Whom Will You Trust?

1 In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

And the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” thus says the Lord God:

“‘It shall not stand,
    and it shall not come to pass.
For the head of Syria is Damascus,
    and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
And within sixty-five years
    Ephraim will be shattered from being a people.
And the head of Ephraim is Samaria,
    and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you are not firm in faith,
    you will not be firm at all.’” – Isaiah 7:1-9 ESV

This section of chapter seven sets up a long discourse regarding the lack of faith among the people of Judah, and it began at the top, with their king. Isaiah summarizes the situation, mirroring the words found in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28.

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:1-4 ESV

Ahaz was a wicked king who proved unfaithful to Yahweh. And, through his leadership, he led the people of Judah to practice all kinds of idolatry. In doing so, he emulated the actions of the northern kingdom of Israel, where they had long ago replaced Yahweh with their false gods.

It was the northern kingdom of Israel that made an alliance with Syria in hopes of mounting an attack against Judah. And when new of this plan reached the royal court in Judah, “the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm” (Isaiah 7:2 ESV). They were terrified.

So, God commanded Isaiah to deliver a message to Ahaz, and he was to take his son, Shearjashub (“a remnant shall return”), with him. It is not clear why God had Isaiah take his son, but it could be that the presence of this young boy was intended to help calm the fears of Ahaz. The message God gave Isaiah to deliver to Ahaz was simple and clear.

“Tell him to stop worrying. Tell him he doesn’t need to fear the fierce anger of those two burned-out embers, King Rezin of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah.” – Isaiah 7:4 NLT

After delivering God’s call to cease fearing, Isaiah was to provide Ahaz with insight into the plans of the kings of Syria and Israel.

“We will attack Judah and capture it for ourselves. Then we will install the son of Tabeel as Judah’s king.” – Isaiah 7:5 NLT

This two-fold message from God had to confuse and disturb Ahaz. How was he supposed to remain calm when two nations had allied against him and were planning to depose him? But this is where Ahaz had a choice to make. He could either look at his circumstances and lose hope, or he could look to God and trust Him. Which is why God had Isaiah provide Ahaz with a powerful assurance.

“This invasion will never happen; it will never take place.” – Isaiah 7:6 NLT

While Ahaz saw the kings of Israel and Syria as formidable foes and a real threat, God describes them as nothing more than burned-out embers. Ahaz and the people of Judah had nothing to fear from these two nations. Their plans would come to nothing. God even exposes the limited sovereignty of the king of Syria. He was the head of a single capital (Damascus) in a solitary nation (Syria). He was nothing compared to the Almighty God who rules and reigns over all. And God went on to provide Ahaz a prophecy concerning Israel’s fate: “within sixty-five years it will be crushed and completely destroyed” (Isaiah 7:8 NLT). Within 13 years, Israel would fall to the Assyrians. And about 62 years after this conversation between Isaiah and Ahaz, the king of Assyria would begin relocating people from other conquered nations into the former land of Israel, making repopulation by the Israelites virtually impossible.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. – 2 Kings 17:24 NLT

God knew what was going to happen to Israel, so He let Ahaz know that the entire nation of Israel was no stronger than their king and, therefore, there was no reason for Ahaz and the people of Judah to fear.

This is where Ahaz was faced with a choice. Would he trust the word of God, delivered by the prophet of God? Or would he allow the circumstances surrounding him to overwhelm him with fear? From Ahaz’s perspective, the news of Syria and Israel’s plans to depose him were real and deserving of his concern. He was facing attack from two powerful enemies, and God had even confirmed their plans. But God had also told him that it would not happen. Their plans would not to nothing.

And sensing Ahaz’s fear and anxiety, Isaiah gave the king one more message from God.

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” – Isaiah 7:9 ESV

Ahaz was going to have to trust God. Essentially, God was warning Ahaz that without faith in Him, they would fall. Fear and faith are not meant to co-exist. The presence of fear in the life of a child of God is evidence of a lack of faith. It reveals a distrust of God and doubt regarding His power and His promises.

As Moses was nearing the end of his life and the people of Israel were preparing to enter the promised land, under the leadership of Joshua, he told the people:

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT

The circumstances facing the people of Israel were formidable and frightening. They were getting ready to enter a land filled with fortified cities protected by powerful armed forces. But Moses had told the people, “the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy the nations living there, and you will take possession of their land” (Deuteronomy 31:3 NLT). And they had a choice to make. Would they cross over, putting shoe leather to their faith? Or would they remain on the wrong side of the Jordan, giving evidence of their lack of trust in God?

Ahaz had a decision to make, and it was not an easy one. The threat was real. The fears were justified. But His God had spoken. He had the word of God Almighty assuring him that nothing was going to happen. But he was going to have to take God at His word and trust Him.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths. – Psalm 3:5-6 ESV

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

Contentment vs Covetousness.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6:25-34 ESV

If, as Jesus has suggested, we are supposed to be laying up treasures in heaven and not on earth, then why would we need to worry so much about the things of this earth? And if, as He has already pointed out, our hearts are to focus on heaven, where our treasure is, then the things of this earth should have far less appeal to us than they normally do. And yet, as followers of Christ, we find ourselves just as anxious about and attracted to the things of this earth as anyone else. We have financial concerns. We worry about how to pay the bills and how to put food on the table. We get anxious about everything from the brand of clothes we buy to where we’re going to take our next vacation. But Jesus reminds us “not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NLT). Those in Jesus’ audience that day were probably a lot more justified in worrying about these kinds of things. They were most likely common laborers, farmers, and fishermen. Their daily lives were marked by a constant struggle to provide food and decent clothes for their families. For the fishermen, the next catch was never a sure thing. For the farmer, his hard work preparing the soil and planting the crops was never a guarantee of a good harvest. He was at the mercy of the weather and the whims of nature. So, when Jesus tells them not to worry about life, it is as if He is telling them not to breathe. 

