a College Professor
Hebrew poetry doesn’t rhyme in the original language and that is a good thing because even people who don’t speak Hebrew can appreciate and understand what its poetry is all about. That’s one reason why Psalm 23 is so beloved. Parallelism in Hebrew poetry means that a thought is expressed in one line, and then the same thought is expressed in another way – often carrying it forward just a little bit – sometimes by exaggeration. A good example is Psalm 91:
7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
And so the women didn’t mean to put Saul down at all. Rather, they were heaping praise upon both him and David. But Saul’s insecurities were speaking here rather than his common sense and the seeds of jealousy were planted in his mind and spirit. This then, was the beginning of David’s suffering.
10 The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand 11 and he hurled it, saying to himself, "I’ll pin David to the wall." But David eluded him twice.
It seems to me that David and everyone else attributed this behaviour to the Saul’s problem with the evil spirit. They might have reasoned that Saul had a bad day – that this behaviour was really an aberration. In any case, it seems like David forgave Saul and remained in the palace. And for quite some time everything seemed to be going well. What David didn’t know was that Saul had begun a sneaky passive-aggressive campaign against him. He sent David out to fight the Philistines not worry about victory so much as wanting David to die in battle. He used an offer of his daughters Michal’s hand as bait to motivate him to go into battle even more and increase his chances of getting killed. But it all backfired. David and his men managed to kill twice the number of Philistines that Saul asked for a bride price. Saul was forced to give Michal to David as his wife. This put Saul into an even greater pickle. Now David actually had a claim to the throne because he was married to a princess.
Saul now abandoned his passive-aggressive ways and ordered Jonathan and his attendants to kill David. Jonathan was appalled by the whole thing and convinced Saul to not only abandon his murderous plan but to accept David back into the palace. For a while all was well. David even fought another campaign against the Philistines and was successful.
But then David had a case of Deja Vu. The evil spirit came upon Saul again while he was sitting his house with his spear in his hand. David was playing his harp trying to make Saul feel better. Saul, however, again hurled the spear at David. It missed David but was driven into the wall. This time David ran and with the help of Michal, managed to flee into exile from the court.
During this time, and in the trials of his exile, David must have wondered what was going on. Why was Saul throwing the spears? Why didn’t God do something about it? Hadn’t a prophet of God anointed him king over Israel? Had David been anything but a loyal servant of Saul? Didn’t David have the love and admiration of the people of Israel? Didn’t even Saul’s own son, Jonathan, the heir to the throne, admire and love David? I mean, what gives?
t is a question I’m sure we ask ourselves when a spear gets thrown at us. Most of the time when people throw a spear at us it is undeserved or at least we don’t understand how we could deserve it. Maybe once in a while we are thoughtless or careless. Perhaps every so often we have asked for it. A clerk at a hardware store was getting increasingly annoyed with a customer who criticized every article the clerk had shown to her – either its quality didn’t meet her expectations or the price was too high. Finally, the clerk suggested that she might want to look over his selection of brooms. She asked him why. He answered, “So you can ride one home!”
David didn’t deserve the spears. The problem wasn’t with David, it was with Saul. Saul saw David as a threat to HIS kingdom. He didn’t see Israel as God’s kingdom. He didn’t see that God should be left to decide which kingdoms survive which threats. Not knowing this, Saul did what all mad kings do. He threw spears.
I. But there was more to Saul’s spear throwing that meets the eye. God had a plan – even for Saul’s spears. You see, God has a university. It’s a small school. Few enrol and even fewer graduate. God has this school because He does not have people who have experienced brokenness in their lives. He has all kinds of other people. He has gifted people who are outwardly empowered but he doesn’t have too many broken people – people who have been inwardly transformed.
Some of you aren’t even sure what I am talking about when I speak of brokenness. There aren’t many books about it and I’ve heard very few sermons on the subject.
