Planning Without God Results in Godless Outcomes.

But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael the son of Nethaniah. They came upon him at the great pool that is in Gibeon. And when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him, they rejoiced. So all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites. Then Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, after he had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Jeremiah 41:11-18 ESV

If you recall, at the close of chapter 40, there was an encounter between Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah and Johanan son of Kareah. Johanan and some other military leaders had come to warn Gedaliah of a plot on his life.

“Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” But Gedaliah refused to believe them. – Jeremiah 40:14 NLT

Johanan warned and Gedaliah ignored. And within days, Gedaliah was dead, murdered by Ishmael. But Johanan, rather than simply walk away with an I-told-you-so attitude, decides to avenge the death of Gedaliah and rescue all those Ishmael had taken captive. Johanan and his troops catch up to Ishmael at a watering spot near the town of Gibeon. We’re not told why Ishmael took this route, and it was not exactly a direct route to Ammon, where he was headed. But regardless of his motivation, Ishmael’s plans took him to Gibeon, where Johanah and his troops surprised them. Immediately, the people who had been taken captive by Ishmael turn on him and begin fighting alongside Johanan and his men. In the midst of all the chaos, Ishmael and eight of his men escape. But Johanan sets the captives free and takes them with him “to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt” (Jeremiah 41:17 NLT).

This last statement is significant. Johanan had already made plans for he and his troops to escape to Egypt. And now, he decides to have the recently rescued citizens of Mizpah join them. But where did he get this idea from? Why had he determined to make his way to Egypt? It would seem that he feared what King Nebuchadnezzar would do when he found out that the governor he had appointed over Judah had been murdered, along with some Babylonian soldiers. Johanan knew that the king of Babylon was not going to look kindly on this act of abject rebellion against his authority. So, rather than wait around to see what Nebuchadnezzar might do, Johanan decided to seek refuge from Egypt, a supposed ally of Judah. But notice what is missing. There is no indication that Johanan received a word from God to go to Egypt. This does not appear to be a divinely ordained plan. And any plan that lacks God’s blessing is ultimately doomed to failure.

This brings to mind another journey to Egypt made by Abraham and his wife, Sarah. There little trip was due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Abraham made the call to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt where they might find food and water. But again, there is no indication that God had given His blessing on this trip. And it ended up with Sarah nearly being guilty of have adultery with the the Pharaoh. It was only because God struck Pharaoh and his household with disease that this whole affair didn’t end up being a total disaster. Pharaoh discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife and angrily confronted Abraham for deceiving him. But rather than kill Abraham, he returns his wife to him and expels them from Egypt.

What about David? Do you recall the time he was attempting to escape from King Saul and decided to escape to Gath? This whole story has a what-were-you-thinking aspect to it. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the great warrior who David had killed. And to top it all off, David had stopped at the city of Nob to get food and provisions. While there, he had taken the sword of Goliath that was stored there for safe keeping. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the head of Goliath. So, David, the killer of the Philistine champion, shows up in Goliath’s hometown, wearing Goliath’s sword on his belt. And the Philistines can’t believe their eyes. The Philistine military commanders are highly suspicious.

But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” – 1 Samuel 21:11 NLT

Waking up to his senses, David immediately realized the stupidity of his decision and came up with the desperate idea to feign insanity – literally.

David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. – 1 Samuel 21:12-13 NLT

It worked. They let David go. But his trip almost cost him his life. And his stop in Nob would end up resulting in the deaths of the priests who lived there. When King Saul caught wind that they had assisted David in his escape he had them slaughtered.

So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. – 1 Samuel 22:18-19 NLT

None of this had been God’s plan. He had never sanctioned this little trip to Gath with a side stop in Nob. And because it was out of His will, it ended up resulting in needless suffering and death.

So, here we have Johanan leading a group of people to Egypt. He has not received a direct word from God. He has not heard anything from the prophet of God. It appears that he made his decision based on nothing more than fear and human reason – the very same motivating factors behind Abraham’s trip to Egypt and David’s journey to Gath. Making plans apart from God’s will can be life-threatening; not just to us, but to all those around us. But we all have a nasty way of coming up with our own Egypts and Gaths. We find ourselves in trouble and then start looking for somewhere to run or hide. We look for a way out, a way of escape. But unless that way comes from the Lord, it will always end up creating problems, not solving them. Now, you might say that Abraham ended up leaving Egypt loaded with gifts from Pharaoh. The passage in Genesis clearly states:

So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:15-16 NLT

And when Abraham left Egypt, it clearly tells us:

Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions. – Genesis 12:20 NLT

Abraham left wealthier than he had arrived. And the very next chapter reinforces this idea.

