The Subtle Snare of Self-Salvation.

And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! For as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.” Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.”

And Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until the morning light. In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And about ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died. – 1 Samuel 25:32-38 ESV

David knew the hand of God when he saw it. As he and his men stood there with their weapons at the ready, prepared to wipe out Nabal and every male in his household, Abigail had showed up with a gift of food and a word of wise counsel. She had bowed down before David and begged his forgiveness. And she appealed to David to refrain from doing something he would later regret. Nabal was a fool. He was insignificant and not worth the time and effort it would take to enact revenge. She wisely warned David, “When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel,  don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance” (1 Samuel 25:30-31 NLT).

Her words struck a chord with David. They were like a cold glass of water thrown in his face, waking him up to the reality and danger of what he was about to do. And he was grateful, not only to her, but to God for having sent her. “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today!” (1 Samuel 25:32 NLT). He knew this was a God-ordained encounter with Abigail. He clearly sensed that God had sent her to prevent him from doing something he would later regret. Killing Nabal would have been an act of vengeance, but not an act of God. David had not sought out or received any word from God to take the life of Nabal or anyone else. But the temptation of self-salvation and taking revenge on those who offend us always lingers within us. David had been offended by a rich fool and he was man enough to do something about it. But a man after God’s own heart would leave vengeance up to the Lord. And that is exactly what Abigail reminded David of. God had bigger plans for David. He was going to be the next king of Israel. Nabal was a bump in the road on the way to the throne room, and David would be better off letting God deal with him.

It’s interesting to note that when David had been given the opportunity to kill Saul, he had refrained from doing so. He even told Saul, “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Samuel 24:12 ESV). At that point, David had been willing to leave the judgment of Saul in the hands of God. But when it came to Nabal, David had suddenly determined to take matters into his own hands. Only the words of Abigail prevented David from doing the unthinkable and committing an act of fratricide against fellow Jews.

And when David heard the words of Abigail, he immediately recognized the gravity of what he had been about to do. He said to her,  “Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands” (1 Samuel 25:33 NLT). There is the key to understanding this exchange between Abigail and David. His sin was not his anger with Nabal, but his desire to carry out vengeance against Nabal with his own hands. What he was about to do was an act of self-salvation, but not self-preservation. Nabal was no threat to David. All he had done was offend David by treating him with contempt and disrespect. He had hurt David’s pride. And David had been willing to slaughter Nabal and everyone associated with him in a needless act of revenge.

It’s interesting to note that, years later, when David was king, he would have another opportunity to take revenge on someone who treated him with disdain and disrespect. It was when his son, Absalom, had taken over Jerusalem and David had been forced to flee for his life. On his way out of town, he had been confronted by a man named Shimei, a member of the clan of Saul. As David and his men made their way out of the city, he threw stones at them and loudly cursed David.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

David’s men offered to kill Shimei, but David restrained them, saying:

“My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.” – 2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT

David’s encounter with Abigail had taught him a valuable lesson: To leave vengeance in the hands of God. He was to do nothing without God’s expressed permission. Taking Nabal’s life might have assuaged David’s damaged pride, but it would have done far more damage to his reputation. It would appear from studying the life of David, that he was a man prone to impulsive behavior. He was susceptible to giving in to his inner impulses and failing to think things through. His affair with Bathsheba is a case in point. He let his physical passions override his reasoning. He saw her and he wanted her. So, he took her. He didn’t think it through. And when his actions got him in trouble and she became pregnant, he threw reason to the wind, and went into self-preservation mode. He attempted to cover up his indiscretion with a carefully thought-out plan to have Uriah, he husband returned from war so that it might appear that the child was his. And when is efforts failed, his self-preservation efforts escalated and he had Uriah murdered, so he could take Bathsheba as his wife.

