Monthly Archives: July 2012

the pulled punch (part 2)

Sometimes Satan comes in by the back door, quiet and unassuming, at the place we only have a sideways glance for. All attention is focused on the prime target, the obvious fight, and we leave our, um, rear flank open for a good whipping. David was busy not killing Saul and almost killed Nabal.

In the middle of the story of Saul and David are two nearly identical stories and in between those two stories is one about a woman caught in the middle of everything. While hiding from Saul, David and his men had to eat. He had provided protection for this man, Nabal’s, flocks and then requested food in exchange. Seems weird to us, but apparently a pretty standard understanding in that day. But Nabal, living up to his name, refuses and offends David, basically taking advantage of him. So David, in a weak moment, runs to avenge himself, full of the same passion and skill we’ve seen before, but this time misguided. Abigail, a beautiful and wise woman famously married to a rude idiot, runs to meet him. And the man who took out a giant listens to her—not because she was beautiful (although it probably didn’t hurt) or she flattered him or because he was wrong about Nabal, but because she reminded him of his responsibility before God.

Vengeance is mine… Jehovah will vindicate his people! See now that I, even I, am he and there is no god beside me; I kill and make alive; I wound and I heal, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

She echoes Moses’ song in Deuteronomy, which echoes the first commandment from Sinai: you shall have no other gods in my presence. A life that recognizes God’s proper place refuses to put trust and confidence in anything else. Nothing compares to God, nothing is in the same category, nothing else is worthy of our prayers, reliance, pursuit, adoration and unwavering loyalty. So Abigail deftly puts David back in his place by putting God in His. She reminds him that God wants to give him a dynasty because it will be characterized by fighting God’s battles (not his) and by sinlessness (so don’t!). If you are threatened, you will be kept alive by the care of God but your enemies will not be kept in his care but abandoned. And because of this when you are king, by the hand of God, you won’t have the burden of conscience that comes from needless bloodshed or the second-guessing of self-achievement. She says all this using language that reminds David of his battle with Goliath (a battle that was God’s battle, motivated not by revenge or offense to him, but to God) and with a double reminder of the error that is saving yourself. Perhaps the lady married to the rude idiot knew something of waiting for the deliverance of God.

David gave Abigail his ear (and then some) and it’s evident in his next encounter with Saul. In the first story, Saul practically falls into David’s lap, walking right into the cave he was hiding in. In the second, David rose and came to the place where Saul was encamped, and walks through Saul’s entire army in the dead of the night. In the first story, David cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, a reaching of his hand and weapon that was a little too close for comfort. The second time around, he refuses to touch him, only taking his spear and water bottle to prove his proximity. All of this adds up to a David who is simultaneously more bold and more harmless, a strange combination. His rash reaction to Nabal has made him wary of himself, but more resolute to trust God. As he tells Abishai in chapter 26, The Lord will strike Saul, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. David refused to kill the anointed the first time around, but now he does so because (as Abigail reminded him) both his own wellbeing and the timing of Saul’s death are within God’s hand. To kill Saul would be sin, which meant that it could not be a battle the Lord wanted him to fight—and fighting it would be to abandon the God who had made him king as the only God worth serving. David taunts Abner for not protecting the life of the anointed. His point is that he, Saul’s supposed enemy, is doing a better job at protecting him than his own commander, thus proving his innocence and determination to do God’s will. “David dreams of power; his dream, however, has limits beyond which he will not go. In that moment of refusal, David seems to know that violence against Saul would destroy him as well as Saul.” (Brueggeman) David refused to be a king after his own heart.

Sometimes the hardest part of a fight is standing still, waiting for the right moment. Outwardly David looks spotlessly courageous, but the psalms tell a different story of an intense inward struggle over the danger in his life and the implications it had for God’s faithfulness. As Murphy said of David, “He has to cooperate with the divine providence by doing nothing: the story of David exhibits “the paradox that all evil must be punished, but it is heroic to refrain from punishing… ‘David’s heroism comes not from deeds of war but from his heroic mercy… David’s heroic mercy is sustained and kept intact through his faith in a God who alone is just, whom he can trust to punish the evil he faces.”

It is here that we see the beauty of Christ as God’s final anointed one, truest Son of David. As Jesus hung on a cross, awaiting vindication of his righteousness, his lips muttered the words of his ancestor who had travailed the wilderness and found the faithfulness of God. When God shows up we see the heart David lived according to. We chase the infinite spiral of the incarnation when we wonder who followed who here. But both teach us that snatching for ourselves is never true achievement, that often if we just stand still God’s matchlessness will shine, that waiting for God is hard but deeply satisfactory. That life comes from death and sometimes the pulled punch wins the battle. The waiting and the fighting of the completely blameless One has given us so much glory—a king not just after God’s heart, but God for a king. Whatever’s worth fighting for should be given, not taken.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,

for in you my soul takes refuge;

          in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,

         till the storms of destruction pass by.

I cry out to God Most High,

         to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;

         he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah

         God will send out this steadfast love and his faithfulness!

My heart is steadfast, O God,

         my heart is steadfast!

I will sing and make melody!

Awake, my glory!

          Awake, O harp and lyre!

         I will awake the dawn!

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;

         I will sing praises to you among the nations.

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,

         your faithfulness to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!

         Let your glory be over all the earth!  

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.



Filed under Biblical Characters, Scripture

the pulled punch (part 1)

Anything worth fighting for should be given, not taken. I’ve been basting this line in my mind after a few weeks with David and Saul, turning it, coming back to it, layering it. There’s a lot of irony here and even questions: a fight of mostly standing still. As one scholar pointed out, “David… is bound on the one side by his own anointing by Samuel and on the other by Saul’s prior anointing. Both come from God…” (Francesca Murphy, I Samuel). David knows God’s will for his life, specifically and directly, but he waits for it rather than takes it.

David is an interesting character in so many ways, one of which is his sheer renaissance-reminiscent plethora of abilities. This guy wins battles, writes poems, plays music, woos women and is, you know, “after God’s own heart.” You almost feel bad for Saul. And Saul, in fact, was in many ways a very successful king—he protected Israel valiantly from her enemies (which is why they wanted a king in the first place). The problem with Saul is that he thought it was his responsibility to do so. You get the feeling that he was trying to bring God into the picture, but the conversation just could never get going. Saul builds altars for incriminating sacrifices, makes rash vows he can’t keep, sends for the priests and then shoos them away, wants the ark, doesn’t want the ark, etc. When Samuel comes to him at Gilgal he reminds him “Jehovah anointed you king over Israel and Jehovah sent you on a mission…” And his question, which is probably best translated as “Are you so little in your eyes?… Jehovah anointed you king…” hits the bullseye of Saul’s simultaneous inferiority/superiority complex. We’re well indoctrinated on the sad missteps of the self-esteem movement (mainly its failure to account for the fact that we actually are pretty crappy on our own), so it sounds a bit backwards to us for Samuel to be challenging Saul that he thought too little of himself. But in the context of the previous and following statements, his point is not that Saul attached far too little value to himself, but to what God wanted for him. By treating the fine print of God’s commands so flippantly, Saul revealed that he gave no weight to the role God had given him and his responsibility. He apparently thought it was his to rearrange and adjust—as though he could bargain with God, assuaging him with offerings while still furthering his own ambitions. He had forgotten who made him king and whose mission he was on.

Then there’s David, anointed and successful, encouraged on all sides to simply take what everyone knew was rightfully his, but who refuses to tamper with any of the fine print especially the anointing of the man hunting him down. As he would later declare, I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly turned from my God. For all his rules were before me and his statutes I did not put away from me. Although it would be an error to oversimplify the spiritual processes going on in David’s life, there is one theme that keeps popping up that seems key to this steadfast yet unambitious resolution.

David knew, more than anything, that God was with him. This simple statement summarizes the way God viewed David, David viewed God and what everyone around him saw. This became the core of his identity and David knew that to jeapordize that relationship (by sinning) meant to jeapordize everything he had, even his very life. Although a very talented and charismatic person, Scripture wants us to realize that David was king not because of his abilities but because of God’s choice. It was his story after all in which God can make the point that He “looks not on outward appearance as man does, but on the heart.” Because when we meet David he’s so far down the totem pole that God practically has to kick Samuel in the head to even consider him as future king. But from that point on, he’s God’s man and everywhere he goes people say that the Lord is with him. The narrator repeatedly points out to us that David was successful in everything he did, in everything Saul asked him to do, that everyone loved him, that Saul’s entire family abdicated to David in one fell swoop, that even former enemies did not harm him, that God continually provides for and protects David, that although Saul sought him every day, God did not give him into his hand. David knew that the source of his every success was God—and he believed it even more when “success” was defined as mere survival.

As David’s story begins we see him with two main enemies: Goliath and Saul. Goliath looms large in every way—he makes David famous. Saul is a much more complex enemy, lurking everywhere in the shadows, but he makes David’s fame just. One of my professors taught that David deserved his brother’s taunting remarks at the battle, that David was a cocky, know-it-all brat. I’m still not convinced of that reading, but David certainly does begin his warrior career with flourish. He is so sure of God’s pursuit of His glory he literally runs to take on a fight saying “the Lord will rescue me.” He brazenly warns this giant that he has “defied the name” of God and unbelievably goes against everyone’s better judgment stating that “it is not by sword or spear the Lord saves; the battle is the Lord’s!” Underneath this impossible courage, though, lie a few significant things. First, although I’d never seen this before, David really knows what he’s doing. As I read about this passage I learned that slings were legitimate weapons, not children’s toys and that David counted on the element of surprise and used it quite advantageously. Everything he does is calculated to make Goliath assume they will engage in hand-to-hand combat (the carrying of his staff and his last-minute run towards the giant) essentially throwing him off his real strategy. And his shot, finding a tiny opening with maximum impact, was certainly no accident. And as he told Saul, although probably only 15 or 16, he was no stranger to a fight. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” David had skill, but he knew where that skill came from and this is the fine line between confidence and arrogance. Saul was always looking for the magic bullet: the best warrior, a great sacrifice, an oath, and yet he was never confident. David had skills and mighty men and a priesthood (that came running after Saul killed most of them off), but he knew that these were not the source of his success, only the tools. When David says, over and over again, that God is his rock, his stronghold, it was because he knew that every cave he ever hid in and every outcropping he was shielded by was from God’s hand. David was confident, bold, courageous, and wonderfully afraid of nothing but his God.

In his battle with Goliath we see that David is afraid of nothing, but in his hiding from Saul we see that he feared God. Service for God is not something achieved but something given. The only way for David to live without sinning (in other words, really live), was God’s deliverance—and he waited for it till it seemed utterly impossible. He would rather be endangered, humiliated, questioned, and in hiding than in sin. It doesn’t seem like anyone else was on the same page with David regarding the whole not-killing-Saul-thing and yet he never succumbed to the excuses and justifications. David waits perhaps a decade for a kingship already promised to him but still in the hands of a raving lunatic. He is enabled to do this by the same faith that ran headlong towards a giant with a cowardly, taunting army behind him; any success he had would come from God. This kind of faith can make you look like a crazed daredevil on one day and a pitiful wimp on the next. If God is the giver of all true good, we should display both boldness (because He is able) and patience (because we are not). As David told the king of Moab, he was waiting to “know what God will do for me.”

I said that no one was with David on the subject of preserving Saul, but I’m going to take that back. There was one who stood up to David and allowed him no excuses at a time when he was tempted to take them. Abigail comes at David with more true courage than all his mighty men.

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June/July Update

Here is our latest update about going to England.

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