1 Samuel 18:10-16
Sermon preached on May 31, 2009 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
In his book, “The Gulag Archipelago” Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn tells of his imprisonment in the Soviet concentration camp system. After he was arrested he was put in solitary confinement for four days and the only human contact he had was with his interrogators. But then he was put in a cell with other prisoners. He describes the great relief that came from meeting people he could share with—how at once there was a tremendous bond between them—and how that it was such a moving experience that the prisoners would always remember with fondness their first cell. He even entitled that chapter in his book, "First Cell, First Love". But he says that he immediately sensed something alien about one of them and he automatically clammed up and would not converse with him. He writes, (Vol. 1 p. 185-186)
“I had not yet even heard the word 'nasedka'—'stool pigeon'—nor learned that there had to be one such 'stool pigeon' in each cell. And I had not yet had time to think things over and conclude that I did not like this fellow, Georgi Kramarenko. But a spiritual relay, a sensor relay, had clicked inside me, and it had closed him off from me for good and for all. I would not bother to recall this event if it had been the only one of its kind. But soon, with astonishment and alarm, I became aware of the work of this internal sensor relay as a constant, inborn trait. The years passed and I lay on the same bunks, marched in the same formations, and worked in the same work brigades with hundreds of others. And always that secret sensor relay, for whose creation I deserved not the least bit of credit, worked even before I remembered it was there, worked at the first sight of a human face and eyes, at the first sound of a voice- so that I opened my heart to that person either fully or just the width of a crack, or else shut myself off from him completely. This is so consistently unfailing that all the efforts of the State Security officers to employ stool pigeons began to seem to me as insignificant as being pestered by gnats: after all, a person who has undertaken to be a traitor always betrays the fact in his face and in his voice, and even though some were more skilled in pretense, there was always something fishy about them. On the other hand, the sensor relay helped me distinguish those to whom I could from the very beginning of our acquaintance completely disclose my most precious depths and secrets- secrets for which heads roll. Thus it was that I got through eight years of imprisonment, three years of exile, and another six years of underground authorship, which were in no wise less dangerous. During all those seventeen years I recklessly revealed myself to dozens of people- and didn't make a misstep even once.”
Solzhenitzyn's ability to tell who was a spy was one of the things that enabled him to survive in the gulag. Without it he would have been exposed and executed. But his ability to tell who was a snitch saved him. It was the key to his survival and success in the gulag.
In the text before us we have the key to successful living on this earth. In verse 12 we read about the key difference between Saul and David, with David going from success to success and Saul spiraling downward. We read,
"the LORD was with David
but had left Saul."
In this chapter (and the ones surrounding it) we have very vivid contrasts between David and Saul. David is successful in whatever he does. Saul is fearful, dismayed, spiteful, and given to depression. Saul is doomed. David is headed for glory. It's all because the Lord was with David and the Lord had left Saul. Our text emphasizes this, repeats it. Verse 14 attributes David's success to the fact that he experienced the Lord's presence. It says of David,
"In everything he did he had great success,
because the LORD was with him."
But it was different with Saul. In 1 Samuel 16:14 we read,
"Now the Spirit of the LORD
had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit
from the LORD tormented him."
The point is that it is God's presence with you that makes you successful. With God you will have success, without Him you will have failure. This is the key to everything.
We see in other places of Scripture as well. In Genesis 39:2-5 we read,
"The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered,
and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.
When his master saw that the LORD was with him
and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did,
Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant.
Potiphar put him in charge of his household,
and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.
From the time he put him in charge
of his household and of all that he owned,
the LORD blessed the household
of the Egyptian because of Joseph.
The blessing of the LORD
was on everything Potiphar had,
both in the house and in the field."
God was with Joseph and even Potiphar was blessed because of it.
We see the same thing later with Joseph, when he was in prison. Genesis 39:20-23
"But while Joseph was there in the prison,
the LORD was with him;
he showed him kindness and granted him favor
in the eyes of the prison warden.
So the warden put Joseph in charge
of all those held in the prison,
and he was made responsible
for all that was done there.
The warden paid no attention
to anything under Joseph's care,
because the LORD was with Joseph
and gave him success in whatever he did."
It was the same with Moses and Joshua. In Joshua 1:5 the Lord said to Joshua,
"No one will be able to stand up against you
all the days of your life.
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you;
I will never leave you nor forsake you."
In the books of Joshua and Judges we also see that Israel had success when God was with them. When God was with them they were able to drive out their enemies. When God wasn't with them, they did not meet with success.
We see a prime example of this in the first chapter of Deuteronomy. The Israelites were going to go up agaist the Amorites with the Lord's blessing. You'll remember the story. The 12 spies that came back with the bad report about the promised land. They discouraged the people and the people started talking about stoning Moses and picking a new leader to take them back to Egypt. God was angry with them and told them that they were going to have to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness, one year for each day that the spies spent exploring the land. When the people heard that they changed their minds and decided to go up and take possession of the land. But God said to Moses, (Deuteronomy 1:42)
'Do not go up and fight,
because I will not be with you.
You will be defeated by your enemies.'"
So we should understand that the Lord being with us is the key to everything. With the Lord we can do all things. As the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13
"I can do everything
through him who gives me strength."
And as Jesus said in John 15:4-5,
"No branch can bear fruit by itself;
it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit
unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches.
If a man remains in me and I in him,
he will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing."
The great lesson for us is that
you need to have God at your side.
You need the Lord to be with you. It's the key to successful living.
The great question you need to ask yourself is:
is the Lord by your side?
Is the Lord with you?
You need to get the answer to that question right. Yet it's a question about which we can easily deceive ourselves. Many people throughout history have thought that the Lord was with them when in fact He was not. You'll remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, (John 4:22)
"You Samaritans worship
what you do not know;"
They thought that God was with them when in fact He was not, for as Jesus continued,
"for salvation is from the Jews."
So in order to make sure we don't deceive ourselves we're going to look at two characteristics that our text shows us about someone who walks with God, someone the Lord is with.
The first characteristic that is necessary for the Lord to be with you is that
you must be living in obedience to His commandments.
The reason that God left Saul was because of his disobedience. This is made clear to us in many places. For example, in 1 Samuel 13:13-14, after Saul sinned by not waiting for Samuel and by offering the sacrifices himself, Samuel said to him,
"You acted foolishly.
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 leader of his people,
because you have
not kept the LORD'S command."
Then in 1 Samuel 15:10-11, after Saul's disobedience when he did not destroy the Amalekites, we read,
"Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel:
'I am grieved that I have made Saul king,
because he has turned away from me
and has not carried out my instructions.'"
The result of Saul's disobedience is given to us in 1 Samuel 16:14,
"Now the Spirit of the LORD
had departed from Saul,
and an evil spirit
from the LORD tormented him."
The sad thing about this is that people can deceive themselves about this.
They disregard God's commands and think that God is with them. They're like King Saul. They actually disobey God's commands, but they will maintain that they've obeyed them. We saw that in chapter 15. In verses 17f Samuel said to Saul,
"The LORD anointed you king over Israel.
And he sent you on a mission, saying,
'Go and completely destroy
those wicked people,
the Amalekites; make war on them
until you have wiped them out.'
Why did you not obey the LORD?
Why did you pounce on the plunder
and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?"
Saul replied, (verse 20)
"But I did obey the LORD.
I went on the mission
the LORD assigned me.
I completely destroyed the Amalekites
and brought back Agag their king."
You often hear that. People will tell you that they're close to God, that God is with them—even though they're disobeying His commandments.
There's another way that people deceive themselves about God's commands.
They actually know that they aren't keeping the commands in the Bible but they say that's all right because they're being led by the Spirit.
They say that the Spirit is everything. They will tell you that commandments have to do with law, and the law is not good. They will tell you that we New Testament Christians should live by the Spirit. They accuse Christians like us who have great respect for the law and commandments of God of bible-idolatry. In other words, they accuses us of making an idol out of the Bible. They say that we worship the Bible rather than God.
Of course we need to make sure that we don't do that. We need to worship God Himself.
But essentially they're presenting a false dichotomy. It is certainly true that sometimes there is a contrast between the law and the Spirit. The law cannot give life. We cannot be saved by keeping the law. But what we must understand is that there is nothing wrong with the content of the law. Herman Riddderbos writes, (Paul, An Outline of His Theology, p. 216)
"The antithesis between the law and the Spirit is thus not situated in the fact that the Spirit places himself over against the content and demand of the law. Rather, the object of the sending of Christ and of the Spirit represented by him is that the just demand of the law should be fulfilled, completed, finished, not only in Christ, but also in us. (Rom. 8:4) But law and Spirit stand over against each other, therefore, as two regimens, on the one hand as a rule of curse and of death, on the other of blessing and of lifeÖ"
So there is no disagreement between the Spirit and the content of the law. Indeed, the law reflects God's character. God's Word reflects His character.
The Bible is God's Word. To have respect for God's Word is to have respect for God Himself. Not to respect His Word is to not respect God Himself. As Jesus said in John 14:21,
"Whoever has my commands
and obeys them,
he is the one who loves me."
The opposite is also true. If you have God's commands and don't obey them, you don't love God.
We have the same teaching given to us by the apostle John in 1 John 5:3-4. He wrote,
"This is love for God: to obey his commands.
And his commands are not burdensome,
for everyone born of God
overcomes the world."
The apostle James also says the same thing. In James 4:4 we read,
"don't you know that friendship
with the world is hatred toward God?
Anyone who chooses to be a friend
of the world becomes an enemy of God."
So it's clear that keeping God's commandments is one of the keys in being close to God. If you're a Christian you will not only love God but you'll love His commandments. As David said in Psalm 119:72
"The law from your mouth
is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold."
The whole reason for God taking away His Spirit from Saul was because Saul disobeyed God. In our text we see that Saul became jealous of David and it was right after that that, (verse 10)
"an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul."
Disobedience to God resulted in God departing from Saul.
So I ask you, are you keeping God's commandments? If you're not don't deceive yourself. You're not walking with God. You don't love God. God is not pleased with you. God is not with you.
The second characteristic that is necessary for the Lord to be with you is that
you must trust God. You must trust Him to control your whole life, to let Him be your life.
You need to have faith like David had. David had great faith in God. Before Goliath he showed that He trusted in God to give him the victory over the champion of the Philistines.
Saul on the other hand, didn't have faith in God. Indeed, he is characterized by fear. Three times in this chapter we are told that Saul was afraid of David. (Verses 12, 15, 29) Fear is a condition that comes when someone has no faith or very weak faith. Before Goliath Saul was terrified, he was afraid to go up against Goliath.
In Luke 8 we see that the disciples were afraid they were going to drown when a storm came up. They woke Jesus up and after He calmed the storm, He asked them, (verse 25)
"Where is your faith?"
Faith and fear are incompatible. Where one is the other is not.
If we're going to walk with God we need to have great faith. That great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, which describes the heroic deeds of so many men and women, shows that faith is indispensable. Hebrews 11:6 says,
"And without faith
it is impossible to please God,
because anyone who comes to him
must believe that he exists and that he rewards
those who earnestly seek him."
Because the Lord was not with Saul he was helpless in front of Goliath. He became dismayed and terrified.
But it was not like that for David. Consider the kind of trust that He had in God. It was total.
The kind of trust in God that is characteristic of someone who God is with is total—that you will trust Him when things look bad, when things look impossible, when you're in great danger, when everyone has deserted you.
That's what David did before Goliath.
One of the great lessons of the New Testament is that God is not only to be central to our lives, but that God is our life. In Colossians 3:4 the apostle Paul wrote,
"When Christ, who is your life, appears,
then you also will appear with him in glory."
God is the source of our life, and not just in a physical sense, in that He gives us life and breath, but in a most profound spiritual sense, that Christ's heavenly life, the life of the new age, has been given to us. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20,
"I have been crucified with Christ
and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."
He also said in Philippians 1:21,
"For to me, to live is Christ…"
Or as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!"
We belong to the new order. We have the Spirit living in us. We are not to live like everyone else on this earth. The new heavenly order has broken through and Christ's new life is our life. We are to live for Him, for His glory. People are to see Christ living in us. (Colossians 1:27) That's what walking with God means. We are to have such trust in God that people see it.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, you don't trust in God. God is not with you and what you should realize is that
without the Lord with you're lost.
What a terribly sad picture we have of Saul in this chapter. His situation is like a prelude to the future sufferings of those who are not in Christ. In verse 10 we read that he was 'raving' in the house after an evil spirit of the Lord came upon him. (The NIV translates it as 'prophesying' but that's not the best translation here.) Saul is filled with fear and is raving. He is tormented.
The New Testament tells us that on the last day there is going to be raving, weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Revelation 20:10 we are told that,
"the devil, who deceived them,
was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur,
where the beast and the false prophet
had been thrown.
They will be tormented day and night
for ever and ever."
God is just. Those who reject Him, who reject Jesus, will be cast away from Him. God Himself will do this. Dale Davis says, (1 Samuel, p. 175, note)
"We should not, by the way, be surprised that the evil spirit is 'from Yahweh.' Where else would it come from but from him who is sovereign over all things?"
Augustine writes, (On the Predestination of the Saints, xvi. 33)
"The fact that men sin is their own doing: that they by sinning do this or that comes from the power of God, who divides the darkness as he pleases."
God divides the darkness as He pleases. He abandoned Saul and even sent an evil spirit upon him.
Don't let that happen to you. The only way for you to escape destruction is to believe in Jesus, to trust in Him, to ask Him to save you. As we read in 1 John 3:23-24,
"And this is his command:
to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and to love one another as he commanded us.
Those who obey his commands live in him,
and he in them."
God to Jesus and have God come and make His abode with you. As Jesus said in John 14:23,
"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.
My Father will love him, and we will come to him
and make our home with him."
That's what you need. Go to Jesus now.