The real issue Jesus seems to be addressing here is faith or the lack of it. He even refers to them as “you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30). Their worry and anxiety reveals their lack of trust in God. Part of their problem was that they were putting all their stock in the things of this earth. They were consumed by worry over things. Their “treasure” was not in heaven, but on this earth. They were expecting all of God’s blessings here and now, in the form of earthly treasures. But they weren’t even trusting Him to provide those things. They worked for them and worried about them. They struggled to provide for themselves, rather than trusting God to give them what they needed. And like so many of us today, they believed the solution to their problems was always more money. And yet, Jesus told them, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24 ESV). In their culture, money was a sign of God’s blessing. It was tangible proof that you were approved by God. But Jesus is telling them something quite different. Followers of God are to put their trust in God. They are to turn to Him for their needs, whether it be clothes or food. While God may choose to provide money as a means to meet those needs, money is not to be seen as our savior. God alone provides what we need. He may choose to bless us with little or with much. He may determine that our needs are far less than we believed them to be. The clothes God provides for us may not be the brands or styles we prefer. But if our real worry is about being clothed, that shouldn’t matter to us. The problem seems to be that our worry revolves around status, not survival. Few of us are anxious about where we are going to get out next meal. But we do get concerned about how many times per week we get to eat out. Our worry is not about putting food on the table, but about the quality of life we desire.

Our constant worry about things reveals our lack of faith in God. It also exposes our love affair with the things of this earth. Too often, we seek our satisfaction in things. We attempt to find our self-worth in the quantity and quality of our possessions. Our houses, clothes, and cars become outward symbols of our status. And yet, Jesus would ask why we worry about all those things. He would want to know why we don’t trust God to meet our needs. God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers in the field, so what are we so worried about? Jesus even reminds us that thoughts of food and clothing “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matthew 6:32 NLT). God knows our needs. So, maybe the problem is that we need to ask God what it is we really need. We have our list of needs and He has His. We bring ours to Him and demand that He provide all that we ask for. And when He doesn’t, we get concerned and, sometimes, even angry. We wonder why He doesn’t love us, why He doesn’t provide for us. But too often, we have turned wants into needs. We have allowed our love for the things of this earth to replace our love for God and our faith in Him. We measure His goodness based on what we believe to be His generosity. The more He gives us, the more we think He loves us. But Jesus reminds us that God promises to meet our needs. And our attitude should be like that of Paul:

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Contentment versus covetousness. That’s the problem. We must learn to trust God, to put our faith in Him, knowing that He loves us and has His best in store for us. God has promised to meet our needs. And He has also assured us that our greatest treasure is laid up for us in heaven, not on this earth. We are citizens of another kingdom. This world is not our home. And the things of this earth that we spend so much time coveting and worrying about will not last. They will rust, decay, and fall apart. They are temporal. They are the things the unbelievers seek and desire. But for children of God, our treasure is to be elsewhere. Our trust is to be in something other than the things of this earth. We are to trust Him – for everything. Which is why Jesus tells us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). We are to seek His kingdom, not our own. We are to seek His brand of righteousness, as made available through faith in Christ. The quantity of our treasures on earth is not an indicator of our right standing with God. The number of material blessings we seem to enjoy on this earth should not make us think we are somehow blessed by God. Our treasures are in heaven. Our hope is in God. And our faith is strong because our God is faithful.

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

That Didn’t Take Long.

10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. 11 And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” 12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.

13 Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, 14 and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. 15 And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? 17 Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, 18 that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. 19 But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.’”

21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance. 24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord. 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”

30 When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the Lord. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”

32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. 34 The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”  Joshua 22:10-34 ESV

Now that the major portion of the fighting was over and the tribes of Israel had been awarded their respective land allotments, Joshua blessed and dismissed the three tribes that had been given land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, along with half the tribe of Manasseh, had requested to settle in the land of Gilead. But they had agreed to help the rest of the tribes conquer and possess the land of Canaan, and now that they had kept their commitment, Joshua was allowing them to return home. But not without a warning to remain faithful to Yahweh.

 

“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” – Joshua 22:5 ESV

But almost immediately after returning to their side of the Jordan River, the natural boundary that separated them from the rest of the tribes of Israel, the trouble began. They made a fateful decision to build an altar to God, “an altar of imposing size” according to the text. But when the rest of the tribes heard about it, they jumped to a very wrong conclusion. They assumed that the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had decided to abandon Yahweh for the gods of the Canaanites, in direct violation of God’s command given to Moses.

10 But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:10-11 ESV

God had made it clear that they were to offer sacrifices to Him in one place only – a place that He alone would designate. And that place was Shiloh. There, the tabernacle had been set up and the altar erected. And only there were the people of Israel to offer sacrifices to God. That point had been made perfectly clear by Moses.

13 Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, 14 but at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you. – Deuteronomy 12:13-14 ESV

So, the tribes west of the Jordan jumped to the conclusion that their three fellow tribes had broken faith with God and had erected an altar to a false god. Either that, or they had built an altar other than the one in Shiloh and were planning on making their own offerings and sacrifices, in direct violation of God’s prohibition against doing so. This was a communications disaster that was quickly turning into a potential civil war. Those tribes west of the Jordan assumed the worst and assembled to do battle with their brothers on the other side of the river. They were driven by the fear of what God would do if they allowed this sin to take place without taking steps to deal with it. They could still recall the sin of Achan and how his decision to disobey the command of God had brought defeat to the entire nation. They knew that God took disobedience to His law quite seriously and that individual sin had corporate consequences. And if three out of the 12 tribes chose to disobey God’s command, they would all end up suffering for it. So, they acted – probably a bit hastily and without getting their facts straight.

