Sovereign Over All

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Gaza,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they carried into exile a whole people
    to deliver them up to Edom.
So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
    and him who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
    and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,”
says the Lord God. Amos 1:6-8 ESV

The focus of God’s judgment now moves geographically south, to the nation of Philistia and Gaza, one of its major cities. Philistia was located on Israel’s southwestern border and had long been a source of conflict for the people of God. It is believed that the Philistines were originally a seagoing people who originated from region of Aegean, near the island of Crete. The name “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word Philistia. In Greek, the name is rendered as palaistinei, from which we get the modern name of “Palestine.” The Bible indicates that during the days of the prophet, Samuel, and the judge, Samson, the Philistines migrated from the Mediterranean coastline and settled five cities that operated as autonomous and independent kingdoms each having their own king or lord. These five cities comprised a loose confederation that called for joint military operations when facing their mutual enemies. And for nearly 200 years, the Philistines focused much of their attention and aggression on the people of God. Their use of iron weapons made them a formidable adversary, and it would not be until the reign of King David, that the Israelites had any real success in eliminating the Philistines as a threat.

In keeping with the pattern He established with Syria, God mentions four transgressions for which the Philistines are guilty. But, as before, He only elaborates on one of them. The truth is, God could have chosen from a long list of sins that the Philistines had committed against His people. But it’s important to remember that He had often used these very same people to punish the rebellious Israelites. The book of Judges reveals one such occasion.

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. – Judges 13:1 ESV

The prophet Samuel would later remind the people of Israel that God had allowed their enemies to defeat their ancestors because they had failed to remain faithful to Him.

“But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.” – 1 Samuel 12:9 ESV

Yet, God warns the Philistines that He will hold them accountable for their actions. They were guilty of having raided Israelite settlements and selling off the inhabitants as slaves to the Edomites. The prophet Joel elaborates on the egregious actions of the Philistines and other nations, warning that God would repay them for their mistreatment of the people of God.

“What do you have against me, Tyre and Sidon and you cities of Philistia? Are you trying to take revenge on me? If you are, then watch out! I will strike swiftly and pay you back for everything you have done. You have taken my silver and gold and all my precious treasures, and have carried them off to your pagan temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, so they could take them far from their homeland.” – Joel 3:4-6 NLT

During the reign of King Jehoram, God had sent the Philistines and Arabs against the southern kingdom of Judah, allowing them to plunder the temple, deport the royal household, and take many of the citizens of Jerusalem as captives, later selling them as slaves.

And the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabians who are near the Ethiopians. And they came up against Judah and invaded it and carried away all the possessions they found that belonged to the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, his youngest son. – 2 Chronicles 21:16-17 ESV

God’s problem with the Philistines was not that they harrassed and attacked the people of Israel. It was that they treated them them as little more than property to be sold. They showed God’s people no respect, devaluing them as persons, and using them as a means to line their own pockets. What the Philistines failed to recognize was that the Israelites were God’s chosen people. He had set them apart as His own chosen possession, and they were of great value and worth to Him. By mistreating and devaluing the people of Israel, the Philistines were guilty of dishonoring God. And they would pay dearly for their mistake.

Amos mentions four of the five Philistine cities, describing the judgment they would face for their crimes against God and His people.

“So I will send down fire on the walls of Gaza,
    and all its fortresses will be destroyed.
I will slaughter the people of Ashdod
    and destroy the king of Ashkelon.
Then I will turn to attack Ekron,
    and the few Philistines still left will be killed.” – Amos 1:7-8 NLT

God vows to avenge the treatment of His people. The fire that destroys the walls of Gaza will come from His hands. The slaughter of the people of Ashdod will be His doing. He will personally destroy the king of Ashkelon and attack the city of Ekron. In other words, God has taken the actions of the Philistines personally and, as a result, He will get personally involved in their destruction.

We know from the book of 2 Chronicles, that King Uzziah of Judah would partially fulfill this prophetic word from God.

Uzziah declared war on the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. Then he built new towns in the Ashdod area and in other parts of Philistia. God helped him in his wars against the Philistines, his battles with the Arabs of Gur, and his wars with the Meunites. – 2 Chronicles 26:6-7 NLT

Eventually, the Philistines would be completely wiped out by God. They would suffer humiliating losses to the Egyptians and later, to the Assyrians and Babylonians. Those who were not defeated or deported as slaves would simply be assimilated into the surrounding Canaanite culture. The prophet Jeremiah would later describe the utter annihilation of the Philistines by the sovereign hand of God Almighty.

“The time has come for the Philistines to be destroyed,
    along with their allies from Tyre and Sidon.
Yes, the Lord is destroying the remnant of the Philistines,
    those colonists from the island of Crete.
Gaza will be humiliated, its head shaved bald;
    Ashkelon will lie silent.
You remnant from the Mediterranean coast,
    how long will you cut yourselves in mourning?

“Now, O sword of the Lord,
    when will you be at rest again?
Go back into your sheath;
    rest and be still.

“But how can it be still
    when the Lord has sent it on a mission?
For the city of Ashkelon
    and the people living along the sea
    must be destroyed.” – Jeremiah 47:4-7 NLT

As Amos continues through his list of judgments against Israel’s enemies, it’s important to remember that the focus of his book is on the people of God. He will ultimately turn his attention to Judah, then Israel. But by beginning with the pagan nations that surrounded God’s chosen people, Amos is highlighting the sovereign power of God. All nations stand before Him as guilty and convicted, and none will go unpunished. Yahweh is the one true King who rules over the entire universe that He created.

The psalmist points out the real problem to which Amos is referring.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.” – Psalm 2:1-3 NLT

Ultimately, the Syrians and the Philistines were guilty of plotting against God. Their attacks on the people of God were nothing more than a veiled attempt to thwart the plan of God. And the psalmist goes on to describe how foolish and futile it is to oppose the will of God.

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.” – Psalm 2:4-6 NLT

Nations will come and go. Kingdoms will rise and fall. But the sovereign will of God remains unchanged. The Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians, Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites were no match for God Almighty. Their 15 minute of fame would come and go. But the Lord’s plans stand forever. He remains sovereign over all.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations
    and thwarts all their schemes.
But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever;
    his intentions can never be shaken. – Psalm 33:10-11 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

The Lord Their God

For Gaza shall be deserted,
    and Ashkelon shall become a desolation;
Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon,
    and Ekron shall be uprooted.

Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast,
    you nation of the Cherethites!
The word of the Lord is against you,
    O Canaan, land of the Philistines;
    and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.
And you, O seacoast, shall be pastures,
    with meadows for shepherds
    and folds for flocks.
The seacoast shall become the possession
    of the remnant of the house of Judah,
    on which they shall graze,
and in the houses of Ashkelon
    they shall lie down at evening.
For the Lord their God will be mindful of them
    and restore their fortunes. Zephaniah 2:4-7 ESV

God now turns His attention to the nations surrounding Judah. He has already warned that one aspect of the great day of the Lord will be His judgment of all humanity. He will “cut off mankind from the face of the earth” (Zephaniah 1:3 ESV).

Judah must face its future judgment, but God is not going to overlook the sins of the rest of mankind. And in this passage, He will point out five different nations that surround Judah and outline His plans for their future demise. Located north, south, east, and west of Judah, these neighboring countries become surrogates or stand-ins for all the nations of the earth. While they could not claim to be the people of God, they will still experience the judgment of God.

Each of them is marked by the worship of false gods represented by a litany of fabricated idols, the byproduct of man’s fertile imagination and creative capabilities. As the psalmist points out, they are not gods at all, and stand in stark contrast to the God of the universe.

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth!

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
    Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.” – Psalm 96:5-10 ESV

The one true God will judge all the people and nations who have chosen to worship their many false gods while ignoring His invisible, yet undeniable attributes.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:20-23 ESV

They will all answer for the same sin: Their rejection of God as the one true God.

And Zephaniah begins by listing four cities located in the region of Philistia, located just to the west of Judah: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron.  Except for Ekron, these are all coastal cities, providing access to the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that the Philistines originated from the island of Crete (Caphtor) and migrated to the western coast of Canaan.

Their name derives from the Hebrew word Philistia. In Greek, that word became palaistinei, and it is why the land of Canaan is sometimes referred to as Palestine. The Philistines are sometimes referred to as the “Sea Peoples” because of their close ties with and dependence upon the sea. Their ships would have plied the waters of the Mediterranean, making the inhabitants of the ports of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod quite profitable. Each of the cities mentioned in verse four were governed by a “king” or “lord.” They were independent and autonomous realms, but when the need arose, the kings would form alliances in order to defend their lands or attack their common enemies.

Yet, God pronounces judgment on these five cities, addressing them indirectly, but very specifically.

Gaza shall be deserted (`azab – forsaken, abandoned)
Ashkelon shall become a desolation (shĕmamah – devastation, waste)
Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon (garash –cast out, expelled)
Ekron shall be uprooted (`aqar – plucked up, rooted out)

The news is not good. Even the prophet Jeremiah wrote of God’s coming judgment against the Philistines.

For the time has come
to destroy all the Philistines.
The time has come to destroy all the help
that remains for Tyre and Sidon.
For I, the Lord, will destroy the Philistines,
that remnant that came from the island of Crete. – Jeremiah 47:4 NET

These “inhabitants of the seacoast” were going to discover the unmistakable and inescapable severity of God’s righteous wrath.

The word of the Lord is against you,
    O Canaan, land of the Philistines;
    and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left. – Zephaniah 2:5 ESV

These are words that warn of annihilation, not just discipline. God was not going to punish them. He was going to eliminate them altogether.

And it is only natural to question the reasoning behind God’s harsh treatment of these people. What had they done to deserve such drastic judgment at the hand of God? For nearly two centuries, the Philistines had played a major role in the lives of God’s people, using their advanced weaponry and superior military power to harass and hinder the Israelites in their quest to possess the land given to them by God as an inheritance.

Through the prophet, Amos, God provided further proof of the Philistines’ guilt and well-deserved judgment.

“The people of Gaza have sinned again and again,
    and I will not let them go unpunished!
They sent whole villages into exile,
    selling them as slaves to Edom.
So I will send down fire on the walls of Gaza,
    and all its fortresses will be destroyed.
I will slaughter the people of Ashdod
    and destroy the king of Ashkelon.
Then I will turn to attack Ekron,
    and the few Philistines still left will be killed,”
    says the Sovereign Lord. – Amos 1:6-8 NLT

And Ezekiel records more divine justification for the Philistines’ destruction, directly from the lips of God Himself.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Philistia have acted against Judah out of bitter revenge and long-standing contempt. Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will raise my fist of judgment against the land of the Philistines. I will wipe out the Kerethites and utterly destroy the people who live by the sea. I will execute terrible vengeance against them to punish them for what they have done. And when I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 25:15-17 NLT

The day would come when their coastal communities would become inhabited by Israelite shepherds, grazing their flocks on pasturelands that had formerly been the sites of prominent and powerful Philistine cities. God will remove the Philistines and replace them with the remnant of His chosen people.

The remnant of the tribe of Judah will pasture there. – Zephaniah 2:7 NLT

And this remnant will find shelter in the abandoned homes of the former residents of Ashkelon. The image of shepherds pasturing their flocks carries the idea of peace, tranquility, safety, and security. The day will come when a remnant of God’s people will once again occupy the land of Canaan. But on that day, they will no longer have to deal with the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and all the other pagan residents of the land. These nations had become thorns in their sides and their false gods had become a constant snare to the people of God (Judges 2:3).

God is not done. His redemptive plan is not quite completed. His Son came and died on the cross in order to pay for the sins of mankind. But He must return. He has to come back again and complete the final stage of His Father’s divine will for the restoration of creation and the redemption of a remnant of sinful humanity.

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

   

 

Powerless to Possess.

20 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Judah according to their clans. 21 The cities belonging to the tribe of the people of Judah in the extreme south, toward the boundary of Edom, were Kabzeel, Eder, Jagur, 22 Kinah, Dimonah, Adadah, 23 Kedesh, Hazor, Ithnan, 24 Ziph, Telem, Bealoth, 25 Hazor-hadattah, Kerioth-hezron (that is, Hazor), 26 Amam, Shema, Moladah, 27 Hazar-gaddah, Heshmon, Beth-pelet, 28 Hazar-shual, Beersheba, Biziothiah, 29 Baalah, Iim, Ezem, 30 Eltolad, Chesil, Hormah, 31 Ziklag, Madmannah, Sansannah, 32 Lebaoth, Shilhim, Ain, and Rimmon: in all, twenty-nine cities with their villages.

33 And in the lowland, Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah, 34 Zanoah, En-gannim, Tappuah, Enam, 35 Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah, 36 Shaaraim, Adithaim, Gederah, Gederothaim: fourteen cities with their villages.

37 Zenan, Hadashah, Migdal-gad, 38 Dilean, Mizpeh, Joktheel, 39 Lachish, Bozkath, Eglon, 40 Cabbon, Lahmam, Chitlish, 41 Gederoth, Beth-dagon, Naamah, and Makkedah: sixteen cities with their villages.

42 Libnah, Ether, Ashan, 43 Iphtah, Ashnah, Nezib, 44 Keilah, Achzib, and Mareshah: nine cities with their villages.

45 Ekron, with its towns and its villages; 46 from Ekron to the sea, all that were by the side of Ashdod, with their villages.

47 Ashdod, its towns and its villages; Gaza, its towns and its villages; to the Brook of Egypt, and the Great Sea with its coastline.

48 And in the hill country, Shamir, Jattir, Socoh, 49 Dannah, Kiriath-sannah (that is, Debir), 50 Anab, Eshtemoh, Anim, 51 Goshen, Holon, and Giloh: eleven cities with their villages.

52 Arab, Dumah, Eshan, 53 Janim, Beth-tappuah, Aphekah, 54 Humtah, Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), and Zior: nine cities with their villages.

55 Maon, Carmel, Ziph, Juttah, 56 Jezreel, Jokdeam, Zanoah, 57 Kain, Gibeah, and Timnah: ten cities with their villages.

58 Halhul, Beth-zur, Gedor, 59 Maarath, Beth-anoth, and Eltekon: six cities with their villages.

60 Kiriath-baal (that is, Kiriath-jearim), and Rabbah: two cities with their villages.

61 In the wilderness, Beth-arabah, Middin, Secacah, 62 Nibshan, the City of Salt, and Engedi: six cities with their villages.

63 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 15:20-63 ESV

judahAccording to this passage, the tribe of Judah received well over 100 cities and their surrounding villages as part of their inheritance and allotment of the land. The large portion awarded to them was due to the size of their tribe and it covered four distinct regions: The Negev in the south, the lowland plains, the mountains or hill country and the desert. While their territory extended all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, much of this land was occupied by the Philistines, and they would prove to be quite resistant to any attempts by Judah to remove them from the land. The city of Jerusalem was located at the northern-most boundary of their allotment and it too would continue to harbor a contingent of Canaanite enemies. While Joshua and the armies of Israel had effectively conquered that region, they had failed to capture the city of Jerusalem. So, there remained in the land a variety of potential physical and spiritual threats to the tribe of Judah. The book of Judges records that it was not until after the death of Joshua that the tribe of Judah finally captured and occupied the city of Jerusalem.

And the men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. And afterward the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba), and they defeated Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. – Judges 1:8-10 ESV

The clans of Judah would continue to wage war against the remaining remnant of the Canaanites in their land, but like all the other tribes, they would prove to be unsuccessful in completely eradicating the pagan presence.

18 Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 19 And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. 20 And Hebron was given to Caleb, as Moses had said. And he drove out from it the three sons of Anak. 21 But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:18-21 ESV

While Judah eventually took possession of the land located along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, they did not completely eliminate the Philistines. And the Jebusites, who were the original occupants of Jerusalem, remained in the land, co-existing alongside the people of Benjamin for years to come. And the record of Judah’s land allotment ends with an almost toss-away reference to their failure to eliminate the Jebusites.

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

Why is this significant? Because it reflects a nagging tendency on the part of the people of Israel that will show up in the record of each of the tribes. In each and every case, the tribes would end up failing to completely cleanse their respective land allotments of any and all pagan people groups. And it is essential that we reflect on the possible cause of their failure. Notice what verse 63 says: “But the Jebusites…the people of Judah could not drive out.” Why? Was it because God was not strong enough? Was it because the Jebusites were too powerful? God had given the city of Jericho into the hands of Joshua and his forces, completely destroying the walls of their city by way of a miracle. God had assisted the people of Israel in destroying a five-nation federation that had come against them, by wiping out part of the enemy forces with hailstones. There is no reason to think that the Jebusites were somehow too great for God to do anything about them. This reflects a failure on the part of the people of Judah, not God. They did not trust in and rely upon God. Any failure to remove their enemies from the land was not due to a lack of power on God’s part. He had not abandoned them. He had not ceased to fight for them. But it reflects a tendency on their part to try and do God’s will without God’s help.

In the original Hebrew, the text tells us that Judah was yakol yarash – they were powerless to possess. They failed to take possession of what was rightfully theirs, that which had been given to them by God. And God had promised to fight alongside them, providing them with victory over their foes. So, if they were powerless to possess, it was because they were attempting to fight their battles in their own strength. And just as, years earlier, the people of Israel had attempted to attack the city of Ai and had failed, the tribe of Judah would find themselves either unable or simply unwilling to remove the Jebusites from their land. Perhaps it was just easier to compromise and let them remain. What harm could they possibly do? How dangerous could they be? So, concessions were made. Subtle compromises were put into effect. And, by doing so, the people of Judah were not only refusing to obey God’s command, they were rejecting the gift of His inheritance. The land He had provided was not fully theirs. The rest He had promised would not be fully experienced. By allowing their enemies to remain in the land, the tribe of Judah compromised their convictions and robbed themselves of the benefits of God’s promised blessings.

There should be an overwhelming desire in the heart of each and every child of God to have any remaining sin exposed and removed. The great king, David, prayed a powerful prayer to God, asking for His divine help in eradicating hidden sin from his own heart.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

The tribe of Judah could have removed the Jebusites. All they needed to do was trust God. Had they simply acknowledged their sins of compromise and complacency, and turned to God for help, He would have given them victory over their enemies. The presence of the Jebusites was an offense to God. They were a constant reminder of Judah’s disobedience. And they would prove to be a roadblock, preventing the people of God from fully experiencing the blessings of God.

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

The Sword of the Lord.

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the Philistines, before Pharaoh struck down Gaza.

“Thus says the Lord:
Behold, waters are rising out of the north,
    and shall become an overflowing torrent;
they shall overflow the land and all that fills it,
    the city and those who dwell in it.
Men shall cry out,
    and every inhabitant of the land shall wail.
At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his stallions,
    at the rushing of his chariots, at the rumbling of their wheels,
the fathers look not back to their children,
    so feeble are their hands,
because of the day that is coming to destroy
    all the Philistines,
to cut off from Tyre and Sidon
    every helper that remains.
For the Lord is destroying the Philistines,
    the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.
Baldness has come upon Gaza;
    Ashkelon has perished.
O remnant of their valley,
    how long will you gash yourselves?
Ah, sword of the Lord!
    How long till you are quiet?
Put yourself into your scabbard;
    rest and be still!
How can it be quiet
    when the Lord has given it a charge?
Against Ashkelon and against the seashore
    he has appointed it.” Jeremiah 47:1-7 ESV

In this oracle from God, His attention turned to the nation of the Philistines. We are not given any indication as to when this prophecy was given to Jeremiah, but obviously, it was well before the events discussed actually took place. We know that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians defeated Ashkelon in 604 B.C. In 605 B.C., the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish. So, this prediction of the fall of the Philistines at the hands of the Egyptians would have probably been given to Jeremiah sometime before that, most likely around 609 B.C. But regardless of its exact date, the content of the oracle is indisputable and its outcome certain.

“A flood is coming from the north
    to overflow the land.
It will destroy the land and everything in it—
    cities and people alike. – Jeremiah 47:2 NLT

The “flood” from the north is a reference to the Babylonians. At some point, before they made their way to Egypt, King Nebuchadnezzar and his forces invaded Gaza and destroyed the Philistines. Their arrival happened so quickly that the Philistines were totally caught off guard and unprepared to defend themselves. God describes the fathers running for their lives, not even bothering to look back and abandoning their helpless children to fend for themselves against the Babylonian forces.

God makes it clear that He is going to wipe out the Philistines once and for all, and He is going to use King Nebuchadnezzar to do so. The Philistines were not natives to the land of Canaan. They had originally showed up in the land as refugees from Caphtor (Crete). But in the book of Amos, God makes it clear that their presence in the land of Canaan had been His doing.

“Are you not like the Cushites to me,
    O people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
    and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
    and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
    except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”
declares the Lord. – Amos 9:7-8 ESV

God had been behind the formation of the various nations and their migrations and subsequent settlements around the globe. And God spoke through Amos, indicating that He was going to bring complete destruction on these sinful nations, but would refrain from completely destroying the house of Jacob. But the Philistines, who had long been the enemies of God’s people, were going to experience His wrath. Unlike the Egyptians, who had never turned against the Israelites or treated them poorly, the Philistines had been a perpetual thorn in the side of the people of God for generations. But God makes it clear that their 15 minutes of fame were about to expire.

“The time has come for the Philistines to be destroyed,
    along with their allies from Tyre and Sidon.
Yes, the Lord is destroying the remnant of the Philistines,
    those colonists from the island of Crete.
Gaza will be humiliated, its head shaved bald;
    Ashkelon will lie silent.
You remnant from the Mediterranean coast,
    how long will you cut yourselves in mourning?” – Jeremiah 47:4-5 NLT

God even throws Tyre and Sidon into the mix. Perhaps they were allies of the Philistines, but we are not told why there were included in God’s judgment. More than likely, God is using geographic points of interest to indicate that His judgment will be complete and will encompass the entire nation. Tyre and Sidon were on the northern perimeter of the land of the Philistines, while Gaza and Ashkelon were at the southern-most tip. His wrath would be meted out upon the whole nation, from one end to the other. No one would escape.

Verse six contains a heartfelt plea that God might cease from the slaughter. This is likely a glimpse into how those who witness the coming devastation will respond. They will beg that God call an end to the horror of it all. The fact that this horror is the result of God’s judgment will be clearly evident and it will be to God that the cries will go out.

“Now, O sword of the Lord,
    when will you be at rest again?
Go back into your sheath;
    rest and be still. – Jeremiah 48:6 NLT

But verse seven gives the response to this call for mercy.

“But how can it be still
    when the Lord has sent it on a mission?
For the city of Ashkelon
    and the people living along the sea
    must be destroyed.” – Jeremiah 48:7 NLT

God’s will must be done. His judgment must be fulfilled. His sword will not return to its scabbard until His will concerning the Philistines is completely fulfilled. These oracles concerning Egypt and the nation of the Philistines are intended to remind the people of God of His sovereignty. He is in control of all things. He is sovereign over all the nations. There are no kings who reign without His express permission. There are no dictators or despots who rule without His will making it possible. Like flood waters that overflow their banks and devastate the land, the nation of Babylon would overwhelm the nations of the world, bringing destruction and fulfilling the sovereign will of God Almighty. No one escapes His judgment. No one operates outside of His will. No kings rule without His permission. No governments exist that He has not willed into existence. It was Daniel who said of God:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.
He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.” – Daniel 2:20-22 NLT

Despite all that had happened in Judah, and regardless of how bleak things appeared to the people of Judah, God was still in charge. And the words of psalmist provide us with a powerful reminder of God’s sovereign, unstoppable hand in the affairs of man.

“I warned the proud, ‘Stop your boasting!’
    I told the wicked, ‘Don’t raise your fists!
Don’t raise your fists in defiance at the heavens
    or speak with such arrogance.’”
For no one on earth—from east or west,
    or even from the wilderness—
    should raise a defiant fist.
It is God alone who judges;
    he decides who will rise and who will fall.
For the Lord holds a cup in his hand
    that is full of foaming wine mixed with spices.
He pours out the wine in judgment,
    and all the wicked must drink it,
    draining it to the dregs. – Psalm 75:4-8 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.

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

Lord of Break-Throughs.

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.” Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away.

And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer. – 2 Samuel 5:17-25 ESV

Upon hearing word that David had been crowned king of Israel, the Philistines determined to attack him before he could establish his reign and gather strength. It seems that while he had been king over the single tribe of Judah, they had been content to leave him alone, seeing him as little to no threat. But now that he had unified all 12 tribes, he had gotten their attention. So they came in search for him. Having just taken the city of Jerusalem, and not having had time to fortify it, David and his men made their way to their stronghold. We’re not told where this stronghold was. It could have been the cave of Adullam, near Hebron. Or it could be a reference to the fortress of Zion (verse 7). Most likely, David returned to his original stronghold in the wilderness. It would have made sense for David to return to familiar ground and draw the Philistines away from Jerusalem and the other tribes of Israel. The Valley of Rephaim was southwest of Jerusalem and closer to Hebron and the border between Israel and the Philistines.

Before attempting to do battle with the Philistines, David sought the counsel of God. He wanted to know two things: Should he fight with the Philistines and, if he did, whether or not he would be successful. David could have easily assumed that war with the Philistines was inevitable and simply marched into battle without seeking any word from God. He could have rationalized that, as the king of Israel, doing battle with the enemies of Israel was his duty. It came with the job description. But instead of acting rashly or presumptuously,  David turned to God. He wanted God’s blessing and approval. But more than anything, He wanted God’s help. And God assured David that He would be with him and give him victory over the Philistines. And after defeating the Philistines, David name the place of the battle Baal-perazim, which literally means, “the Lord of breaking through.” David explains the meaning of the name when he says, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood” (2 Samuel 5:20 ESV).

The victory was so quick and decisive that the Philistines abandoned their idols on the battle field. Their gods had been worthless because they were lifeless. So David and his men gathered them up and burned them (1 Chronicles 14:12).

But while the Philistines had lost the battle, they were not giving up the war. They gathered once again in the Valley of Rephaim. And again, David sought the counsel of God. This time, God gave David different instructions, commanding him to take his troops and prepare for a rear action against the Philistines. And God told David to wait until he heard “the sound of marching” in the tops of the trees under which they were taking cover. This was to be God’s sign to go into battle. David did just as God commanded and, once again, he handily defeated the Philistines that day.

These two victories had been God’s doing. Yes, David and his men had to fight, but it was God who gave them success. David’s naming of the first battleground, “the Lord of breaking through” provides us with insight into David’s perception of the events of that day. It had been God who had broken through his enemies like a flood. David would experience other victories like this one. And with each win over his enemies, David would grow in his faith and confidence in God. This dependence upon God for aid in his battles is reflected in his psalms.