So Abram went up from Egypt into the Negev. He took his wife and all his possessions with him, as well as Lot. (Now Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold.)…

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another. So there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. – Genesis 13:1-2, 5-7 NLT

What appears to be good fortune as a result of his non-God-sanctioned trip to Egypt, turned out to be nothing but a headache over time. The “blessings” he got for heading to Egypt without God’s approval would prove to be curses. His abundance of flocks led to disunity between he and his nephew Lot. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land to occupy so they could part ways, Lot took the best land. Then, before long, Lot ended up moving to Sodom. And, eventually, Abraham would be forced to rescue Lot when he was captured along with the other citizens of Sodom. All because Abraham had gone to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and received an extravagant dowry from Pharaoh so he could have Sarah as his wife. Our best plans apart from God’s blessing and direction are futile and will prove fruitless. And Johanan’s plan would prove to be no less so.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
Advertisements

There When You Need Him.

And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those who were left behind stayed. But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.

They found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. And they gave him bread and he ate. They gave him water to drink, and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” He said, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. We had made a raid against the Negeb of the Cherethites and against that which belongs to Judah and against the Negeb of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire.” And David said to him, “Will you take me down to this band?” And he said, “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will take you down to this band.” – 1 Samuel 30:7-15 ESV

David had returned home to Ziklag to find it had been plundered and all the women and children taken captive by the Amalekites. His men, fed up with all that had happened over the last few days, were fed up with David’s leadership and threatened to stone him. But we are told, “David drew strength from the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:7 NET). With his wives missing and his life threatened by his own men, David turned to God for help. This was not something unique for David to do, but more recently he had tended to make decisions without God’s input. That’s how he and his men had ended up living in Ziklag, a city smack-dab in the middle of Philistine territory. David had fled to Philistia in order to escape the ongoing pursuit of Saul. But there is no indication that David had sought or received God’s direction or approval to live among the enemies of Israel.

And yet, when the time came and David found himself between a rock and a hard place, he cried out and God heard. When he ran out of options and had no more tricks up his sleeve, he decided to turn to God and found his heavenly Father to have a receptive ear and a heart willing to step into the mess that David had created. All David had to do was reach an end of himself and cry out to the one who was willing and capable of doing something about his predicament: God.

There is something about despair that makes us more dependent upon God. Our moments of helplessness and hopelessness tend to drive us to God and play a big part in releasing His faithfulness. He is always ready, willing and able to save His people, but it requires that we call out to Him. We are reminded of this very fact in the story of God’s intervention on behalf of the people of Israel when they were living as slaves in Egypt.

Years passed, and the king of Egypt died. But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act. – Exodus 2:23-25 NLT

I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. – Exodus 3:7 NLT

I have seen. I have heard. I am aware. Those three statements from God should create in us a sense of relief and calm as we recognize His care and concern for His people. There is nothing that happens in or to our lives that God does not see. When we cry out, He always hears. And there is nothing we can tell Him of which He is not already fully aware. Our prayers are not meant to inform God of our predicament, but to invite His involvement. God knew full well what David was facing. He was completely aware of the problem David had created for himself and what needed to be done to fix it. So when David sought God’s guidance, he received it. Using the Urim and Thummim, which were kept in the high priest’s ephod, David sought God’s input, asking him two questions:

“Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?” – 1 Samuel 30:8 NLT

David wanted to know if he pursue the Amalakites, and, if he did, whether he would be successful in catching them. And God gave him the green light.

“Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!” – 1 Samuel 30:8 NLT

Not only would David catch them, he would recover everything they took, including all the women and children, as well as all the livestock and loot they had plundered. God was going to bless David – in spite of David. God was going to rescue David out of the pit he had dug for himself and assuage the anger and resentment of David’s men. And all David had to do was draw strength from the Lord. He had to place his hope in and seek his help from the Lord. This would be yet another valuable life lesson for David and would contribute to his ongoing education in the power and presence of God. He would later turn what he had learned in moments like this into beautiful words of praise.