Again, they were operating in fear, based on what they knew to be God’s will regarding idolatry and His hatred for it. Moses had given them specific instructions about how to handle those who worshiped false gods.

12 “If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to dwell there, 13 that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, 15 you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword. 16 You shall gather all its spoil into the midst of its open square and burn the city and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall be a heap forever. It shall not be built again. – Deuteronomy 13:12-16 ESV

So, when they heard that the three tribes west of the Jordan had built an impressive altar, they wasted no time, gathering all the people together at Shiloh in preparation for an assault on their unfaithful brothers. But prior to marching into Gilead, they sent a delegation, made up of “Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel” (Joshua 22:13-14 ESV). And, upon arrival in Gilead, these men wasted no time in stating their accusation against the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.

What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? – Joshua 22:16 ESV

They made it clear that they saw the actions of the three tribes as a breach of faith and an act of sin worthy of death. They assumed their brothers had been tempted by the unclean practices of the pagans living in the land of Gilead and begged them to consider moving over the Jordan and finding land among the rest of the tribes. They were asking them to repent and return to the Lord.

But the people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh were shocked and appalled at what they heard. They were dumbstruck by the accusations of Phinehas and his fellow delegates. It was all a huge misunderstanding. They had not erected an altar to false gods. And the altar they had built was not for the purpose of offering sacrifices. It had been constructed as a memorial or reminder or, as they put it, as “a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings” (Joshua 22:27 ESV). They feared that the natural boundary of the Jordan would end up becoming a relational barrier between themselves and the other tribes. In time, they speculated, their brothers west of the Jordan would see them as outsiders and bar them from worship at the tabernacle in Shiloh. So, they constructed the altar as a reminder to the generations to come, that they too were Yahweh worshipers. They had never intended to offer sacrifices on this altar. Their clearly articulated their purpose behind building the altar.

“Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.” – Joshua 22:28 ESV

A civil war was avoided and a disaster averted. The truth was revealed and all were able to rejoice in the fact that they worshiped the same God. The three tribes ended up calling the altar, “Witness” because “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.” They shared a common love for and faith in God. The river may have separated them physically, but they were linked by their belief in Yahweh. And while idolatry would remain a constant threat for each of the tribes of Israel, on this occasion, it had been a huge misunderstanding. People jumped to conclusions. Fear got the best of Joshua and the people of Israel. They assumed the worst, but thankfully, they were prevented from acting on their false assumptions and sought the truth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Abandoned Hope.

1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. Acts 27:1-20 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Back in chapter 19, Luke reported that Paul had been compelled by the Spirit of God to visit Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. Paul was constantly receiving input from the Spirit, providing him with direction and even preventing him from going to certain places. His ministry was motivated by his desire to obey the commission given to him by Jesus, but it was directed by the Holy Spirit. In chapter 16, Luke records just such an occasion.

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. – Acts 16:6-7 NLT

And somewhere along the way, Paul had been given what had to have been a Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome. Acts 19:21 reports Paul’s impassioned statement: “I must go on to Rome!” And now, after his hearing before King Agrippa and Festus, he was on his way. But this journey was not going to be an easy one. He was still a prisoner and he was on his way to stand trial before the emperor of Rome, still facing charges that could result in his death. Nothing about this phase of Paul’s life was easy or trouble-free. It seems that with every step he took, the difficulties increased in number and intensity. And yet, he was innocent of any wrong-doing, a fact with which both the governor and the king concurred.

Luke spends a great deal of time chronicling this portion of Paul’s life. He provides a lot of detail, describing each phase of Paul’s journey to Rome with what appears to be keen interest. But why? It seems that Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was trying to show that Paul’s desire to go to Rome, while Spirit-inspired, was not a guarantee of a trouble-free journey. God was sovereign and orchestrating each step of Paul’s trip to Rome, but that did not exempt Paul from difficulties or trials along the way. Paul’s confrontation with the Jews in the temple courtyard and eventual arrest by the Romans, had stretched into more than a two-year delay. He had been moved to Caesarea for a hearing before Governor Felix, but had remained in confinement when Felix found himself unable to arrive at a decision as to Paul’s fate. And Paul had remained there for two years, until Felix had been replaced by Festus. It was to Festus that Paul had demanded a trial before Caesar and now, he was on his way.

The beatings, imprisonment, false accusations, threats, and plots against his life had just been the beginning. His trip to Rome was going to prove equally as intense and full of inexplicable trials and tests. But it is essential that we read this account as Luke intended it to be read: With a knowledge that God is in control. None of the events described in this chapter happened outside the sovereign will of God. And no one understood that better than Paul himself. We must give careful consideration to the attitude and actions displayed by Paul throughout this story. There was no sense of panic or fear. At no time does Paul seem to consider the troubles surrounding his life as an indication that he was somehow out of God’s will for his life. From the moment he stepped foot on the ship to the day he arrived in Rome, Paul was content and at peace with the knowledge that his life was in God’s hands.

In verse four, Luke gives a short, but telling glimpse into what was to come: “…the winds were against us.” The entire journey will appear to be marked by a supernatural, spiritual-based conflict. There is little doubt that much of what Luke describes is meant to convey the battle taking place in the heavenly realms, as Paul himself described it. 

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was being led by God, but being opposed by Satan every step of the way. Luke does not provide us with a step-by-step description or blow-by-blow account of how this battle unfolded. He does not attribute the storm to Satan. He doesn’t even mention him. But his narrative provides us with a foreboding sense of the spiritual warfare going on behind the scenes.

We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. – Acts 27:7 NLT

Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens… – Acts 27:8 NLT

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous – Acts 27:9 NLT

Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” – Acts 27:9-10 NLT

…soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. – Acts 27:14 NLT

we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat – Acts 27:16 NLT

fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. – Acts 27:17 NLT

Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. – Acts 27:18 NLT

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. – Acts 27:20 NLT

All hope was abandoned. Or was it? There was at least one man on the boat who seemed to know that there was still hope, because there was still a God who had all things in His hands and under His control. Nowhere does Paul express fear that he had been abandoned by God. He did not view the storm as a sign that God was punishing him or somehow preventing him from arriving in Rome. His Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome had not diminished. And as we will see in the next section of verses, God will provide Paul with clear confirmation that he will make it to his final destination without the loss of a single life. The storm was going to prove no match for God. And Julius, the Augustan Cohort in charge of delivering Paul to Rome; Aristarchus, the Macedonian traveling with Paul; and all the sailors on the ship, were going to get a first-hand display of the power of God. They may have lost hope, but Paul hadn’t. They may have feared for their lives, but Paul had an assurance from God that not a single life would be lost. Paul was headed to Rome. The winds would blow, the waves would crash, the boat would sink, the sailors would panic, but Paul would rest in the sovereign hand of God. His faith was in his God. His eyes were on the One who had called and commissioned him, not on the storms of life. And this story brings to mind a similar scene from the life of Jesus, when He and His disciples encountered a storm while sailing on the Sea of Galilee.

37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:37-40 NLT

Paul experienced the same storm the sailors did, but without fear. Paul had faith. He trusted God. And it seems that Luke is silently asking us whether we will do the same.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

What Will You Do?

 

Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then is Adonijah king?’ Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”

So Bathsheba went to the king in his chamber (now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was attending to the king). Bathsheba bowed and paid homage to the king, and the king said, “What do you desire?” She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it. He has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited. And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders.”

While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. And they told the king, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground. And Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? For he has gone down this day and has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest. And behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he has not invited. Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not told your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” – 1 Kings 1:11-27 ESV

David is old and bed-ridden. His days on this earth are numbered and, once again, one of his own sons is plotting to take his kingdom from him. When David should be enjoying his final days in peace and quiet, he is suddenly confronted with yet another looming disaster. Until he breathes his final breath, David is still the king of Israel and he must deal with the situation facing his kingdom and protect the right of his son, Solomon, to rule in his place. But the only problem is that David knows nothing about what is going on. He is oblivious to the danger facing the kingdom. He is safely ensconsed in his bed within his royal chamber, being cared for by Abishag the Shunammite. He is completely unaware of the actions of Adonijah, Abiathar and Joab. But Nathan the prophet is on top of all that is going on and sends Bathsheba, David’s wife and the mother of Solomon, to inform David of the gravity of the situation.

One of the problems seems to be that David had made no preparations for his succession. It would appear that Adonijah, as the oldest living son (his three older siblings had all died), assumed that he was the legitimate heir to the throne. He was simply taking advantage of David’s old age and speeding up the transition process. But God had clearly told David that Solomon would be his successor.

“But you will have a son who will be a man of peace. I will give him peace with his enemies in all the surrounding lands. His name will be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel during his reign. He is the one who will build a Temple to honor my name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will secure the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.” – 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 ESV

And yet, it seems that David had done nothing to ensure that the transition of power to Solomon would take place. Once again, his inaction had produced some very negative consequences, and could even result in the death of Solomon, should Adonijah’s coup succeed. So Nathan sent Bathsheba to David, encouraging her to prompt him to take action. And she did just that. She not only informed him of what was going on, but warned him that all the eyes of Israel were on him. He was being watched and the people were waiting to see what he would do. Despite his old age, David was going to have to take action. What he did next was going to secure the future of his kingdom and that of his son, or seal Solomon’s fate.

Nathan saw the gravity of the situation and told Bathsheba, “let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon” (1 Kings 1:12 ESV). He knew there was no time to waste. Something had to be done and David was the one who had to do it. But he would need prompting and support. So Bathsheba’s job was to bring David up to speed and to beg him to do something about the situation. Then Nathan was to come in and corroborate her story and provide much-needed counsel to David. He was also to act as a second witness to anything David decreed in their presence.

Bathsheba was blunt with David. This was not a time for pleasantries and politeness. She knew that her son’s life was in danger. She even reminded David, “If you do not act, my son Solomon and I will be treated as criminals as soon as my lord the king has died” (1 Kings 1:21 NLT). And she was not going to leave David’s side until he took action. So, she boldly challenged him, saying,  “And now, my lord the king, all Israel is waiting for you to announce who will become king after you” (1 Kings 1:20 NLT). There was no time to waste. Inaction was not an option. And just as planned, Nathan followed Bathsheba into the king’s presence, confirming her words and challenging David to do something about this dire situation. The entire nation was waiting on pins and needles, wondering what David would do. A line had been drawn in the sand. Sides had been chosen. Adonijah had put together his team and secured what he thought to be his future. The only one who is conspicuously absent from this whole affair is Solomon himself. He had not been invited to Adonijah’s feast with all their other brothers, for obvious reasons. But he was also not present when Bathsheba and Nathan met with David. His fate was in their hands. His future and that of his kingdom was completely in the hands of his father. He would have to trust that his father would do the right thing. Solomon was at the mercy of David. He does not appear anywhere in the passage. He doesn’t show up, begging David to keep his word and give him the kingdom God had promised him. Perhaps Solomon was not aware of the word that God had spoken to David. But we will see in the next section of this chapter, that Bathsheba knew, and it is doubtful that she kept this news from Solomon. He most likely knew that he was the God-appointed successor to the throne, but he was not demanding his rights or whining about his fate. He had to have known what Adonijah was up to and that all of his brothers were at the feast, enjoying Adonijah’s hospitality and shouting along with all the other guests, “Long live King Adonijah!” (1 Kings 1:25 ESV). But Solomon simply waited in the wings. Like all the rest of the people of Israel, his eyes were on David. What would he do? How would he respond?

So often, we can find ourselves in similar, if not quite as dire, circumstances. We can come to a place where a decision is required, an important, potentially life-altering decision. And others are watching us to see what we will do. Perhaps our family is waiting on us to act, wondering how we will respond. Maybe our co-workers are anxiously watching to see how we will handle a difficult situation in the workplace. There are always others watching us, depending upon us to do the right thing, to make the right decision, and to give them peace and confidence that we can be trusted. Even the world is watching us. The church of Jesus Christ is to be salt and light in the midst of all the decay and darkness surrounding it. As the secular world presses in and the enemy continues his assault on the will and the ways of God, the world is watching to see how the church will respond. Will we do nothing? Will we be marked by inaction and complacency? Are we confident enough in the Word of God that we will confidently take our stand against all the forces lined up against us? What David did next was a matter of life and death. The future of his kingdom and that of his son were at stake. All eyes were on him. What would he do? But what about us? The world is watching and waiting to see what we will do?

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

When God’s Will Is Unclear.

And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” And the king’s servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house.

And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king. Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him. And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.

And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city. Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.” The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Go back to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there. – 2 Samuel 15:13-29 ESV

It is difficult to read this text and not wonder why David, when he heard news of Absalom’s coup, simply abandoned the city and refused to put up a fight? What would have caused the king to give up his kingdom so quickly and easily? Was he giving up or just relocating his seat of government in case Absalom attacked the capital? Many of these questions will remain unanswered because the text doesn’t tell us. When David received the report, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom” (2 Samuel 15:13 ESV), he showed no surprise. It is as if he had seen it coming. As obtuse as he could be at times, David wasn’t completely oblivious to Absalom’s plans. And just as the people of Israel had switched their allegiance from Saul to David years before, he saw it happening again. This time it was his son who had won the hearts of the people. So David abandoned the capital, perhaps to prevent it from facing destruction in the event of a war.

But there is a certain degree of resignation in David’s words recorded in this passage. It was not as if he viewed this whole affair as a bump in the road. When he spoke to Ittai, the leader of the men from Gath, David told him, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go” (2 Samuel 15:19-20 NLT). Those don’t sound like the words of an optimistic man. He was already referring to Absalom as king. His abdication of the throne was a done deal. And he had no idea where he was going or what he was going to do. The only indication that he had hopes of one day returning are the fact that he left ten of his concubines to maintain the palace for him. But everyone else left. For the second time in his life, David found himself running for his life, but this time he was not alone. He had followers and loyal subjects. Even 600 Philistine soldiers who had followed him from Gath and pledged themselves to his service, refused to abandon him in his time of need. And as David and his retinue left the city, “Everyone cried loudly as the king and his followers passed by” (2 Samuel 15:23 NLT). He still had loyal subjects. Not everyone had turned against him, but it seems that he knew that Absalom’s smear campaign against him had been successful. He was forced to give up his kingdom without a fight. 

And as David left, the Levites attempted to bring the Ark of the Covenant along. But David refused to let them do so. He allowed them to offer sacrifices, but demanded that the Ark be returned to the city. It is at this point that we get a small glimpse of David’s hope that he might one day return, but it is accompanied by a certain degree of doubt.

If the Lord sees fit,” David said, “he will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle again. But if he is through with me, then let him do what seems best to him.”  – 2 Samuel 15:25-26 NLT

David had no idea what was going to happen. He had evidently received no word from God regarding the outcome of these events. As far as David knew, his kingship could be over or this could be yet another difficult reversal of fortune that God would one day remedy. But we see reflected in David’s words his reliance upon God. His return to Jerusalem would have to be God’s will, if it was going to happen. If God had determined to replace David with Absalom, there was nothing David could do about it. If David had learned anything from his years of running from Saul, it was that all of Saul’s efforts to kill David were a waste of time, because God’s will that David be king was irrevocable and unstoppable. So, if it was God’s will to make Absalom king, David knew it would be useless to try and stand against it. David was willing to trust God. If God was through with him, so be it. If God wanted to return him to power, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, including Absalom.

The hearts of the people could be fickle. The nation of Israel was still a loosely held together confederation of independently minded tribes. Each was out for its own best interests. David’s construction projects in his new capital did nothing to line their pockets. His moving of the Ark to Jerusalem had made some angry. His building of a fancy palace had made others jealous. His affair with Bathsheba had caused many to doubt his competence to be king. Absalom had raised serious doubts about David’s leadership capabilities and undermined his reputation as a just and caring king. The tribes of Israel were quick to change sides and seek out their own selfish agendas. But David knew he could trust God. No matter what happened, he knew God was faithful. God’s will might not be crystal clear, but His character was unquestionable. God might not be telling David what the future held, but David had no doubt that God held the future. So, he would trust God. When God’s will is unclear, it requires that we trust Him. When His plans appear uncertain, it demands that we wait patiently for Him to show us what He will do or what He would have us do. Life can be filled with dark days and moments of uncertainty, but one thing is always certain: God is in control at all times. He knows what is happening and He also knows how He is going to use what appears to be the worst days of our lives to accomplish something for our good and His glory.

 

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

Temporary Insanity.

And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”

And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” – 1 Samuel 21:10-15 ESV

The question that should immediately come into your mind when reading these verses is, “What was David thinking?” There seems to be nothing rational or logical in his behavior. Why in the world would David, the very man who killed Goliath, who was from Gath, choose to seek refuge in Gath, and while carrying the sword that once belonged to Goliath? What kind of flawed logic did David use to think that he would be welcomed with open arms? After all, it was David who, in an act of over-achievement, killed 200 Philistines in order to obtain the 100 foreskins Saul had demanded as a dowry for his daughter, Michal. It was David who had served as a commander in Saul’s forces and had won great victories over the Philistines. So what would possess him to think they would provide him with refuge? From what we know of David’s faithfulness to God and his hatred of the enemies of God, it seems quite unlikely that David had gone to Gath to offer his services as a warrior to king Achish. In other words, David was not considering switching sides and fighting for the Philistines against his own people. So why did he go? The text does not tell us. We can only conjecture that David was desperate to get away from Saul and any troops that may be out to seek him. He knew that the last place Saul would look for him was in the land of the Philistines. But David didn’t think his strategy through all the way. He made a rash decision, under duress, and now found himself in a very dangerous spot.

The Philistines immediately recognized David. It’s interesting to note that they referred to David as “the king of the land” (1 Samuel 21:11 ESV). They had heard about the songs sung about David, that celebrated his military exploits and lauded him as greater than Saul. It is doubtful that they had heard about David’s anointing, but they most likely viewed David as the true leader of the Israelites. At the affair in the Valley of Elah, Goliath had challenged Saul and his men to send a champion to face him in hand-to-hand combat, but no one would step forward. Day after day he taunted them, but Saul remained in the background, afraid to take up the challenge and take on Goliath. At that moment, the Philistines most likely lost all respect for Saul as a king, and when David ended up slaying Goliath, they saw him as the true king of Israel. But whatever the case, they knew that the man standing before them was an enemy and a threat.

The text rather of matter-of-factly states, “And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath” (1 Samuel 21:12 ESV). It was as if David woke up from a bad dream and realized the gravity of his situation. The stupidity of his decision to go to Gath suddenly dawned on him and he was “much afraid.” He was petrified, terrified, and mortified that he had ever come up with this doomed plan in the first place. So, finding himself in a jam, David resorted to deceit. Here was the man who had killed Goliath, defeated hundreds of Philistines in battle, slaughtered 200 Philistines just to pay the dowry for his wife, and who was carrying the sword of his Goliath in his hand, and yet he chose to feign madness rather than trust God and fight his enemies. David somehow forgot all about his anointing and the fact that God had been by his side during all the conflicts of his life. The young man who once shouted, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:27 ESV), and then took the life of Goliath with nothing more than a sling and a stone, was now so fearful in the face of his enemies, that he resorted to acting like a madman. The Message paraphrases verse 13 this way: “So right there, while they were looking at him, he pretended to go crazy, pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard.”

What a scene. What a sad situation for the future king of Israel to find himself in. This is the same David who would later write:

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me. – Psalm 144:1-2 ESV

He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
– Psalm 18:34 ESV

This ill-timed, poorly conceived plan of David would be used by God to teach His young king-in-waiting an invaluable lesson in faith. David would learn, in the future, to place his trust in God rather than his own rash plans and flawed attempts at self-preservation. David would escape with his life, if not his dignity. He would not forget that day. In fact, he ended up penning the words of Psalm 34 as a result of this encounter with King Achish.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
    He freed me from all my fears.
– Psalm 34:4 NLT

In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
    he saved me from all my troubles.Psalm 34:6 NLT

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
    He rescues them from all their troubles. – Psalm 34:17 NLT

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous;
    not one of them is broken! – Psalm 34:19-20 NLT

It is interesting to read these statements in light of what actually happened that day. There is no indication that God intervened. David didn’t take the sword of Goliath and slaughter King Achish and all his soldiers. There was no lightning bolt from heaven that struck down the Philistines and allowed David to walk away safe and secure. There is no mention of any miraculous intervention on God’s part. What really happened was that David resorted to acting like a madman, complete with drool dripping from his beard. Faced with the prospect of death, David had taken matters into his own hands and escaped with his life because he was willing to throw away any sense of pride or dignity he had. And yet, when looking back on that day, David saw his rescue as having come from God. In spite of his actions, God had rescued him. While he had run from the land of God to the land of the enemies of God had remained with him. Even at one of his worst moments, God had not abandoned him. Regardless of how badly David’s poor attempt at self-preservation had turned out, God is the one who rescued David from himself. And that is what God does for His own. God had said David would be the next king of Israel, and he would be. Even David, at his worst moment, couldn’t screw up God’s plan. He could make things harder on himself, but nothing he did would make it too hard for God to fulfill His divine plan for him. Even our bouts of temporary insanity cannot prevent the future fulfillment of God’s plans for us.

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

Riches Versus Reproach.

Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.” And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”

Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before. – 1 Samuel 17:19-30 ESV

For 40 days, the Israelite and Philistine armies had been a standoff, as each day the Philistine champion, Goliath made his way to the front lines and taunted the Israelites to send out their challenger. He continued to propose a simple solution to their conflict: A man-t0-man fight between the greatest Israelite warrior and himself. The only problem was that the Israelites, should they agree to his conditions and their champion lose, would become the slaves of the Philistines. Oh, and then there was the other problem that Goliath just happened to be huge. Based on the numbers in the text, he would have been over nine feet tall. Samuel, the author of the book, spends a great deal of time providing details regarding Goliath’s vitals.

He was over nine feet tall! He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield. – 1 Samuel 17:4-7 NLT

While there is debate over the validity of the numbers involved in Samuel’s description and doubt among some theologians as to the exact height of Goliath, it is safe to say that he was most likely a very large individual and a formidable foe. Each and every time he stood before the Israelites and issued his challenge, they reacted in the same way: “All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid” (1 Samuel 17:24 ESV).

David arrived on the scene just in time to witness this daily event, and he was shocked. When he asked those around him what was going on, he was informed that there had been a reward issued by King Saul for the man who would dare stand against Goliath and defeat him.

The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes! – 1 Samuel 17:25 NLT

Talk about incentive. But no one was taking Saul up on his offer. While the reward was great, it had proved not enough incentive to entice anyone to risk life and limb against Goliath. But David saw things a bit differently. The riches offered by the king were secondary to him. The real issue was the honor of Israel and, by extension, God’s reputation.

What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? – 1 Samuel 17:26 NLT

They were the people of God. They had God Almighty on their side. David could not believe that they could stand there day after day and allow this uncircumcised pagan to taunt them and their God. Their fear was proof of their lack of faith in God. Their failure to fight was evidence of their limited view of God.

But there is an interesting thing going on in this scene that can be easily overlooked. The men who were part of the armies of Israel were there unwillingly. They had been conscripted by Saul. He had formed his armies by enforcing a mandatory draft. And God had warned the Israelites that this was going to happen when they had demanded that He give them king just like all the other nations. In giving them exactly what they asked for, God had told the Israelites:

“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-13 NLT

Even Goliath recognized what was going on. When he issued his challenge, he was very specific in how he addressed the troops of Israel.

“Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul.” – 1 Samuel 17:8 NLT

In questioning why they were all there, Goliath was appealing to their own feelings of regret and anger at having to be forced into the king’s service. These were not professional soldiers. And Goliath refers to them as “servants” of Saul. The Hebrew word he used is `ebed and it was commonly used to refer to one who was the slave of another. His use of this word was intended to cause the Israelites to turn on Saul, their commander, and to force him to step up and do what needed to be done. This was his battle, not theirs. And in demanding that the Israelites choose one man to come out and fight him, he was actually challenging Saul. And Saul knew full well that the daily taunts of Goliath were aimed at him. Which will explain why Saul will attempt to get David to wear his armor when he goes out to face Goliath. In the off chance that David should win, it might appear that Goliath was defeated by Saul. And if David should lose, it left Saul without his armor and free to blend into the troops when the Philistine came to find him.

But even Saul could find no incentive to face the giant, Goliath. His own personal reputation was not enough to make him risk life and limb by standing up to the Philistine champion. Even Eliab, David’s oldest brother, was angered to see him there. He jumped all over David, accusing him of neglecting the flocks and his duties just so he could witness the battle. But Eliab’s emotional outburst was most likely driven by the embarrassment he felt at his own fear and failure to face the champion. His youngest brother was witnessing his own spinelessness firsthand. But even this was not enough to make Eliab step forward and face Goliath. From the king down to the cooks, no one was willing to fight Goliath. No one could find the motivation to do what appeared to be the impossible. But David would. And his motivation would not be the reward offered by Saul, but the reproach issued by this uncircumcised Philistine, this enemy of the armies of the living God.

David’s view of God as alive and active would become a recurring theme in his psalms. His God was not distant and disconnected from everyday life, but actively involved.

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation. – Psalm 18:46 ESV

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. – Psalm 42:2 ESV

David’s God was living, not dead. His God was active, not absent. His God’s power was greater than that of the Philistines or even that of their champion. David was about to prove that what was missing in this scenario was not a powerful man to defeat Goliath, but a faithful man who believed in the power of God.

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.

When the Least-Expected Does the Unexpected.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.” – 1 Samuel 17:1-18 ESV

The exact timeline of the story of David can be a bit difficult to piece together. Samuel, who wrote the book that bears his name, seems to have been less interested in providing a precise chronological outline of David’s life than he was of highlighting the details of how he came to be king. A case is point is the reference to David found in chapter 16. It was made by one of King Saul’s servants when the king began to suffer the effects of the harmful spirit placed upon him by God.

Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” – 1 Samuel 16:18 ESV

He refers to David as a man of valor and a man of war. But the last reference we have of David is that of his anointing by Samuel. Immediately after that event, David is said to have returned to his sheep. And with David being the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, it is believed that he could have been no older than 15 at the time of his anointing by Samuel. So when did he become a man of valor and war? It would seem that some significant time has passed since David’s anointing – enough time for him to grow up and join the army of Israel. He must have gained some experience in battle to have earned the reputation as “a brave warrior, a man of war” (NLT). But regardless of how much time has passed, one thing remained unchanged about David: …the Lord was with him (1 Samuel 16:18). David had the Spirit of God resting upon him. He had the power and the presence of God available to him. His anointing with oil by Samuel made his selection by God to be Israel’s next king official, but it was his anointing with the Holy Spirit that would make him fit for the office of king.

It is interesting to note that when Saul sent for David, he was found back with the sheep. So whatever deeds of valor and bravery he had done must have been done on the side or as a result of his responsibilities as a shepherd. Later on in the story, David himself will recount to King Saul a few examples of his exploits in the field caring for the sheep. It seems that it wasn’t as safe an occupation as one might thing.

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears…” – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV

But back to our timeline. David had been hired by the king and given the responsibility to minister to Saul when he experienced the fits brought on by the “harmful spirit.” He was also made the king’s armor bearer. Which presents another interesting issue. When chapter 17 opens, the Israelites are preparing to do battle with the Philistines. And while King Saul is there with all his troops, David, his armor bearer, is not. He was at home tending the flocks. The text tells us that “David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:15 ESV). It seems that David was pulling double-duty, balancing the demands of a bi-vocational lifestyle that required him to split his time between his responsibilities as a shepherd of sheep and a servant to the king.