God’s way is perfect.
    All the Lord’s promises prove true.
    He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
    Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
    and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
    he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
You have given me your shield of victory.
    Your right hand supports me;
    your help has made me great. – Psalm 18:30-35 NLT

Praise the Lord, who is my rock.
    He trains my hands for war
    and gives my fingers skill for battle.
He is my loving ally and my fortress,
    my tower of safety, my rescuer.
He is my shield, and I take refuge in him.
    He makes the nations submit to me. – Psalm 144:1-2 NLT

David’s break-throughs were God’s doing. His victories were the direct results of his reliance upon God. God didn’t win the battles without David. He won the battles using David as His preferred agent, His divinely chosen instrument to accomplish His will. And God has chosen us, believers in Jesus Christ, to act as His agents of change and spiritual army to bring about His victories on this earth. But as Paul reminds us, we are not fighting against flesh and blood.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 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.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God has provided us with spiritual armor. He has equipped us with spiritual power in the form of the Holy Spirit. He has assured us of victory over our enemy. But we must fight according to His terms while utilizing His strategies. We must seek God’s will regarding the battles we face. As Paul reminds us, we must “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18 NLT). David was victorious because He sought the will of God. He won because God gave him a break-through against his enemy. The same thing will be true for us, as long as we turn to God, rely upon God, and do what God commands us to do. Attempting to do battle for God, but without His permission and help is doomed to failure, no matter how well-intentioned we might be.

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

An Epic Fail.

The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days. – 1 Samuel 31:8-13 ESV

What Saul feared in life, actually took place in death. Right before he took his own life, he had begged his armor bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me” (1 Samuel 31:4 ESV). He feared being mocked and ridiculed by the Philistines. The Hebrew word he used is `alal and it can mean “to act severely, deal with severely, make a fool of someone” (“H5953 – `alal – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 12 Feb, 2017). It carries the idea of mocking, as well as defilement. And that is exactly what happened. Saul’s death did not stop the inevitable. They stripped his body of its armor, then cut off his head; and the book of Chronicles says, “they put his armor in the temple of their gods and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon” (1 Chronicles 10:10 ESV). The book of Chronicles goes on to provide important insight into the cause behind Saul’s death:

So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse. – 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 ESV

This had not been the only time Saul had failed to keep faith with God. He had personally offered sacrifices to God in direct violation of the law of God (1 Samuel 13). He had also failed to wipe out the Amalekites and to destroy all the spoil from battle, disobeying a direct order from God (1 Samuel 15). And Saul had continually ignored God’s clear announcement that he was going to be replaced as king by a better man. In fact, he had actually tried to stop it from happening by seeking to take the life of the very man God had chosen as his replacement: David.

So there were many reasons for Saul’s abandonment by God. In many ways, he is the one who had left God. He had chosen to live his life and rule his kingdom according to his own standards and based on his own wisdom. He had been rash, impulsive, prone to placing blame and reticent to repent, even when proven guilty. He was prideful, arrogant, self-absorbed and unwilling to humble himself before God. His eventual humiliation at the hands of the Philistines was his own doing. He had brought this on himself. And as his world came to a crashing end on the field of battle, he found himself severely wounded, his sons dead, his army fleeing and the Philistine troops closing in for the kill.

Saul’s decapitated body was hung on the walls of the city of Beth-shan. His head was hung in the temple of Dagon. His armor was put in the temple of Ashtaroth. All as a public display of his defeat and in an effort to humiliate not only Saul, but the God of the people of Israel. It was all very similar to when the Philistines placed the captured Ark of the Covenant in the temple of Dagon (1 Samuel 5). The Ark, a representation of the God of the Israelites, was to the Philistines like an idol, so they placed it at the feet of their god in order to honor his superiority over Yahweh. So, in the same way, by placing Saul’s head in the temple of Dagon was a way to show that their god was greater than the God of Israel. In their minds, Dagon had prevailed over Yahweh. They had won. Saul and the Israelites had lost.

But the story doesn’t end there. When the residents of Jabesh-gilead heard what had been done to Saul and his sons, they had to do something about it. So, at great risk to their own lives, they planned a nighttime raid and took the bodies of Saul and his sons from the walls of Beth-shan and gave them a proper burial. We’re not given a reason for why their bodies were burned. Perhaps it was because they had been so mutilated by the Philistines that they were beyond recognition. Or it could have simply been an attempt to prevent the spread of disease. But whatever the case, their bones were buried and a fast was held for seven days. There would be no great monument erected to Saul. It is interesting to note the difference between the death of Saul and that of a king like Asa.