But in my distress I cried out to the Lord;
    yes, I prayed to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary;
    my cry to him reached his ears. – Psalm 18:6 NLT

He went on to write these words which could have been penned as a direct result of this very circumstance in David’s life.

I chased my enemies and caught them;
    I did not stop until they were conquered.
I struck them down so they could not get up;
    they fell beneath my feet.
You have armed me with strength for the battle;
    you have subdued my enemies under my feet. – Psalm 18:37-39 NLT

God is always there when we call. The problem is that we don’t call on Him enough. We tend to try and solve our problems on our own. Either we doubt that God can or that He will intervene on our behalf. Or we have somehow convinced ourselves to believe that our solution will be just as effective as anything He comes up with. But when we finally reach the point where our circumstances cause us to give up and cry out, God hears and answers.

The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock!
    May the God of my salvation be exalted! – Psalm 18:46 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Saved By the Bell.

Now the Philistines had gathered all their forces at Aphek. And the Israelites were encamped by the spring that is in Jezreel. As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years, and since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him. And the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Send the man back, that he may return to the place to which you have assigned him. He shall not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? Is not this David, of whom they sing to one another in dances,

‘Saul has struck down his thousands,
    and David his ten thousands’?”

Then Achish called David and said to him, “As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.” And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” And Achish answered David and said, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you, and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.” So David set out with his men early in the morning to return to the land of the Philistines. But the Philistines went up to Jezreel. – 1 Samuel 29:1-11 ESV

While Saul was busy consulting with a witch, David was consorting with the enemy. According to 1 Samuel 27:7, David had been living in the land of Philistia for 16 months. And he had pulled it off by living a lie. He had deceived King Achish into believing that he had turned his back on Israel and had chosen to join forces with the Philistines. And he had been convincing. If there had been an Academy Awards that year, David would have won an Oscar for best actor in a drama. He had completely fooled Achish into believing that he was a faithful friend and ally. Just look at what Achish had to say about him:

“This is David, the servant of King Saul of Israel. He’s been with me for years, and I’ve never found a single fault in him from the day he arrived until today.” – 1 Samuel 29:3 NLT

“I swear by the Lord that you have been a trustworthy ally. I think you should go with me into battle, for I’ve never found a single flaw in you from the day you arrived until today” – 1 Samuel 29:6 NLT

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re as perfect as an angel of God.” – 1 Samuel 29:9 NLT

But David’s performance, while convincing, had also costly. The longer he stayed in Philistia, and the more he kept up his ruse, the more dangerous his predicament would become. It was only a matter of time before David found himself in the awkward and inevitable spot of having to display his true colors. He couldn’t keep up this charade forever. In time, the nations of israel and Philistia would find themselves at war and David would be caught in the middle. And that is exactly the event recorded for us in chapter 29.

The Philistines had gathered all their troops in order to do battle with the Israelites. King Achish and his men arrived at the Aphek, on Philistia’s northern border with Israel. Bringing up the rear of his column was none other than David and his 600 men. Don’t let the significance of this moment escape you. Here was David, the God-appointed, Spirit-anointed future king of Israel, riding among the forces of the Philistines, one of the greatest enemies of the people of God. This was no longer one of David’s cleverly disguised raids against Israelite enemies that he could cover up (see 1 Samuel 27:8-12). This was going to be an all-out war between the Israelites and the Philistines and David was going to have to make a decision. Would he fight with the Philistines, and risk the wrath of God? Would he go into battle and then turn against the Philistines, revealing to Achish and his men his true colors? If he did, he would find himself facing two foes: Achish and Saul. For the last 16 months, Saul had given up his hunt for David, but he had not given up his hatred for him. He most likely saw David as a turncoat, having switched alliances to the Philistines. Most likely, Saul believed David had allied himself with the Philistines in order to defeat him and take the crown from him. So, if Saul met David on the battle field, he would see him as an enemy, no matter which side he chose to fight for.