Self-salvation is tempting, but it never turns out like we were expecting. Taking matters into our own hands may feel good for the moment, but the repercussions can be devastating. Too often, our desire for revenge is based on nothing more than our own damaged pride. There is no real threat to our safety, but we find ourselves offended by something someone has said to us or about us. Perhaps it’s a rumor that someone has spread falsely representing us. It could be a simple case of someone showing us disrespect or treating us in a way we find distasteful. Our first impulse is to get even, to teach them a lesson. But what would God have us do? How would He prefer we respond? For David, the best course of action was no action at all. He was to leave Nabal in God’s hands. Rather than seeking revenge on Nabal, he was to rest in the sovereign will of God.

Jesus gave us some similar advice in the Beatitudes.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” – Matthew 5:38-42 NLT

We are to be driven by a bigger purpose than our own self-salvation and preservation. God has bigger plans for us than worrying about what others think and wasting our time attempting to protect our reputations. God had greater plans for David than eliminating a fool who happened to offend him. There were greater enemies to fight. There were much more significant wars for David to wage. He was to leave Nabal in God’s hands. And because he did, David would see God deal with Nabal as only God could. When Abigail told Nabal all that had happened and how David had been planning to come and destroy him, “he had a stroke, and he lay paralyzed on his bed like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck him, and he died” (1 Samuel 25:37-38 NLT). God avenged David. God dealt with Nabal. And David learned that the salvation of God is preferable to self-salvation every time.

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

Divine Payback.

And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, “What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. – Esther 7:2-6 ESV

Queen Esther has prepared her second feast for the king and Haman. She is ready to reveal the next phase of her plan to seek the rescue of her people. And while God is not mentioned, we know that Esther spent several days fasting and praying in order to seek the will and blessing of God before she did anything. All of her efforts appear to be part of a well-though-out strategy to trap Haman in his underhanded plot to destroy the people of God. When given a second chance by the king to make her request made known, Esther wastes no time. She reveals to the king the nefarious plan of Haman in all its gory details. Based on the way that the king responds to this news, it would appear that he had no idea that Haman intended to have the Jews slaughtered. Either he had not read the decree upon which Haman had set his seal, or he had misunderstood Haman’s intent.

Back in chapter three we have a record of Haman’s initial request to the king:

There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed – Esther 3:8-9 ESV

Haman conveniently left out the fact that the “certain people” to which he referred were the Jews. And the king had simply given Haman his signet ring and the authority to draft the decree in his own words and to send it throughout the kingdom.

It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. – Esther 3:12-13 ESV

Now that decision was coming back to haunt the king and Haman. Esther drops the bombshell news that her people were the ones who were going to be destroyed as a result of Haman’s decree. “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king” (Esther 7:3-4 ESV). She uses the exact words found in the original decree, describing with precision just what was going to happen in less than a year’s time. It would appear that she never mentions that she and her people are Jews. She leaves that detail out, and for the king, it didn’t seem to matter. All he had to know was that his queen and her people were the objects of Haman’s hatred and a scheme to eliminate them. Haman had had no idea that Esther was a Jew when he issued the decree. This all was coming as a shock to him. And he was slowly watching his life pass before his eyes. What had started out as an ego-boosting feast given in his honor, was quickly turning into a nightmare.

When the king demanded to know who was behind this plot against the queen’s life, she blurted out, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” She left no doubt in the king’s mind as to what kind of man Haman really was. He was an adversary to the king. He was out to kill the king’s chosen queen and to wipe out every trace of her people from the kingdom. And Esther wisely stroked the king’s ego by confessing that had Haman simply plotted to sell her people into slavery, she wouldn’t have bothered the king with such trifling news. But this was genocide. And she insinuates that Haman had been including her in his plot all along.

As you can well imagine, Haman watched all this take place in disbelief and horror. His words and intent were being twisted. He had no idea the queen was a Jew. He had only been seeking revenge on Mordecai and his people. Now he was being accused of personally plotting the queen’s assassination. And we know what happened to the two men who had been plotting to kill the king. They were hung. So Haman is scared out of his sense. And the text matter-of-factly states, “Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen” (Esther 7:6 ESV).