And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign. They buried him in the tomb that he had cut for himself in the city of David. They laid him on a bier that had been filled with various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer’s art, and they made a very great fire in his honor. – 2 Chronicles 16:13-14 ESV

It would become customary for the deceased kings of Israel to have elaborate burials and expensive tombs built in their honor. Such was not the case for Saul. He and his sons were buried under a tree in a non-disclosed spot. No pomp. No elaborate ceremony. No monument to mark their memory. Just like that, Saul was gone, his memory wiped from the minds of his people, but his legacy of faithlessness and disobedience left behind in the captured cities of Israel, the lost lives of hundreds of soldiers, and the demoralized remnants of the Jews who no longer had a king. But God was not done. This was not an end, but a new beginning. While all looked lost and the future looked dim, God had things right where He wanted them. The Israelites would not be without a king for long, and this time, they would find themselves with a king who was a man after God’s own heart.

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

An Ending Point.

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. – 1 Samuel 31:1-7 ESV

While David and his men were pursuing and defeating the Amalikites, Saul and the Israelites were doing battle with the Philistines. David had sought the help of God and had found success. Saul had sought the help of a witch and would die in battle, along with his three sons. And David was busy distributing the spoil of his victory among his men and the elders of Judah, Saul’s defeat and death would result in the mass evacuation of the cities near the battle and the occupation of those cities by the Philistines. Two men. Two completely different outcomes. And both taking place simultaneously.

What is interesting to note when reading this passage is the easy-to-miss reference to King Saul’s armor bearer. Verse six reads: “Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.” What makes this verse interesting is the fact that, at one time, David had been Saul’s armor bearer.

And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. – 1 Samuel 16:21 ESV

While just a passing reference in the text of 1 Samuel 31, it is significant to realize that David’s somewhat difficult-to-understand exile from the palace of Saul had been a literal godsend. God had ordained David’s disassociation from Saul in order to spare David the same fate as Saul. All those close to Saul, including his son, Jonathan, would die as a result of his stubborn rebellion against the will of God. Had God not removed His Spirit from Saul and allowed an evil spirit to torment him, David could have remained in his service. David could have been a part of that very same battle with the Philistines. But it had been God’s plan all along to separate David from Saul, so that he might be spared and prepared to be Saul’s eventual replacement.

This entire scenario had been the work of God. He had even warned Saul that it was going to happen. In fact, when Saul sought out the aid of the witch of Endor, and asked her to conjure up the departed spirit of Samuel, the prophet, God intervened. Much to her surprise and shock, she was actually able to call up Samuel and he gave Saul a chilling prediction:

“Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.” – 1 Samuel 28:18-19 ESV

The end to Saul’s reign was at hand. As part of His divine plan, God had determined that the time had come for Saul to step down and David to take over. And this time, when Saul faced the Philistines in battle, there would be no young shepherd boy to save him. There would be no defeat of the Philistine champion. Saul would be forced to go into battle, without the aid of the Lord, and witness the complete destruction of his army by the enemies of God. And it should not escape our attention that Saul, while wounded in battle, was not killed as part of the battle. He lived to see his sons die. He had to remain alive to the very last, watching as his kinsmen were slaughtered in front of him or as the deserted the battle field in fright. And when all was lost, Saul was not allowed the dignity of falling in battle at the hands of his enemies. He would be forced to end his own life by falling on his own sword. Saul’s nearly 40-year reign over Israel (1 Samuel 13:1) came to an abrupt and ignominious end. Even in the moments before his death, Saul feared man more than he feared God. He was more worried about being captured by the Philistines and facing mistreatment and death at their hands, than what was going to happen to him when he had to stand before God Almighty. Perhaps Saul had deluded himself into believing that he had been a faithful king and obedient servant of God. Maybe he had convinced himself of being a man of integrity. But whatever the case, Saul was facing a judgment far worse than anything the Philistines could do to him. It was Jesus who warned, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NLT).

Saul died. Just as the prophet had foretold. Israel was defeated. The Philistines were victorious. But God was still sovereign. He was not surprised at the outcome. He was not panicked by what had happened or suddenly forced to come up with a new plan to deal with this significant setback. It had all been part of His divine plan and sovereign will. God had given the people what they demanded: A king. But they didn’t want just any king, they wanted a king like all the nations. And that is exactly what God gave them, while clearly telling Samuel the prophet, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). The peoples’ 40-year experience with the world’s brand of leadership was coming to an abrupt end. And God was preparing to replace their kind of king with His own. A man after his own heart. Not a perfect man. Not a sinless man. But a man whose heart had been trained to rely upon and rest in the will of God. A man who had learned the invaluable lessons of trusting God rather than relying upon self. A man who had experienced first-hand the futility of self-preservation and the more preferable choice to rely upon God’s salvation. 

Saul was done, but God was not. Israel was down, but not out. Their best days lie ahead of them. The king they wanted was dead. But the king they needed was alive and well closer than they could have ever imagined. And it was all part of God’s perfect plan.

 

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