Sermon: Epiphany 3, 21 January 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Doeg the Dobber- 1Samuel 22:6-23, Psalm 52

-Suffering has been a bit of a theme throughout the Psalms of David that we’ve been looking at each week.

-For a man anointed as the future king of God’s people,

-David has been doing it tough.

-He’s being persecuted by the current king Saul,

-He’s had to flee to his own nation’s enemies,

-The people whose town he saved can’t be trusted to protect him,

-He’s constantly in desperate situations,

-And David gives vent to the desperation he’s experienced through his Psalms.

 

-Why is David going through all of this?

-Surely if God has the strength and power to be his refuge,

-His fortress,

-His strong tower,

-Then he could have smoothed the way before him.

-Did God get taken by surprise by the insane jealousy of Saul?

-Couldn’t God have given the citizens of Keilah braver hearts to stand behind David their saviour?

-And let’s not leave it with David,

-How about you and me?

-How come our lives aren’t a lot better than they are?

-Aren’t we God’s people?

-Isn’t he a fortress, a tower, a refuge for us today?

-How come we suffer in this world?

-How come the people of Syria, South Sudan and North Korea are suffering?

-If God is all powerful,

-Why is there suffering,

-Why is there evil in this world?

-Something is out of wack!

 

-When Moses confronts Pharaoh in the book of Exodus,

-We read this about his recalcitrant heart

-‘Pharaoh hardened his heart.’ Exodus 8:15, 32, 9:34

-‘The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.’ Exodus 9:12, 10:1, 20, 27

-‘Pharaoh’s heart became hard.’ Exodus 7:13, 22

-Three different ways the writer of Exodus tells us that Pharaoh’s heart was impacted by Moses’ threats.

-He hardens his own heart,

-God hardens his heart,

-And then more ominously,

-His heart was just hardened by someone or something unknown.

 

-Remember when David went to the town of Nob where Ahimelech the priest most helpfully gave him five loaves of bread,

-And less helpfully,

-The sword of Goliath?

-Within that story of David and Ahimelech there was a single foreboding verse;

“Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.” 1Samuel 21: 7

-The introduction to Psalm 52 tells us that this psalm is;

“A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelech.’”

-And the opening lines give us David’s thoughts about this vile person;

“Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.” Psalm 53: 1-4

-Doeg was Saul’s chief shepherd,

-So David the shepherd may’ve known him.

-Which was why he said to Ahimelech’s son Abiathar;

“That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul.” 1Samuel 22: 22

-David knew enough about the character of Doeg to believe that he was a danger.

-Enough to say of Doeg’s evil acts;

“I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” 1Samuel 22:22

 

-In our Samuel reading we got to see what Saul was capable of,

-And Doeg was willing to do.

-The paranoid Saul thinks everyone is against him now,

-Because no-one tells him what David is up to.

-Doeg however is more than willing to ingratiate himself on the unstable Saul.

-He tells him of David’s visit to Nob,

-But he starts his denunciation with a lie that will stir Saul’s jealousies;

“Ahimelech inquired of the Lord for him;” 1Samuel 22: 10

-Saul has been complaining that he knows nothing,

-Then Doeg implies that David knows everything,

-Because he has a priest who inquires of God and passes those messages on to David.

 

-Saul is incensed and he commands the presence of Ahimelech and his family of priests.

-After ignoring Ahimelech’s pleas of both innocence and ignorance,

-Saul orders his soldiers to kill the priests of the Lord.

– But it’s one thing to be hunting down David,

-Another to kill the servants of the Lord,

-And they refuse.

-So Saul turns to the Edomite,

-The foreigner,

-And Doeg happily kills 85 priests.

 

-David was right to appraise Doeg as a man who loves evil rather than good, Psalm 52: 3

-Listen to how 1Samuel 22:19 describes Doeg’s blood lust;

“Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; men and women, children and infants, oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he put to the sword.” 1Samuel 22: 19

-Saul had been commanded to completely destroy the Amelikites,

-The men, women, children, animals and possessions.

-This description of total annihilation was to indicate that this was holy war,

-That the Israelites were God’s instruments in bringing God’s judgement upon an evil people.

-What Doeg does is described in the same terms,

-But rather than being the rightful judgement of God on the wicked,

-It was an evil act of revenge on the innocent.

-And both Saul and Doeg were responsible and culpable.

 

-But let’s step back a moment from this story.

-There are no end of situations and stories just like this scattered all across time and lives.

-Paranoia, jealousy, revenge,

-Ambition, desire, avarice.

-Innocence, virtue, goodness,

-Purity, integrity, decency.

-All clashing, colliding and conflicting so that suffering, pain and brokenness impact every one of us,

-And we’ve all said or thought with David;

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning.” Psalm 22:1

-Or maybe if not that dramatically,

-Then at least like David in Psalm 55;

“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; 2 hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught.” Psalm 55: 1-2

-We’ve all moved at some time in our life,

-Through that spectrum of emotion where God is far removed,

-To he’s there,

-But maybe not listening or even caring.

-Or he’s powerless to act.

 

-If you’ve felt or thought this way,

-You’ve banged up against what philosophers call ‘the problem of evil’.

-The problem of an all powerful, all knowing, good God on the one hand,

-And the existence of evil and suffering on the other.

-Throughout the Psalms we see David reflecting upon the very same question.

-Even the writer of Exodus shows an understanding of the problem,

-When he writes that Pharaoh hardened his heart,

-God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,

-And someone or something else hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

-Pharaoh inflicted suffering on the Hebrews from the malice in his own heart.

-God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order that the Israelites would see the power of God in rescuing them.

-Some other evil power or force hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to foil God’s plan of salvation.