It is essential to keep in mind that, all during this time, David was the God-appointed and Holy Spirit-anointed successor to King Saul. And yet, here he was dividing his time between tending sheep and plucking out tunes on his lyre in order to calm the heart of the current king of Israel. Saul was still on the throne and tasked with the responsibility of defending the nation of Israel from their enemies. But he was ill-equipped for the job. He no longer enjoyed the anointing of God’s Spirit. He had all the physical attributes to make him “a brave warrior, a man of war,” but when Goliath challenged the armies of Israel to send out a champion to fight him, Saul and his troops were “dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11 ESV).

Samuel’s interest is not so much in establishing an exact chronology of the events as he is in creating a stark contrast between the warrior-king and the shepherd-servant. With the introduction into the story line of Goliath and the Philistines, Samuel reminds his readers that there is something far more significant going on here than just who will sit on the throne of Israel. This is about the future well-being of the people of God. The king of Israel was to be much more than a figure head. He was to be the leader of God’s people, providing them with physical protection and spiritual direction. He was to be a man after God’s own heart, who listened well, followed instructions obediently, and protected God’s people faithfully. Saul was tormented by a spirit that attacked him relentlessly, leaving him unable to do his job as king. Goliath represents a physical manifestation of that same spirit, tormenting the people of God and creating in them fear and dismay. They stood before their enemy leaderless and helpless. They had to suffer his daily taunts and jeers, unable to do anything about it. He demanded that they send one man who would be willing to face him a winner-takes-all match. But no one stepped forward. Nobody had the guts to face the Philistine champion and keep God’s people from becoming their slaves.

The stage was set. Saul, the king, stood immobilized and paralyzed by fear. But all of that was about to change, when the Lord’s anointed stepped onto the scene. David, the sheep-tending, lyre-playing, armor-bearing, food-delivering son of Jesse was about to provide an unforgettable lesson in faith and godly leadership. The least-expected was going to do the unexpected. The sheep-tender was about to become the giant-killer.

Lost Hope ≠ Lost Cause.

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. – Ruth 1:6-18 ESV

For Naomi, the wife of Elimelech, life had not been easy. She had followed her husband to Moab in order to escape a famine in the land of Judah. But then she was forced to stand back and watch as her husband and two sons died suddenly and prematurely. She was left alone with the two widowed wives of her sons. So it is not surprising to read the words she said to her daughrers-in-law: “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13b ESV). Naomi’s conclusion, based on all that had happened to her, was that God was afflicting her. This reflects her strong belief in the sovereignty and providence of God, but also reveals a poor understanding of the character of God. She could only see her suffering as a byproduct of God’s displeasure with her of His punishment of her for something she had done. In her current circumstance, she found it difficult to find any good coming out of what had happened. The only silver lining she could see was the fact that the famine had finally ended in Judah and she would be able to return home. But she would do so with little to no hope. She even begged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, remarry and start their lives over. She considered herself too old to remarry and had resigned herself to the fact that she would remain a widow for the rest of her life.

Naomi’s bitter and overly pessimistic outlook provides a striking illustration of how easy and quickly God-followers can find themselves living as practical atheists. Naomi obviously believed in God. She believed He was afflicting her, but she did not believe He was powerful enough to deliver her. In her mind, she was too old to get remarried and have more sons. Her child-bearing days were over. Had she forgotten the stories of Sarah and her barrenness? Was her God too powerless to find her a husband and provide for her more sons? Could her God not find husbands for Orpah and Ruth from among the men of Judah? Naomi was experiencing a crises of faith. She was having a hard time finding any good in her circumstances or placing any hope in her God. Every word she said to Orpah and Ruth reeked of resignation and resentment.

But Ruth, a Moabite and a pagan, provides us with a powerful testimony of faithfulness in the face of hopelessness. Ruth was not a God-follower, yet she exhibits godly characteristics that put Naomi to shame. Like Orpah, Ruth was young and had a long life ahead of her. It would have been relatively easy for her to find another husband and begin her life over. But unlike Orpah, Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law alone. She begged Ruth, saying:

Stop urging me to abandon you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you! – Ruth 1:16-17 NLT

Here was a non-believer in God, expressing more faith in Him than Naomi, one of His chosen people. Ruth was willing to become a God-follower and to place herself at the mercy of God, willingly accepting His judgment, if she failed to keep her promise to Naomi. Ruth, a descendant of Lot, was going to return to the land of promise. Generations earlier, Lot had chosen the “cities of the valley” and settled outside the land of Canaan. He had pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). Living by sight, he had chosen what appeared to be the best land. But Lot would go from living near Sodom to living in Sodom. And he would find himself running from Sodom, when God determined to destroy it for all the wickedness that took place within its walls. And it was not long after that event, that one of Lot’s daughters chose to have sex with him while he was drunk. And it was from that incestuous union that the Moabites were born. And yet, generations later, here was Ruth, a Moabite, pledging her allegiance to a daughter of Abraham and offering to leave her land and her people behind.

Ruth had no idea what the future held for her. She only knew that she felt a strong obligation to her mother-in-law and was not willing to let her return to Judah alone. Her faithful love for Naomi provides us with a vivid image of the lovingkindness of God. Earlier, Naomi had said, “May the Lord deal kindly with you…” (Ruth 1:8 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was checed and it refers to goodness, kindness, mercy and faithfulness. She was hoping that God would show mercy and kindness to her daughters-in-law, but she did not believe He would do so for herself. And yet, Ruth, a pagan, would show checed to Naomi by remaining with her, even to the point of death. Little did Naomi understand that this checed, shown to her by Ruth, was actually the checed of God. God was blessing Naomi through her unbelieving, Moabite daughter-in-law. And that blessing would have far-reaching implications that would last longer after Naomi disappeared from the scene.