Haman was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. His world was crashing down around his head. All his dreams and visions of grandeur were evaporating before his eyes. He was experiencing a day of accounting. Payment for sins was coming due. His runaway pride was resulting in his own downfall. As the Proverbs so aptly state, “Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered” (Proverbs 11:21 ESV). In His divine timing, God had chosen to bring Haman’s plans to an abrupt and painful end. And Haman had every reason to be afraid.

The Lord says, “Am I not storing up these things, sealing them away in my treasury? I will take revenge; I will pay them back. In due time their feet will slip. Their day of disaster will arrive, and their destiny will overtake them.” – Deuteronomy 32:34-35 NLT

No Shrinking Back.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:26-39 ESV

Because of all that Jesus has done for us and made available to us, we should have confidence, a secure assurance that we have access into God’s presence because we have been right with God. But we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). We have a part to play. Among all the distractions and difficulties of this world we must keep our eyes focused on the hope to come: the return of Christ and our final glorification. As followers of Christ, we will find the going tough at times this side of heaven. Living as a Christian requires faith, because so much of what we have been promised in Christ is yet to be fulfilled. Chapter 11 will give a glimpse of what faith looked like for the Old Testament saints. Each of the ones mentioned is recognized for having had faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

This section of chapter 10 is difficult. There are many different interpretations as to what the author is saying and who he is referencing in these verses. There are those who use this passage to prove that Christians can lose their salvation. There are others who say it is referring to Christians who “fall away” from the faith and risk losing their rewards at the judgement seat of Christ. I am not sure either view is correct. The author is writing to a congregation made up primarily of Jews who have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and expressed faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. Up until this point, the author has been diligently attempting to help his Jewish audience to understand the superior value of Jesus and His sacrifice on their behalf. He has spent nine chapters contrasting the old and new covenant, presenting Jesus and the new covenant in His blood as not only superior, but singular in its effectiveness. Through His death on the cross, Jesus accomplished for man what the Law could never have done. His sacrifice provided a means by which sinful men could be made right with a holy God.

But there were evidently those in the author’s audience who were having second thoughts about the efficacy of saving work of Jesus. They were having doubts as to whether His death was enough. So they were reverting back to their old habits of relying on the law. They were evidently offering sacrifices in order to cover over their sins, which meant that they were still sinning. The author starts off this section by saying, “for if we go on sinning deliberately” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). What he has in mind are those sins that are willful and planned, not those that are committed out of ignorance or weakness. It would seem that there were those who were sinning on purpose, and relying on the old sacrificial system to atone for those sins. The author accuses them of having “trampled underfoot the Son of God” and having “profaned the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29 ESV). In falling back to the old covenant as their source of atonement, they were saying the sacrifice of Jesus was not enough. They were essentially rejecting His offering as not having fully appeased the wrath of God. The author warns them that if they reject Christ’s sacrifice, there “no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). If Jesus is not enough, then all that remains is judgment.

So to whom is the author referring? Is he warning Christians from falling away from the faith and losing their salvation? That interpretation would contradict too many other passages that promise believers the assurance of their salvation. Jesus Himself said, “And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39 NLT). “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29 NLT). Paul tells us, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). Jesus’ sacrifice was fully sufficient and completely effective. It accomplished the will of the Father by paying in full the debt that was owed as a result of man’s sin. He died once and no other sacrifice is needed. The problem the author is warning about is the very real possibility of someone hearing the good news regarding Christ’s sacrificial death, seemingly accepting it, but then later determining it was not enough. The issue is one of confidence. The author uses this word two times in chapter ten. In verse 19 he tells his readers, “Therefore brothers, since we have this confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…” Then in verse 35 he warns, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward…”