David was in a predicament. His little plan to escape Saul’s wrath by living among the Philistines had seemed the right thing to do at the time, but he had made his decision without input from God. There is no indication that God had directed David’s actions or commanded his escape into Philistine territory. And now, David was faced with the inevitable consequences of his God-less decision. But while David had left God out of his planning, God had not left David. The Almighty may not have approved of David’s strategy, but He had His hands on David. He knew David’s heart. David had been trying to do the right thing. He was still a faithful servant and all the while he had lived in Philistia, he had continued to fight against the enemies of Israel. But his self-inspired attempt at self-preservation had left him in a very bad spot. And it was going to take the sovereign hand of God to rescue him.

As David and his men arrived at the Philistine camp at Aphek, the other Philistine lords were furious with King Achish at having brought this former Israeli commander and his men into battle with them. What was he thinking? How stupid could he be? This was the same David who had killed the Philistine champion, Goliath, and who had songs written about his military exploits.

“Send him back to the town you’ve given him!” they demanded. “He can’t go into the battle with us. What if he turns against us in battle and becomes our adversary? Is there any better way for him to reconcile himself with his master than by handing our heads over to him? – 1 Samuel 29:4 NLT

They saw David as a threat and Achish as a fool. To them, everything about this scenario was wrong. David had to go. And their anger convinced Achish to reluctantly give in to their demands. And always the actor, David feigned surprise, doing everything in his power to appear hurt and a bit offended at the news.

“What have I done to deserve this treatment?” David demanded. “What have you ever found in your servant, that I can’t go and fight the enemies of my lord the king?” – 1 Samuel 29:8 NLT

But in reality, this was the best thing that could have happened to David and his men. God had intervened and spared them from having to go into battle. At the very last minute, God stepped in and providentially protected David from the mess he had created. But as we will see in the very next chapter, God protected David, but would still allow him to reap the results of his determination to plan his life apart from the input of God. David would escape having to go into battle with the Philistines, but he would not escape the discipline of God.

God had plans for David. He had chosen him to be the next king of Israel. And part of those plans included the years that David spent hiding and wandering in the wilderness. God could have put David on the throne the very day Samuel anointed him, but David was not yet ready to be king. He had to be prepared for the role. He had to learn the lessons God had for him. And a big part of God’s preparation for David would be found in his failure to trust God. His tendency to make decisions without God’s input would teach him the danger of autonomy in the life of the servant of God. Decisions made apart from God will never result in the blessings of God. Trying to do God’s will our way will never produce God’s results. This phase of David’s life would provide yet another valuable lesson in learning to trust God, rather than himself.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Truth or Consequences.

 

In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”

Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” – 1 Samuel 28:1-7 ESV

Over the last few chapters, we have seen a repetitive, back-and-forth treatment of the lives of the two main characters in this story: David and Saul. One minute we’re given a look into the life of David, and then the scene shifts to that of Saul. Sandwiched n-between were the two face-to-face encounters between the two men where David confronted Saul after having chosen not to take his life. Now, in chapter 28, the two men appear together, but not physically. In these opening verses of the chapter we are given a brief, but sobering look into what happens when decide to disobey God and take matters into our own hands. While the author has gone out of his way to contrast David and Saul, in these opening lines it is as if he is trying to show that both men have created unnecessary and uncomfortable circumstances for themselves because they have chosen to disobey God.

David is living with the Philistines. Granted, he and his men, along with their families, occupy the city of Ziklag, in a more remote area within Philistia, but they are still considered vassals or servants of King Achish. In fact, King Achish was under the false impression that David and his 600 men were actually going out and fighting against Israel on his behalf. Where would he have gotten such an idea? From David himself. Each time David and his troops went on a raid, they would attack the enemies of Israel. But when they returned, they would report to Achish that they had been raiding areas within Judah. So Achish believed that David, because of Saul, had switched his loyalties and was now a faithful servant of the Philistines.

Now David had to think of himself as some kind of genius. By moving to Philistia, he had escaped the constant pursuit of Saul and he had a safe haven from which he could continue his attacks against the enemies of Israel. What a brilliant idea he had come up with. But his ingenious deception was about to blow up in his face. Because the inevitable happened. The Israelites declared war on the Philistines and King Achish turned to David, demanding that he join forces with him.

