Sermon: Epiphany 4, 28 January 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Trapped! 1Samuel 23:7-14, Psalm 31

-Even to today the most feared weapon of warfare is the siege.

-Siege is a pretty simple but brutal tactic,

-Surround a city,

-Cut off its food and water supply,

-And starve the people into surrender.

-When people are driven to the point of desperation,

-Desperate deeds are done.

-We saw that last week in David’s flight from Saul.

-Pushed to the point of insane desperation David flees to a Philistine city,

-Where he only escapes by feigning madness.

-But David is not the only desperate person in this story of his journey to the throne of Israel.

 

-Psalm 31 draws a contrast between David,

-And the enemies who are harassing him.

-He’s the faithful man who takes refuge in the Lord, v1

-While others in this world cling to worthless idols, v6.

-He won’t be shamed for his trust in God, v17

-But the wicked will.

-He’ll always be heard by God,

-But the wicked will lie silent in the grave.

-The Lord preserves the faithful, v23

-But the proud he pays back in full.

-And as we read of the struggles of David in the book of 1Samuel,

-It’s hard not to think that King Saul fits perfectly into this picture of the wicked man,

-A man under siege of his own character and making.

 

-It’s important for us not to overlook Saul.

-God’s original intent after rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt,

-Was that they were to be a theocracy,

-That God was to be their king.

-But after a long period of judges providing leadership,

-The people cry out to the prophet Samuel,

-‘Give us a king to lead us.’

-Samuel was displeased at this request but God’s reply is insightful;

“. . . it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” 1Samuel 8:7

-Israel is back to its old habit of rejecting the kingly rule of God.

-After hearing all the downsides of monarchy,

-The people still demand;

“We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” 1Samuel 8:19-20

-Can you see the subtle error of their demand?

-They want a king who’ll fight their battles.

-Yet it had been God who had done that for them in the past.

-Their demand for a king was a repudiation of the history of God’s protection.

-And Saul is the king who God directs Samuel to anoint.

 

-And it starts very promising.

-After Samuel anoints Saul,

-He tells him that the Spirit of God will come upon him in power,

-And he’ll be changed into a different person.

-As he leaves Samuel to return home to his uncle’s house,

-We’re told God changes Saul’s heart.

-And sure enough,

-When he gets to Gibeah he meets a band of prophets,

-The Holy Spirit comes powerfully upon him and Saul prophesies with them.

-Shortly after the people declare Saul king the Ammonites invade the town of Jabesh.

-Saul unites the Israelites into an army that slaughters the enemy.

-Not everyone was happy that Saul had been made king however,

-And some declared he wouldn’t rule them.

-After this victory there was a call that these traitors be put to death,

-But Saul shows incredible wisdom, humility and spiritual insight saying;

“No one shall be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.” 1Samuel 11: 13

 

-If Saul had continued upon this righteous path then his story would have been different.

-But Saul soon reveals his rebellious, self-centred heart.

-Samuel instructs him to meet him at Gilgal in seven days when he’ll offer up a sacrifice to God.

-In the meantime Israel is again threatened.

-This time by a huge Philistine army.

-The Israelites become fearful and retreat to Gilgal.

-After seven days Saul’s men begin to scatter and there’s no sign of Samuel.

-So Saul takes it upon himself to offer up the burnt sacrifice.

-Just as he finishes the ceremony Samuel appears and says to Saul,

-‘What have you done?’

-Just listen to Saul’s excuse;

“When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favour.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” 1Samuel 13: 11-12

-‘It’s all your fault Samuel.’

-This may not seem to be a big deal for us,

-But Samuel’s response indicates there’s more happening here than just burning a lamb of two;

“‘You have done a foolish thing,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.’”  1Samuel 13: 13-14

-Saul is under siege.

 

-But things are going to get worse.

-The years pass and Samuel reappears to tell Saul that God is going to use him to punish the Amalekites.

-Saul is to completely annihilate every man, woman, child, animal and possession,

-Nothing is allowed to live.

-Now whatever you may feel about that command just listen to what actually happened;

“But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” 1Samuel 15: 9

-They spared king Agag,

-They kept the best animals and everything that was good,

-And they destroyed the despised and weak.

-When Samuel confronts him about his failure to obey the command of God,

-Saul makes the excuse that they’d kept all these good things aside to sacrifice to God.

-To which Samuel replies;

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1Samuel 15: 22

 

-David wrote in Psalm 31;

“But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’” Psalm 31:16

-That’s what Saul failed to do,

-Trust God.

-Even his answer to Samuel is an insight into his character;

“‘But I did obey the Lord,’ Saul said. ‘I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.’” 1Samuel 15:20-21

-He fails to see his fault.