David was an expert on brokenness. In his famous Psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, David speaks of it when he says:
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51)
And so a broken heart is one that is soft and pliable and open to God. We speak of a broken horse – a broken horse is submissive to its human master. In an ideal situation the horse has learned to trust his master and willingly does its bidding. A broken heart has learned how to trust God. A broken heart has abandoned self-will and has let go of the pride of life and has submitted itself to God.
Few enrol in God’s sacred school of holiness and brokenness and inward transformation because all his students must suffer much pain.
Sometimes God tries to enrol a likely candidate in this school but the candidate lacks wisdom to realize that they are in a training course specially prepared for them. “God, I want to serve you.” They pray or “God, I want to be holy.” And so God begins the course but when difficulties begin, God finds all too often that the students begin to squawk and to whine or to react in ways to undo the work He is trying to do.
Unlike some, David seemed to realize that he had been enrolled in this special school. He seemed to realize that he had entered a special period in his life. And as the king grew in madness, David grew in understanding. He understood that God had placed him exactly where he was supposed to be and he reacted just as he was supposed to.
Look at what he did – or should I say didn’t do – when Saul threw spears at him. Again, let me ask you, what do you do when someone throws either a literal or figurative spear at you? What do you do when someone causes you to suffer? For most people the answer is easy – you yank the spear out of the wall and you hurl it right back. You don’t stand for that sort of thing.
In returning thrown spears, you prove many things. You prove that you are courageous. You prove that you stand for the right. You prove you are tough and you won’t be pushed around. You prove that will not stand for injustice or unfair treatment and you will not be wronged. Sounds great, but there is a possibility that some 20 years after you have won your battle you will be the most incredibly skilled spear thrower around. However, there is one thing you won’t be – broken. Indeed, like Saul, you just might end up quite mad.
You see, I find it interesting that David didn’t know what to do when a spear was thrown at him. He didn’t throw Saul’s spears back. He didn’t make new ones of his own to throw. All he did was dodge.
David never got hit. You see, you can tell when someone gets hit by a spear – they turn a deep shade of bitter. Many people do. They are the ones who usually end up throwing the spears back.
II. David never got hit, David never turned bitter. That didn’t mean that he never got hurt, it just meant that he asked himself what purpose God might have for his pain.
I’m not a big fan of pain – physical or emotional. I must admit that one of the things that I am looking forward to about heaven is that in that place there is no more death, or mourning or crying or PAIN, for the old order of things has passed away. So it took me some convincing when someone told me that pain could be a good thing. One of the problems when someone gets leprosy is that they lose the sensation of pain. One of the reasons people with leprosy can lose their fingers and toes is that they injure them but don’t feel the pain. The wounds can get infected and that causes the problems. Pain forces us to take action to correct something that is wrong.
As I have grown in my Christian faith, I have learned that pain – even when it has been unfairly caused by others - can be a powerful tool in the hands of my loving Father.
God uses many tools to help his people grow spiritually. He uses His Word, the Bible. His Spirit lives and works in us. He can use his people to speak into our lives. But he uses pain as well.
The author of Hebrews says something very interesting about Jesus in chapter 5:8. He says this:
7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
Even Jesus, though he was sinless, needed lessons in obedience. He intimately learned all about obedience through suffering. It was not that Jesus was DISOBEDIENT, it was that there were aspects of obedience he needed to learn if he was to be perfectly fitted to become the Saviour of all mankind. He learned it through suffering.
Now, if the Father used suffering in the life of Jesus to fit him for His mission, we can certainly expect him to use it in our lives too.
III. That’s what we see in David’s life. David chose to stay in God’s school.
And everyone is the better for it.
Gene Edwards in his book “A Tale of Three Kings.” Points out that if David had not chosen to stay in this school of suffering that there is a great chance that he would have ended up just like King Saul.
King Saul was outwardly gifted for leadership, but he was not inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit. There is no doubt that he was a great leader. He was chosen by God. He had courage, military prowess, the ability to inspire loyalty and political smarts. He had the outward clothing of the Holy Spirit’s power but not the inner filling of the Spirit’s life.
Many people want to experience the power of God. Among Christians many man and women pray for power and gifting. Power and gifting are seductive, even to Christians. But we must be careful. History shows us – some not so distant history – that some of the people who have been given the power of God have gone off the rails. Yes, some have brought forth mighty works of God, preached and prophesied with unparalleled power and eloquence yet, as Saul did,
They have thrown spears,
And hated other men,
And attacked other men,
And plotted to kill
And even consulted witches.
And so God brought David through his school of suffering. He wanted to remove the King Saul from David’s life. The tool he used was the outer Saul.
Unfortunately, I think we all have some of King Saul in all of us. Let me quote Edwards here:
Saul is in your bloodstream, in the marrow of your bones. He makes up the very flesh and muscle of your heart. He is mixed into your soul. He inhabits the nuclei of your atoms.
King Saul is one with you.
You are King Saul!
He breaths in the lungs and beats in the breast of all of us. There is only one way to get rid of him. He must be annihilated.
David the sheepherder would have grown up to become King Saul II, except that God cut away the Saul inside David’s heart. The operation, by the way, too years and was a brutalizing experience that almost killed the patient.
King Saul sought to destroy David, but his only success was that he became the handmaiden of God to put to death the Saul who roamed about in the caverns of David’s own soul.
We don’t want to admit that we might have a King Saul in us. We don’t like to admit that there are parts of us that are ugly and twisted and corrupt. We don’t like to admit it, but it’s true.
nd our loving Heavenly Father has no intention of leaving those things unaddressed. He has a greater plan for us. And that just may be why he allowed someone to throw a spear at you. Spears have a way of exposing what’s inside us. Sometimes, that’s the only way we become aware of the difficult stuff inside us.
We become aware of it when we compare how we want to respond with how the Bible tells us God wants us to respond.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12)
If you read this Scripture right after someone threw a spear at you, how would you respond?
Or how about where Jesus says:
43 ¶ "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5)
Would you think Paul or Jesus was crazy? Or would you say, “yes Lord?” Your answer reveals what is inside of you. Your answer reveals an area where you need to grow and where God wants to work.
What do you do when someone throws a spear at you? Please understand that I’ m not saying you do nothing about it and willingly become that person’s dart board. David tried many things to resolve his issue with Saul. He first of all showed that Saul’s fears were groundless. He secondly had people speak on his behalf to Saul. Ultimately, he removed himself from the situation but it was Saul who decided that, not David. But in all things David responded Biblically. He didn’t throw spears back.
And David emerged a changed and better man.
Please permit me to read Edwards' fictionalized account of a conversation between David and his right hand man – his cousin Joab - that happened when David was on the run and had refused to take advantage of a chance to kill King Saul. The scene is a nameless cave – somewhere in the Judean wilderness.
“Why, David, Why? ... Look at us. We’re animals again. Less than an hour ago you could have freed us all. ... Why did you not end these years of misery?”
“Because,” said David very slowly (and with a gentleness that seemed to say, “I heard what you asked, but not the way you asked it”), “because once, long ago, he was not mad. And it was God who made him king – God – not men.”
Joab blazed back, “But now he is mad! And God is no longer with him. And David, he will yet kill you!”
This time it was David’s answer that blazed with fire.
“Better he kill me than I learn his ways. Better he kill me than I become as he is. I shall not practice the ways that cause kings to grow mad. I will not throw spears, nor will I allow hatred to grow in my heart. I will not avenge. Not now. Not ever!”
That night men went to bed on cold, wet stone and muttered about their leader’s distorted, masochistic views of relationships to kings, especially mad ones.
Angels went to bed that night too, and dreamed, in the afterglow of that rare, rare day, that God might yet be able to give His authority to a trustworthy vessel.
What do you do when someone throws a spear at you? I can’t give you a specific answer. However, I can tell you to remember that God is looking for trustworthy vessels. Will you respond as one?
Bible quotations are from the NIV
Edwards, Gene. A Tale of Three Kings, (Wheaton: Tynday House Publishers, 1992), pp. 105.
c. 2010 Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.