Saving faith is enduring faith. It lasts. But there have always been those who seem to express faith in Jesus, but then, when the troubles and trials come, they turn away. They reject the truth. They determine that Jesus is not enough and the promise of salvation is not sufficient. Unwilling to wait for the final fulfillment of God’s promise they seek their satisfaction in this life. They refuse to believe that their sins are forgiven. They fall back on to a life of works and self-righteousness, or simply reject the idea that they can be made right with God altogether. The author warns that these individuals face the judgment of God. He gives the very sobering warning, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 ESV). It would seem that his talk of God’s vengeance and judgment has nothing to do with believers, but with those who never fully believed in the first place. He makes this clear when he reminds his readers of their “former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33 ESV). In other words, they had been through difficulty in the past, and they had endured. They had remained faithful and he reminds them, “you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34 ESV). These people had not rejected the saving work of Jesus at the first sign of trouble. Why? Because their faith was real. Their hope was in something greater than a trouble-free life. Their confidence was in the promise of God of a great reward to come, not their best life now. So the author encourages them, “you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36 ESV). The one who “shrinks back” will have no reward. God has no pleasure in him. But the author makes it clear that “we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39 ESV). True believers believe the truth and endure. They have confidence and continue to hold fast regardless of the circumstances.

Romans 12:17-21

A Radically Different Life.

Romans 12:17-21

If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads. – Romans 12:20 NLT

Paul continues to offer his readers practical application of the theological truths he has unpacked for the last 11 chapters. This is where-the-rubber-meets-the-road kind of stuff. He is giving them everyday applications of what it means to live in freedom from sin, forgiven, justified, filled with the Spirit and as a recipient of God’s marvelous grace. Our vertical relationship with God, restored by the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, must be matched by a change in our horizontal relationships – including the ones we have with believers and unbelievers. And what Paul lays out is a radically different version of life on this planet than what most of us know or experience.

First, he tells us to refrain from responding to wrong with more wrong. “Never pay back evil with more evil” (Romans 12:17 NLT). But isn’t that they normal human response. It’s almost a reflex action. We inherently react to anything done to us that we consider harmful or hurtful with more of the same. It’s a natural human defense mechanism. “You hurt me and I’ll hurt you!” But Paul reminds us that life for the Christian is to be different – radically so. Rather than respond to evil with more evil, we are to “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (Romans 12:17b NIV). Our concern should be for our witness, not revenge. Elsewhere, Paul tells us to “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5 NLT). In fact, we are to go out of our way to live in harmony and peace with all men. This does not mean that we are to seek peace at all costs or to refrain from having convictions when it comes to the truth of God and the integrity of the Word of God. There will be occasions where we must stand up for what we know to be right, and that will result in conflict. But overall, we are to pursue a life of harmony and peace with all men – whether they are believers or not.

At the end of the day, revenge is to be left up to God. Our job is not to seek revenge or to demand justice for all the wrongs done to us. No, Paul reminds us that our ministry is one of reconciliation. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT). Our job is to call people back to God. Rather than revenge, we are to seek reconciliation, restoration and redemption. How do we even remotely begin to do that? Paul gives us a glimpse at the answer. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:19-20 NLT). What a radically different approach to conflict resolution than what the world offers. Instead of responding in hate, we are to express love. Rather than seeking to get even, we are to give sacrificially. While this method of dealing with enemies may appear to be a bit naive and unrealistic, it’s intention is to bring shame and conviction on those whose intent it is to harm us. Rather than justify their hatred for us, we convict them by responding in a way that does not fit with their perception or expectation of us. Jesus said very similar words in His sermon on the mount. “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you” (Luke 6:27-31 NLT). This is the “Golden Rule.” It is a picture of life lived according to God’s standard and not the world’s.

We have been called to a different kind of life, marked by a different set of standards. Paul closes this chapter with the words, “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21 NLT). Rather than give in to the temptation to respond to evil with more evil, and fulfill the expectations of our enemy and meet the standards of this fallen world, we are to react with sacrificial, selfless love. But isn’t that impossible? Only if we attempt to do it in our own strength. But God has given us His Spirit and His Word to empower and equip us with all that we need to live radically different lives in a world that desperately needs a dose of reconciliation.

Father, this is hard stuff to read. And it’s even harder to live out in real life. But I know You have given us all that we need to live in a way that is pleasing to You. We have the power to live radically different lives. Continue to change us and motivate us to live radical, revolutionary lives. Help us live like Christ lived. Help us love like Christ loved. Help us sacrifice like He did. All for Your glory and, ultimately, the good of man. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men