King Achish told David, “You and your men will be expected to join me in battle.” – 1 Samuel 28:1 NLT

The dream scenario David had created was about to turn into a nightmare. If he refused to do battle with the Israelites, King Achish would realize that it had all been a ruse and that he had been tricked by David. If David agrees to fight with the Philistines, he would be attacking his own people and forfeiting his right to be their next king. He would be a traitor. So, in the heat of the moment, David gave Achish an ambiguous commitment.

“Very well!” David agreed. “Now you will see for yourself what we can do. – 1 Samuel 28:2a NLT

David is forced to continue his deception of King Achish, delaying the inevitable decision he must make. And the king, unaware of what David is up to, assuming that he has the full support of David and his men, gives David a rather awkward situation.

Then Achish told David, “I will make you my personal bodyguard for life.” – 1 Samuel 28:2b NLT

David, who once served as the personal bodyguard of the king of Israel, we now the bodyguard for the king of the Philistines (1 Samuel 22:14). Imagine David’s embarrassment at having to try and explain this promotion to his men. This was a predicament to end all predicaments. He found himself between a rock and a hard place.  And his circumstances were all his doing. He had no one to blame but himself.

What about Saul? He found himself facing a war against the Philistines and he was missing one of his best warriors and 600 of his most battle-hardened soldiers, because he had chosen to make David and his men outlaws. His incessant, obsessive attempt to take David’s life  had forced David to switch sides (or so Saul had concluded). Not only that, the prophet of God, Samuel, was dead. And God had removed His Spirit from Saul, leaving him without divine direction. He was a king without a Sovereign to whom he could turn for help and guidance. So he assembled his men for battle.

When Saul saw the vast Philistine army, he became frantic with fear. He asked the Lord what he should do, but the Lord refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets. – 1 Samuel 28:5-6 NLT

God wasn’t talking. The prophet was dead. David was AWOL. The Israelites were vastly outnumbered. And Saul was scared out of his wits. But this desperate situation had been of his own making. He is the one who had disobeyed God and failed to wipe out the Amalekites. He is the one who refused to wait for the prophet and offered sacrifices to God in direct disobedience to the law of God. He is the one who refused to accept God’s decree that David was to be the next king of Israel and, instead, had repeatedly attempted to take David’s life. Now David had sided with the enemy and Saul was facing consequences that were a direct result of his disobedience and poor decision-making. And, finding himself between a rock and a hard place, Saul would make one more ungodly decision, turning to a witch for help.

God had made it very clear that this kind of activity was forbidden for the Israelites.

“If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. – Leviticus 20:6 ESV

“There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead,  for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 18:10-12 ESV

Two men. Two different circumstances. But both found themselves in their own particular predicament because of disobedience to God. Rather than seek and submit to the will of God, they had determined to take matters into their own hands. Now they both were faced with the consequences of their God-less decision making. Thomas L. Constable provides us with a sobering summary of what is going on here.

This whole pericope illustrates that, when opposition from ungodly people persists, God’s people should continue to pray and trust Him for protection rather than taking matters into their own hands. If we initiate a plan without seeking God’s guidance, we may remove one source of aggravation and danger only to find ourselves in another. Such plans may result in some good, but they may also put us in situations where we find it even more tempting to disobey God (cf. Jacob). We should, instead, remember God’s promises (e.g., 1 Pet. 1:3-9; 2 Pet. 1:2-4) and pray for His guidance (cf. Phil. 4:6-7). – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Samuel, 2009 Edition

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Detours and Delays.

Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.” So David arose and went over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath. And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal’s widow. And when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he no longer sought him.

Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be given me in one of the country towns, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?” So that day Achish gave him Ziklag. Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. And the number of the days that David lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months.

Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’” Such was his custom all the while he lived in the country of the Philistines. And Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.”– 1 Samuel 27:1-12 ESV

David was human. He was a flesh-and-blood man who had a sin nature like anyone else and had to constantly struggle with his own inner fears, feelings of doubt, and the nagging questions regarding his fate. He loved God and wanted to do be obedient to the will of God, but he also was driven by an innate desire to stay alive. And the longer his feud with Saul continued, the more he must have struggled with believing God was going to one day make him king. In this chapter we are given a glimpse into one of David’s weaker moments. Nowhere in the chapter is God mentioned. At no point do we see David seeking the will of God. In fact, it would appear that David’s decision to find refuge in the land of the Philistines was made without any input from God. He might have received well-meaning advice from this men, but his choice to return to the very place where he had been forced to act like a madman to save his life, was most likely not something God had told him to do. But thankfully, God was still in control.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