-He claims to have completely destroyed the Amelikites,

-But king Agag is an Amelikite!

He was blameless,

-It was the soldiers who brought back the animals,

-‘They failed not me!’

-Faced with his sin and rebellion Saul tries to justify himself.

-That’s completely opposite to David’s response when he’s confronted for his sin with Bathsheba.

-And as Saul tears Samuel’s cloak trying to turn him back,

-So God tears the kingdom from Saul,

-And gives it over to ‘the man after his own heart’.

 

-The bitterness and jealousy of Saul grows,

-To the point where he’d rather see David destroyed than care for his own people.

-Again David’s character shines through.

-Although he’s on the run from Saul,

-David still has compassion for his fellow Israelites.

-He hears of the attacks by the Philistines on the town of Keilah,

-And asks the Lord whether he should go up and defend the city?

-God says to go up.

-But David has problems with his soldiers;

“Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” 1Samuel 23:3

-But listen how David handles this,

-He doesn’t capitulate and say ‘well that’s the end of that’,

-He turns back to God and asks him if this is the right thing to do?

-And God says he’ll give the Philistines over to him,

-And David saves the town of Keilah.

-David does what the king is supposed to do,

-Unite his people,

-Save his people.

 

-Contrast that to Saul who hears of David’s adventure and says v7;

“God has given him into my hand; for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” 1Samuel 23: 7

-Saul sees this as an opportunity to take advantage of David’s grace,

-And sends his entire army to besiege David.

-Now remember the fear that siege struck in the hearts of the ancients.

-When David hears of Saul’s plans he knows this is bad news for the town he’s just rescued.

-Psalm 31 is a mish-mash of emotion.

-It starts with the high point of David’s trust in God,

-Then seems to dive down into uncertainty and despair.

-In v9 he says ‘Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress’,

-And then vv11-13 seem to explain the source of that distress;

“I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.13 For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!— as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.” 1Samuel 23: 11-13

-It might seem unfair,

-But David’s new neighbours in Keilah were clearly not happy that Saul was sending soldiers to besiege their town because of David.

-He literally would have been an object of dread.

-But once again he turns to God,

-And asks of the Lord what he probably already knew in his heart,

-‘Will the citizens of Keilah hand us over to Saul?’

 

-Imagine having rescued a town at great personal risk only to have them turn against you.

-Doesn’t seem to show much appreciation.

-But for David it would have been pointless saving the town,

-Only to have it destroyed because he was in it.

-And once again we see in the Psalm the prayer David may well have been bringing to God in that circumstance;

“Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge. . . take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge” Psalm 31: 2,4

-In vv21-22 David expresses God’s answer to his prayer;

“Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. 22 In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’ Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.” Psalm 31: 21-22

-God is faithful.

-God will act out of love for his people.

 

-David opens the Psalm with a declaration;

“In you, O Lord, I seek refuge” Psalm 31: 1

-David is committed to God.

-He’s taken refuge in God,

-He’s nailed his colours to the mast and is willing to accept what that means.

-We don’t see such trust or humility in Saul.

-But as we saw last week in Psalm 34,

-There’s a prophetic edge to David’s Psalms that go beyond his own situation,

-And look forward to another king who’ll be anointed by God to rule over his kingdom.

-That king is Jesus,

-And in v5 we’re shown the prophetic window,

-Through which we see another ruler handed over by the people he came to save.

-Luke recalls that Jesus’ final words from the cross were;

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

-Besieged by a hostile crowd,

-A complacent government,

-An antagonistic hierarchy,

-Jesus continued his confidence in his heavenly Father,

-And God silenced their lying lips, Psalm 31:18.

-David saw the fate of the wicked shamefully lying silent in the grave, Psalm 31:17,

-But on the third day Jesus rose from the very grave that silences all the enemies of God.

 

-Psalm 31 concludes with this exhortation by David;

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” Psalm 31: 24

-Whether we realise it or not,

-As followers of Jesus we are besieged by the world.

-That’s going to be the reality until Jesus returns.

-There’ll be times when we can break out,

-Where the enemy retreats,

-Just as there’ll be times when we’re hard pressed and may fear for our own survival.

-There’ll be times when those closest to us will be the cause of our grief,

-And when the weak ones around us will regain new strength.

-Such will be the ups and downs of life reflected in this Psalm of David.

-Yet through all of these situations of life,

-We have a faithful God who is with us,

-Who hears and speaks to us.

-We’re not alone,

-We have a Saviour and Lord who has been where we are,

-And even in the darkest of those times he was still able to say to his heavenly Father,

-‘Into your hands I commit my spirit.’

-It’s because those hands are faithful and strong that we can have the same confidence,

-And take hope in our Lord.