The Knowledge of God.

And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said,

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
    my stronghold and my refuge,
    my savior; you save me from violence.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies.

For the waves of death encompassed me,
    the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry came to his ears.

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
    the foundations of the heavens trembled
    and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
    and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew;
    he was seen on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness around him his canopy,
    thick clouds, a gathering of water.
Out of the brightness before him
    coals of fire flamed forth.
The Lord thundered from heaven,
    and the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out arrows and scattered them;
    lightning, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen;
    the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at the rebuke of the Lord,
    at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.  – 2 Samuel 22:1-16 ESV

 

It was A. W. Tozer who wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.” When studying the life of any man, we can easily become obsessed by his accomplishments and his failures, his actions and apparent attitudes about everything from life to leadership, family to financial success. And David is no exception. In fact, when looking into David’s life, we are provided with so many painfully transparent details that we can assume we know him well. But the one thing we can never really know about any man is his heart. God had to remind the prophet, Samuel, of this very fact when he was searching for the man to replace Saul as the next king of Israel. Seeing that the prophet was using external criteria as a means to determine the right man for the position, God had to tell him: “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).

We can’t see into a man’s heart. But in the case of David, we are given a glimpse into what he thought and how he felt at different points in his tumultuous life. In the closing chapters of 2 Samuel, we are provided with a revealing piece of literature written by David, that is almost like reading his personal, private journal. The verses above almost repeat word for word what David wrote in Psalm 18, a psalm that bears the description: “A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” It is important to keep in mind that the closing chapters of 2 Samuel serve as a kind of appendix to the entire book. They are not in chronological order, but function as a summation of David’s life, providing us with a more holistic image of who he really was as a man, leader, father, husband, and servant of God.

Based on the description that accompanies Psalm 18, it can be assumed that this particular psalm was written early on in David’s life. It clearly states that it was written after David had been delivered from the hand of Saul. So it is not a late-in-life exposé written as David lay on his deathbed, looking back in regret or in a fit of nostalgia. These are the words of a young man who found himself in the early days of his calling by God to be the next king of Israel, but having faced a litany of difficult circumstances that seemed to contradict both God’s call and the promises He had made to David. And yet, these words, which prefaced his life, were not negative or filled with complaints and fist-shaking diatribes against God. Yes, the are blunt and highly transparent. David was not one to mince words or to attempt to hide his true feelings from God. He is open. He is transparent. But he is also respectful and reverent in how he talked with God. He was willing to tell God how he felt, but he didn’t let his feelings influence his thoughts about God. Notice how he starts out:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
    my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
    and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
    the one who saves me from violence. – 2 Samuel 22:2-3 NLT

All throughout this psalm, he will speak to and about God with reverential awe and honor. He saw God for who He really was: His rock, fortress, deliverer, savior, shield, refuge, and all-powerful, praise-worthy, transcendent God of the universe. David knew – from experience – that his God was almighty and yet all-loving. He was an ever-present God who was fully aware of David’s plights and heard his cries for help. His God was not distant and disinterested in the cares David faced. David’s God was not unresponsive or unapproachable, even though His dwelling place was in heaven. David knew he could call out to God and, not only be heard, but be helped. His God rescued and redeemed. And not in some passive way that left you wondering if it had really been Him at all.

David describes God’s actions in terms that appeal to the senses and leave little doubt as to His power and majesty:

…the earth quaked and trembled. The foundations of the heavens shook; they quaked because of his anger… – vs 8

Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from his mouth. Glowing coals blazed forth from him. – vs 9

The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. – vs 14

It is clear that David had a high regard for God. And it was this unique, personal relationship with God Almighty that set David apart from so many of his contemporaries. In reading this passage and so many of the psalms that bear David’s name, we are left with the inarguable conclusion that David really was a man after God’s own heart. And as we work our way through the remainder of chapter 22 of 2 Samuel, we will see that David not only knew and understood who God was, he was comfortable with who he was in relationship to him. David had no delusions about his own sinfulness and God’s holiness, but he could say, “he rescued me because he delights in me” (2 Samuel 22:20 NLT). He was a man who was at peace with his God and who delighted in the relationship he was able to share with God. He was confident, guiltless, content, joyful, grateful, without fear, and happy to praise his God for who He was and all that He had done.

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
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Rock of Escape.

David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.

Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? Now come down, O king, according to all your heart’s desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.” And Saul said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, for you have had compassion on me. Go, make yet more sure. Know and see the place where his foot is, and who has seen him there, for it is told me that he is very cunning. See therefore and take note of all the lurking places where he hides, and come back to me with sure information. Then I will go with you. And if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” And they arose and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. – 1 Samuel 23:15-29 ESV

Verse 14 of this same chapter stated that Saul sought David every day. He was on a relentless, obsessive mission to destroy David because he knew that as long as David was alive, his crown was in jeopardy. He had even warned his son, Jonathan, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established” (1 Samuel 20:31 ESV). And it seems that Jonathan had taken those words to heart. He risked the wrath of his father and his own life by covertly arranging to see David one more time. And at that reunion with his best friend, he disclosed to David, “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware” (1 Samuel 23:17 NLT). Jonathan had seen the handwriting on the wall. He somehow knew that David was to be the next king and that it would be the will and work of God. The text tells us that Jonathan “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16 ESV). He encouraged David to trust God. Not even his father, Saul, was going to be able to stop what God had ordained. Jonathan knew his father was in the wrong and would eventually fail in his attempt to thwart the will of God. It had become increasingly clear to him that Saul’s obsession with David’s death was not only uncalled for, but would prove to be unsuccessful. These words from his best friend and the rightful heir to the throne had to have encouraged David greatly. Jonathan was abdicating any right he had to be the next king because he believed David to be God’s choice for the role.

It is interesting how God sometimes uses others to reveal to us information regarding us that has escaped our notice. All David seemed to know was that Saul was out to kill him. It would seem that he had not yet put two and two together and arrived at the conclusion that Saul’s obsessive-compulsive behavior toward him did have a reason: Saul knew David was God’s choice to be the next king. It took Jonathan to add up the facts and present David with what should have been an obvious conclusion: He was going to be king of Israel. Jonathan assured David that even Saul was well aware of this fact. We are not given insight into David’s reaction at this news, but it had to have been an epiphany for him, a light-bulb-illuminating-over-the-head moment. Suddenly, it all began to make sense. The anointing, spear-throwing, raging, and running all began to come together into a clear picture of what God was going. The last time the two of them had met, David had asked  Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Samuel 20:1 ESV). Now he knew the answer. He was Saul’s God-appointed replacement. No wonder Saul was acting the way he was.

But even with this eye-opening, riddle-solving news, David’s lot in life didn’t undergo any kind of remarkable change. Jonathan would return home and David would find himself still living as a wanted man. In fact, it wouldn’t take long for reality to set back in as David’s location in the wilderness of Ziph was disclosed to Saul by the area’s residents. They ratted David out, informing Saul of his whereabouts, and promising to turn him over to the king.

To get an idea of what David was thinking at this stage of his life, all we have to do is turn to Psalm 54, which was written at this very time. In this psalm, David bears his heart to God. He calls on God to save him. And he promises to offer sacrifices to God when He does finally provide him with deliverance.

O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth.

For strangers have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves. Selah

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them.

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.

One of the revealing statements in this psalm is David’s conclusion that those who were seeking him and those who would betray him “do not set God before themselves.” The New Living Translation phrases it this way: “They care nothing for God.” The actions of Saul and the Ziphites had nothing to do with the will of God. David describes them as strangers, ruthless, and enemies; and he refers to their actions as evil. David realized that this was a spiritual battle between those who care nothing for God and God Himself. So David calls on God to do what only He can do. He pleads with God to save and vindicate him, to avenge and deliver him, to hear and help him. David knew that his life was in God’s hands. God had anointed him and would be God who would have to protect and deliver him.

And David would receive yet another timely example of God’s ability to deliver. When Saul heard that David and his men had relocated to the wilderness of Moan, he set out in hot pursuit. The passage tells us, “Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again” (1 Samuel 23:26-27 NLT). Just in the nick of time, God stepped in. It would be tempting to write this off as nothing more than a very timely coincidence. But for David, it would have been the very well-timed, miraculous intervention of God. Just when Saul and his men were closing in, God stepped in and provided a way of escape. And God would use the enemies of Israel to deliver the next king of Israel. The Philistines had chosen that particular moment in time to raid Israel, forcing Saul to abandon his pursuit of David and return home. The name of that place became known as the Rock of Escape. God had become a rock of escape for David, protecting him from his enemies and providing a miraculous, perfectly timed deliverance from his enemies. But notice that God did not eliminate Saul. He did not provide a permanent victory over Saul by allowing David to kill him in battle. He simply removed the immediate threat and gave David a glimpse of His capacity to save. God was not interested in removing the difficulties from David’s life as much as He was in getting David to trust the One for whom no problem was to difficult. Saul was not going to go away, but neither was God. David’s life was not going to be problem-free, but David was going to learn that nothing that happened in his life was free from God’s all-seeing eye. Which is why David, years later, would later be able to write these words:

You are my rock and my fortress.
    For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
    for I find protection in you alone.
I entrust my spirit into your hand.
    Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. – Psalm 31:3-5 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

Who Is Your God?

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” – Hosea 14:1-3 ESV

In verse 16 of chapter 13, God warned of the gruesome manner in which many of the Israelites would die at the hands of the Assyrians:

Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:16 ESV

Many would die in battle against the Assyrians, but their deaths would be in vain. Pregnant women and innocent children would suffer tragic and hideous deaths as the Assyrians attempted to wipe out the next generation of Israelites in order to prevent future rebellion.  The judgment that was coming would be devastating and impossible to escape. So Hosea pleaded with his fellow Israelites to return to the Lord.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. – Hosea 14:1 ESV

The Hebrew word he used is שׁוּב (shuwb) and it means “to turn back (to God), repent” (“H7725 – shuwb – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It carries the idea of restoration and point to a future day in which God would reestablish His covenant relationship with His people. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word can also mean “to bring back, refresh, restore.”  There is a sense in which God is calling His people back to a right relationship with Himself, but its ultimate fulfillment will be His responsibility, not theirs. At the same time, God was calling them to acknowledge their sin. He wanted to hear them say, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises” (Hosea 14:2b NLT). The acknowledgement of their sins against Him was an essential part of their return to Him. They would also have to recognize and repent of their misplaced trust in things other than God. “Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods’” (Hosea 14:3a NLT).

One of the hardest things for us to do as God’s people is to admit our unfaithfulness to God. It is not that we lack faith. It is that our faith is misplaced. Our trust is misappropriated. Rather than relying solely on God, we turn to other sources for assurance, comfort, security and salvation. For some, their own intellect becomes the go-to source of their rescue. They learn to think their way out of any troubles or trials. For others, financial resources become the means of their salvation. They learn to buy their way out of moments of distress, discomfort and dissatisfaction. Money and materialism become their gods of choice. And yet, God would have us acknowledge our false gods. He desires that we admit our wandering hearts and prodigal faith. But that will not happen until we learn the sometimes painful lesson that our bank accounts, portfolios, talents, resources, careers, or friends cannot save us. They make lousy gods and even worse saviors. But as long as we think they can provide us with any sliver of hope and help, we will never fully return to and place our faith in God.

The whole point behind God’s coming judgment against Israel was to get them to realize that their salvation was in Him alone. He wanted them to come to the conclusion that He was the soul source of salvation. He desired to hear them say, “No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy” (Hosea 14:3b NLT). That statement carries with it a recognition of need. Orphans are inherently needy. They have no resources, no means of self-reliance. And that is exactly the attitude that God desires in us. But like the church in Laodicea, we can arrogantly claim, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” (Revelation 3:17a NLT). But the reality is, “you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17b NLT). We can wrongly assume we are spiritually healthy and in no need of a healing. But Jesus would remind us, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Matthew 9:13b NLT). If you don’t think you need God, you will not return to Him. And why would you? As long as you think you have another trick up your sleeve, another option available to you, you will not seek God’s help. In fact, for most of us, God can become an option of last resort. We turn to Him only when all else has failed. We call on Him only when our other sources of salvation have run out or proven unreliable.

But God longs for us to see Him as David did. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety” (Psalm 18:2 NLT). God longs that we see Him in those same terms. That we would be able to say, “He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT). But instead, we can become like Israel, who “became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15 NLT). And sadly, the same can be said of us that was said of them: “You neglected the Rock who had fathered you; you forgot the God who had given you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18 NLT).

But God’s desire is that we return to Him. He wants us to abandon our other sources of salvation and to rely solely on Him. He wants to be our rock, shield, and tower. But if we don’t think we need Him, we will never fully return to Him. As long as our faith is focused on anything other than Him, we will never fully recognize our need for Him.