David’s last journey into Philistine territory, recorded in chapter 21, nearly got him killed. In order to escape the pursuit of Saul, David had showed up in Gath, seeking refuge from Achish, the king of the Philistines. And it just so happened that David was carrying the sword of Goliath, the Philistine champion he had defeated in battle. When the Philistine officers questioned the wisdom of providing sanctuary to David, and hinted to the king that he would be better off dead, David feigned madness and “pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard” (1 Samuel 21:13 NLT). Unwilling to kill a lunatic, Achish let David escape with his life.

And now, here was David, once again, seeking to find refuge among the Philistines. His doubt and fear clouded his thinking and, evidently, erased his memory of what had happened the last time he attempted to use this particular strategy.

This time, David was welcomed by Achish with open arms and even given his own city, Ziklag, within the territory of the Philistines. David relocated his 600 men, along with their families, to their new base complete with houses, walls, and protection from Saul. This would have been a welcome upgrade from the caves in which they had been hiding for so long.

While living in the land of the Philistines, David employed a strategy that allowed him to go out and attack the enemies of Israel, of which there were many. The text mentions the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. All of these nations occupied the land of Canaan and were part of the people groups that God had commanded Joshua and the people of Israel to completely remove from the land when they occupied it. But they had failed to do so. Over and over again, in the book of Joshua, we read of the Israelites’ failure to fully obey the command of God.

But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. – Joshua 15:63 ESV

However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor. – Joshua 16:10 ESV

Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Joshua 17:12 ESV

Their unwillingness or inability to drive out the inhabitants of the land would leave them with a constant threat of war and the potential for idolatry. These nations would prove to be a constant source of temptation and trouble. So David used his new headquarters in Ziklag as an outpost from which he sent raiding parties against the enemies of Israel. And his strategy included the complete annihilation of every man, woman and child, so that no one could tell Achish what he was up to. In fact, David would leave Achish with the impression that he was actually fighting the enemies of the Philistines, falsely reporting the locations of his raids.

When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” – 1 Samuel 27:10 ESV

So what do we do with all of this? David appears to have gone to the land of the Philistines without God’s permission. Yet, while he was there, he continued to fight the enemies of Israel, clearing the Promised Land of the nations that Joshua and the people of Israel had failed to remove. But in order to do what he did, David had to lie to King Achish. Everything he did while living in Ziklag was based on subterfuge and deception. So was he in the will of God? Was he doing what God would have him do? The text doesn’t provide us with an answer. But in the very next chapter we’ll see that David’s plan was going to eventually place him in a very difficult position. It would seem that David’s decision to seek refuge among the Philistines was not the will of God, but it did not thwart or derail the plan of God. The Proverbs have much to say about our plans and God’s will.

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way? – Proverbs 20:24 NLT

The prophet, Jeremiah, prayed these powerful, self-disclosing words to the Lord:

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. – Jeremiah 10:23-24 ESV

Years later, even David would pen these words:

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand. – Psalm 37:23-24 NLT

We can’t thwart God’s plan, but we can certainly cause ourselves a great deal of pain and suffering when we attempt to circumvent his plan with our own. We can complicate our lives by introducing detours into His divine will for our lives. Abraham and Sarah came up with the great idea to use Hagar as a means to fulfill God’s promise to give them a child. But in doing so, they were trying to do God’s will man’s way. Saul tried to seek God’s aid by offering sacrifices to him. But he failed to do it God’s way, instead taking on the role of the priest himself and bringing down God’s wrath rather than His blessing. Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling God’s will that He die, by forbidding Him to do so. But Jesus accused him of siding with the enemy, seeking the will of Satan rather than that of God.

We must be very careful to keep our wills from taking precedence over that of God. It is not that we can stop what He has planned, but we can certainly make more difficult the path He has laid our for us. Like a driver who refuses to use his GPS, we can wander off the path and find ourselves seemingly lost and delayed in our journey, but God continues to recalculate our way, providing us with another way to reach the destination He has in store for us. Thankfully, many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson