Perhaps you saw it too. Late this past Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses alike were lamenting the outcome of the Presidential election. One such response went like this: “I’m so scared and angry and sad. If there is anyone in my life that voted for Trump, they better never come around my children. They have no idea what they’ve done.” This comment shows that a Trump presidency has created fear, anxiety, worry, concern, and even anger in some. The way these people are reacting to the election reveals that there is a foreboding sense that we’ve just entered an impossible dilemma.
In God’s wise ordering of all things through His providence it is no surprise that our text for this morning addresses such times. Please turn in your Bible to 1 Samuel 29, the title of this sermon is ‘God’s Quiet, Surprising, and Pursuing Mercy.’
As we enter into 29:1 the author picks up where he left off in 28:2. So return with me to 28:2 where we left David in an impossible dilemma. One of the kings of the Philistines, Achish the king of Gath, had enlisted David and his 600 men as his personal bodyguards and set off with them to fight against Israel. As you can imagine David felt trapped. Being the anointed king of Israel David does not want to fight against his own people, and more importantly he does not want to dishonor God by doing so.
The question of the text this morning as we enter into 29:1 is this, ‘What in the world is David going to do?’ Let’s read these 11 verses to find out, follow along as I read 1 Samuel 29:1-11.
This passage begins in v1-5 with a conversation between Achish and the Philistine commanders and concludes in v6-11 with a conversation between Achish and David.
a) Achish and the Philistine Commanders (v1-5)
v1 lets us know the beginnings of the battle. The Philistines have gathered all their forces at Aphek while all Israel had camped near the spring in Jezreel. v2 reminds us of David’s dilemma. There he is in the rear with king Achish, marching with the Philistines to fight Israel. You have to wonder what David is thinking. What is David to do? He can try to escape while they’re marching along, but he’s got 600 men with him, and they’re in the midst of a horde of Philistine soldiers, to try and escape would likely mean certain death. He could make something up and lie to Achish about why he suddenly needs to leave and turn back, but the Philistines would probably take that as either cowardice or deception, both of which would likely result in certain death as well. He could tell the truth to Achish, that he is the anointed king of Israel, and that God has told him he would have a sure and successful throne. But, if the Philistines found out that David was going to be the next king and that his kingdom would be lasting and successful, it too would likely lead to certain death. David is in a pickle for sure.
Now, David’s dilemma meets us today in profound ways. I believe that in regard to suffering and trials we can summarize the existence of all people by stating that most of us are in 1 of 3 positions right now. We’re either 1) facing an impossible dilemma, 2) just coming out of an impossible dilemma, or 3) just about to go into an impossible dilemma. Knowing this, that we’re either in, just out of, or just about to go into some kind of trial should make us eager to gain encouragement and help in our dilemmas by seeing how God deals with David in the midst of his.
How does God work in this dilemma? He places doubt in the hearts of the Philistine commanders concerning David. In v3 they say to Achish, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” Achish responds in defense of David and his men. Perhaps the rest of the Philistine commanders do not know David’s story as well as Achish does, perhaps they’ve never heard it and are stunned that Hebrews are with them even while they’re going to attack the rest of the Hebrews. It seems precarious for sure. But Achish goes to bat for David and his men by telling the others that they’ve deserted, they’ve have been with him for a long while, and all throughout that time he’s found no reason to doubt them. In spite of the plea from Achish, the commanders weren’t swayed. After what had to be a heated debate, in v4 the commanders grow angry with Achish and conclude that David and his men should not be with them during the battle because it is likely that they will switch sides and begin fighting against them. After all, they said, “…isn’t this David of whom they sing to one another in dances saying ‘Saul has stuck down his thousands, and David has struck down his ten thousands’?” Their concern makes sense. David has betrayed his own country and you cannot trust a traitor. Perhaps they’re even worried that David will attack them all from the rear while Israel comes at them from the front?
b) Achish and David (v6-11)
Because Achish was one of 5 Philistine kings, he cannot always do what he thinks is best. In the case of David fighting in this war as his bodyguard he was outvoted. So in v6 he goes to David to give the news, and the first thing we notice is that the words Achish gives to David here in v6-10 are nothing but honorable and kind. He says David has been honest, that he has found nothing wrong with him from the first day, and that because of these things Achish would gladly have him beside him in any campaign. He even says in v9 that David is as an angel of God to him. Nevertheless in v6b, v7, and v9-10 Achish tells him that he must leave peaceably so that the other commanders do not get more upset than they already are.
v8 is the issue in this section. It seems from the look of it that David really is trying to stay with them to fight against Israel. This makes us ask: does he really want to stay and fight against his own people? Or is he lying and putting on a show…acting like he is grieved that he doesn’t get to stay with them playing the part of an upset soldier? Well, I think David is mixed here. He really has developed a close relationship with Achish and really is eager to serve him well, but also doesn’t want Achish to know who he really is. So I think the words that come out of David’s mouth in v8 are genuine and truly reflect the desires of his heart at this moment. But due to the precarious situation he’s in he doesn’t continue to push the matter when Achish again told him to return in v9-10. He agrees and returns home in the morning, most likely praising God fervently in his heart for getting him out of this mess. As we’ll come to see, it was good that he was dismissed back to Ziklag, they needed him more than he knew. As David left it says the Philistines went up to Jezreel in v11b, which is where Israel was camped in v1 – what does this mean? The battle has begun.