-Which one was it?

-Exodus would seem to be suggesting it was all of them.

-And so responsibility and culpability get mixed into a confusing blur.

-David felt responsible for the death of Ahimelech and his family because he saw Doeg at Nob.

-Yet Doeg was there only because he was ‘detained before the Lord’.

-Why did God detain him?

-Did he harden Doeg’s heart like he did with Pharaoh?

-So was God responsible for the death of Ahimelech?

-In fact was God responsible for David’s plight?

-The problem of evil,

-The problem of suffering.

 

-However unless we make a distinction between responsibility and culpability,

-Being involved in an action and being guilty of it,

-We’ll tie ourselves in knots.

-Around 1600 Australians a year are killed in car accidents.

-Ford, Holden, Toyota are responsible for making those vehicles,

-But they’re not culpable for the deaths caused by drunks, the inexperienced or the just plain unfortunate.

-Because God is the creator of everything,

-He’s responsible for everything.

-He’s responsible for the beauty of this world,

-Just as much as human beings and the devil rebelling against him.

-Why?

-Because he created moral beings.

-He made creatures who could freely choose their behaviours,

-Who could choose to obey or reject him.

 

-Genesis tell us not only that God made the entire universe,

-But it also explains why the perfect world of Genesis 1 & 2 is not what we see after Genesis 3.

-Genesis 3 pulls back the curtain of history,

-To show a choice made by the first human beings to rebel against God.

-And with that rebellion death, disease and disorder entered God’s creation.

-God created us with hearts that could be hardened,

-We chose to harden our hearts against God,

-And Satan hardened our hearts to ignore God and follow our own wilful desires.

-‘Responsibility’ for the condition of our world is spread across all.

-But not ‘culpability’.

-God was not culpable for the sin of Adam and Eve,

-God was not culpable for the fall of Satan,

-Guilt lies at the feet of those beings who wilfully chose to disobey God.

-Guilt lies at the feet of Doeg who through a desire for wealth and position,

-Lied about Ahimelech and slaughtered his family.

-Guilt lies at the feet of Saul who through an insane jealousy of David,

-Ordered the murder of innocents.

 

-But there’s one more piece in this particular puzzle that needs to be placed.

-There was a very famous case in America concerning the Ford Pinto,

-A car with a design fault that caused it to explode in low speed rear end accidents.

-The company refused to change the design,

-Because it was cheaper to pay out death and injury claims,

-Than to fix the problem.

-A court found Ford guilty of negligence for not fixing the problem.

-Because they knew of the problem and refused to act,

-They were found to be both ‘responsible’ and ‘culpable’ for the deaths of over 180 people.

-Despite David’s sense of responsibility there really was nothing he could have done.

-He may have judged Doeg’s character to be wicked,

-But he couldn’t have possibly seen the ruthless evil that he was capable of and would commit.

-But God does know what we’re capable of,

-In fact an eternal, omniscient God not only knows what we could do but what we will do.

-And he could prevent all evil.

 

-Or he could hold the evil-doers to account.

-He could bring justice to the offenders and the sufferers.

-In Psalm 52:5 David recognises this characteristic of God,

-He is holy and just.

-He won’t let the wicked get away with their evil;

“But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.” Psalm 52:5

-Here is where responsibility and culpability diverge.

-If God let the guilty get away with their sins he’d be neither just nor holy,

-In fact he’d be complicit in letting evil flourish.

-But David knows the character of his God.

-He knows there’ll be an eternal price to pay.

-And it’ll be a very public reckoning;

“The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying, ‘See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!’” Psalm 52: 6-7

-Who is it the righteous will fear?

-It’s not the wicked,

-They laugh at them,

-And their foolish belief that they’ll escape the judgement of God.

-No, it’s God they’ll fear.

-They’ll recognise that God is indeed all powerful and is not to be trifled with.

-He’s an awesome God who cannot be treated lightly or dismissed.

-He’s a holy God who does not brook disobedience and sin.

 

-Doeg declared an unholy war on the servants of the Lord,

-He slaughtered the innocent.

-We may have been shocked to hear God command Saul to completely annihilate the Amelikites.

-But that’s because we judge by human standards.

-What could be so bad that God would want to completely wipe the very existence of a people from the face of the earth?

-What could possibly justify such holy war?

-The answer this side of heaven is,

-I have no idea!

-Just as I have no idea why God doesn’t stop every evil before it occurs,

-Just as David had no idea why he was hated by Saul,

-Why he couldn’t rely on the people of Keilah.

-But within Psalm 52 David shares the insight which should strengthen us,

-When we’re wrestling with the pain and sufferings of this broken world,

-When we’re struggling for meaning and purpose in the midst of evil and wickedness;

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God for ever and ever. I will thank you for ever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.” Psalm 52: 8-9

-God is good.

-This is both a moral judgement and a statement of character.

-God is good.

 

-The answer to the problem of evil is not solved by appeals to philosophy but character.

-God is good.

-The philosophical problem is framed in such a way that logic demands an either or answer,

-Either God is good or evil is invincible.

-But God is good,

-Therefore evil does not have the last word.

-That evil is powerless in the presence of God is seen most perfectly on the cross.

-To a wicked world looking on,

-God is weak, pitiful, defeated.

-But the reality was something different,

-For the death and evil that has cursed mankind from that first rebellion,

-Was swallowed up in the self giving love of Jesus.

-God is good.

-God’s unfailing love conquered our hardened hearts.

-What then is our response in the face of the hard heart?

-What will give us confidence in our struggles?

-Hope in conflicts?

-David’s victorious praise;

“I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Psalm 52:8

-Because God is good.