1) God’s Quiet Presence
The most obvious and clear mark about God’s presence is that this chapter says nothing about God’s presence. Even more so, the only person in this text to even mention anything about God is the Philistine king Achish in v6 and v9. Walter Bruggemann, in his commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel says the following about this silence: “There is no mention of God here, but we are dealing with a highly self-conscious theological literature that observes the undercurrent of divine governance without being explicit. God is with David everywhere…the narrator is not so disbelieving as to perceive the outcome of the narrative as luck.” Though the text doesn’t explicitly tell us of God or His work to save David, it does imply it in every verse. But…why? Why is this chapter so explicitly silent about God? Why must we search and dig down into this chapter to see God’s implicit work for David? Part of the answer is that it’s the task of the Church and those within it to think back over the text and our lives to see God’s hand quietly saving and sustaining. As you do this, can you not see glimpses here and there of the silent mercies and quiet grace God has given you?
Allow me to illustrate: when two people begin to fall for each other…for fear of scaring away the other person, they usually don’t reveal the depth of their feelings for them. They just linger in one another’s eyes and spend enormous amounts of time with the other person. This causes feelings of excitement as well as uncertainty. I doubt any of you, when being in this position, ever looked at the other person and said, ‘I’m thinking this is going well, next Tuesday at 8:34 pm I am going to hold your hand. Does that work for you?’ No, rather than that you just allowed your hand to brush closely by hers or his and hope for a clasp. Planning that moment for later would likely cause the excitement to scatter. We prefer that moment to be silent and quiet. Though the illustration breaks down at certain points Gods ways with us are similar. He doesn’t look at us and say, ‘On June 3rd you’ll find yourself suffering, and I will graciously deliver you.’ No, God doesn’t announce His rescuing work like a TV commercial. What happens is on June 3rd when you’re experiencing a deep suffering we see God show up to lift the darkness and praise Him!
This is what God does here in 1 Samuel 29. His presence with David is powerful and robust, He’s always with David, but His presence nonetheless quiet and silent. Can’t you say that this is how you’ve felt God to be with you much of the time? His Word tells us He is always with us, but His presence is often quiet though constant and consistent. O’ the ways God works in the soul of man, does it not bring your heart to praise? It ought to.
2) God’s Surprising Ways
God could have saved David from this seemingly impossible dilemma by sending confusion among the Philistines, or by having them turn their swords on one another, or swooping down and removing David in an instant. No, God did none of these things. God used His very enemies to proclaim good news. When David heard Achish tell him in v9 what the Philistine commanders said in v4 David inwardly rejoiced! “Send the man back, that he may return to the place to which you have assigned him.” Good news of God’s deliverance from the mouth of God’s enemies. This is not the first time God used His enemies to save His people. He did it once already in 1 Samuel, in chapter 23 when Saul was just about to capture David God sent the Philistines on a raid within Israel and distracted Saul so David and his men could sneak away unharmed. That God often uses His enemies as a weapon to wield the power of His grace going towards His people is part of the reason why Psalm 23:5 says “God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies.” The surprising part about it is that sometimes God causes our enemies to set the table. This is how David’s dilemma unfolded.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” says the Lord in Isaiah 55:8. How greatly is this displayed in the work of our Lord Jesus? Who could’ve guessed that His darkness would bring us light? That His thirst would bring us satisfaction? That His shame would bring us freedom? That His groaning would bring us endless song? That His rejection would bring us welcome? That His death would bring us life? That His triumph over death in the resurrection would be the first of many more to come? Only God could do this! Only God could bring grace from guilt, mercy from murder, and salvation from sin! Behold our God!!
3) God’s Pursuing Mercy
When we remember how David got to the Philistines in the first place we learn our last lesson.
In 27:1-28:2 we see David despairing and in that hopelessness he sins and leaves Israel to find home and haven with the king of Gath, Achish. This was sin, this was folly for David. But wonder of wonders God still pursues David in the midst of his sin and folly and saves him from the impossible through grace unfathomable. Too many of us have imagined a god who is an angry judge just waiting for any of his people to lift a finger in the wrong direction so he can smite them down to the dust and reject them forever. This is not the god of the Bible. No, the God of the Bible has saved David from the lion, has saved David from Goliath, has saved David many times from Saul, and has now in chapter 27 and 29 saved David from David. David expresses this wonder in Psalm 23:6 when he says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The Hebrew word there translated as ‘follow’ is the word ‘radaf’ which means ‘pursue.’ “Surely God’s goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.”
So be reminded of the grace of God. If God uses and pursues people as messed up, broken, and foolish as David was, than there is hope that God uses and pursues messed up, broken, and foolish people like you and me.
There is a contrast between the ending of chapter 29 and chapter 28 that we are meant to notice. Both Saul and David were in the dark night of despair. Saul unsure of how to defeat the Philistines because God won’t answer him any longer. David stuck with those same Philistines and unsure of how to escape from them. Saul’s despair ended in greater despair with the announcement of his impending death. David’s despair ended in the morning as he walked home to Ziklag. God saved David, He didn’t save Saul. Lesson? God does not always save, but He always does what is right. We can rest in this.
God’s presence is often quiet, God’s ways are often surprising, God’s mercy chases us down.