1 Samuel 23:1-14
Sermon preached on August 23, 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.
Three years ago on our way back from Nova Scotia we stopped in Maine to visit my college roommate. They have a cottage on a lake and we spent a nice couple of days with them. When we left and were planning our way home I looked at the map and I found that there were no major roads that would have taken us in a direct line for home. At one point in New Hampshire I had the choice of going north to meet a major route or taking a more direct route on some back roads. I foolishly made the decision to take the secondary roads. The problem wasn't that the roads were bad, they were actually quite good. The problem was that in each little village that we entered, we'd take the wrong road out of town. I've never had a problem following signs but the problem was that there was a lack of signs in those small villages. In every village we came to, we took the wrong road and we'd get a quarter mile out of town and find that we were on the wrong road. So we'd have to backtrack to find the correct road. Sometimes we had to ask because we couldn't find a sign. It seemed to take forever to go those thirty or forty miles. There were four or five villages in a row where we took the wrong road out of town. You would think that the law of averages would kick in and we'd get one right—but that's not how it worked. At every intersection we made the wrong choice even though we were paying attention and doing everything in our power to take the right route.
At this point in his reign King Saul is like that in his decision making. Just about every decision he makes is the wrong one. He has stopped following the Lord and now he has no one to give him good guidance. Saul is totally without direction from the Lord. He had many of the priests of the Lord killed so he couldn't consult them. Not only that, he was living in such a way that he had cut himself off from God's help. Those who sin like Saul find themselves in a situation where God doesn't answer them even if they ask Him. In 1 Samuel 28:6 we read of Saul,
"He inquired of the LORD,
but the LORD did not answer him
by dreams or Urim or prophets."
Saul was in a hopeless situation. He needed direction but he had cut himself off from it.
What a contrast with David. At every turn he has guidance from the Lord. He hears that the Philistines are attacking Keilah and he asks the Lord if he should go up and attack the Philistines. The Lord tells him to go up and save Keilah. It's interesting that although that's good enough for David, it's not good enough for his men. They hesitate. They said to him, (verse 3)
"Here in Judah we are afraid.
How much more, then, if we go to Keilah
against the Philistine forces!"
So David asked the Lord again. This time the Lord not only told him to go up specifically tells him that He would give the Philistines into his hands. Those answers probably came to David through the prophet Gad. Later, when Abiathar came to David at Keilah, he brought the ephod. This could be a reference to the Urim and Thummim, which were probably stones that were place in the breastplate of the high priest, which he wore and by which he could ascertain the will of God with a yes or no answer. (Exodus 28:30) After David had rescued Keilah he asked the Lord whether Saul would come down there after him. God told him they would. David then asked if the citizens of Keilah would hand him over to Saul, and the Lord told him that they would. So David left Keilah and made his escape.
The main lesson we learn from our text is
the importance of asking God to guide you in everything you do.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We should be continually looking to Him to guide us. That's why in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are told to pray without ceasing. As the NIV translates it,
You are to be walking with God. That means that you will be in constant contact with Him, asking Him to lead and guide you in every situation. As the apostle Paul commanded us in Ephesians 6:18,
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions
with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind,
be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."
The context there is about the danger we are in, how we don't wrestle merely with flesh and blood, about against principalities and powers, and spiritual evil in high places, and how we need to put on the whole armor of God and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. There are so many dangers around us that it is appropriate that we always pray. John Calvin wrote, (Institutes 3:20:7)
"Now if we should consider how many dangers at every moment threaten, fear itself will teach us that we at no single time may leave off praying."
We need to be looking to God for guidance and strength.
We should always be praying. We are nothing in ourselves. The Bible tells us that we are like sheep that have gone astray. That's our natural inclination. We need God to keep our hearts and desires on the right track, on His kingdom. In 2 Corinthians 3:5 the apostle wrote,
"Not that we are competent in ourselves
to claim anything for ourselves,
but our competence comes from God."
All the competency the apostle Paul had came from God. He knew he had to depend on God for everything. How weak we are in ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 2:16 the apostle Paul spoke about his ministry and said,
"And who is equal to such a task?"
2 Corinthians 12:9,
"My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness."
We need to be constantly praying for God to keep our hearts fixed on Him. In John 15:1-5 Jesus said,
"Remain in me, and I will remain in you.
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."
Prayer is so important. Psalm 119:2 tells us that we are to striving after God with all our being. David wrote,
"Blessed are they who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart."
If you're seeking God with all your heart that means that you'll be continually praying to Him. In Colossians 1:9 Paul wrote,
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you,
we have not stopped praying for you
and asking God to fill you
with the knowledge of his will
through all spiritual wisdom and understanding."
If Paul prayed for Christians that way, shouldn't we be always praying for ourselves like that? We need to know God's will. We need spiritual wisdom. That only comes from God.
How shameful for us if it is said of us like James said to some Christians of his day, (James 4:2)
"You do not have, because you do not ask God."
One of the reasons you should always ask God for guidance is due to the fact that
you can't really trust your own instincts.
Some Christians today mistake their feelings, their desires, their instincts—with God's will. None of those things are reliable guides.
Paul had the desire to be free of his thorn in the flesh. But that wasn't God's will for him. (2 Corinthians 12) Peter didn't want Jesus to die on the cross. (Matthew 16:22) When Jesus started talking about it, we read,
"Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
'Never, Lord!' he said. 'This shall never happen to you!'"
Peter's desire was based on love for Jesus. But his desire was not according to God's will.
You need to be very careful that you don't confuse your desires with God's will. Last week I read an article in the NY Times about the so called prosperity gospel and how some preachers are telling their followers that God wants them to be rich. But I can assure you that that is not God's will for many, many of His people. Yet they mistake their desires for God's will.
In our text we have a contrast between the instincts of David and his men. David's instincts here were correct. He had been anointed king by Samuel and even though he had not yet been crowned king, he felt inclined to protect Keilah from the Philistines. So he asked God if he should act on his instinct. God told him to go and save Keilah.
But with his men it was different. They were afraid to go to Keilah. So David asked again and God assured them that they would defeat the Philistines.
But what we should realize is that David's instincts weren't always good. In chapter 25 we see that when Nabal insulted him and repaid him evil for good—David's instincts told him to kill Nabal. He said to his men, (verse 13)
"Put on your swords!"
Then David set off with 400 men to kill Nabal. He didn't ask God if he should do it. He had a sense that he was right. It was only Abigail's quick actions in meeting David and dissuading him that prevented David from sinning. David recognized that Abigail was right and he said to her, (1 Samuel 25:32-33)
"Praise be to the LORD,
the God of Israel,
who has sent you today to meet me.
May you be blessed for your good judgment
and for keeping me from bloodshed this day
and from avenging myself with my own hands."
So you can't always trust your instincts, on your own understanding of things.
Even Joshua is an example to us here. You'll remember when the Israelites entered the promised land after they defeated Jericho and Ai, the Gibeonities resorted to a ruse. They sent a delegation and said they were a people from far away and they wanted to make a treaty with Israel. Joshua and his men looked at their supplies and saw that their sandals were worn and parched, that their food was dry and moldy. We read, (Joshua 9:14-15)
"The men of Israel sampled their provisions
but did not inquire of the LORD.
Then Joshua made a treaty of peace
with them to let them live,
and the leaders of the assembly
ratified it by oath."
Rather than rely on your unreliable instincts, your own understanding, you need to go to the Lord with every decision you make. As Solomon told us in Proverbs 3:5-7,
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil."
A further reason you should go to the Lord in everything you do is because
you can't really rely on other people.
Other people will often let you down, but the Lord won't. Psalm 27:10 says,
"Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me."
The men of Keilah would have handed David over to Saul. They would have delivered him over to death. David couldn't trust them. He couldn't rely on them.
This is incredible. If you had asked me if you could trust someone whose life you had saved, I would have said yes. As a general rule that would be a good bet. Now I would have been willing to concede that there are some people whose life you saved who would indeed betray you. But I would have said that they would be a minority. The vast majority of people you have saved would not betray you. But from our text we see that the majority of the people of Keilah would have betrayed David.
You can't always trust other people. But you can always trust the Lord. Be always in contact with Him.
One of the constant teachings of God in the Old Testament was that the people of Israel needed to depend on the Lord and not on the help of men. When they were threatened by the Babylonians they were told not to rely on the Egyptians. When the southern kingdom of Judah was threatened by the northern kingdom of Israel they were rebuked by the Lord for depending on Syrians.
You'll remember that story. When he was threatened that way King Asa asked the Syrians to attack Israel from the north. God send a prophet to him and said, (2 Chronicles 16:7-9)
"Because you relied on the king of Aram
and not on the LORD your God,
the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.
Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen?
Yet when you relied on the LORD,
he delivered them into your hand.
For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth
to strengthen those whose hearts
are fully committed to him.
You have done a foolish thing,
and from now on you will be at war."
In Psalm 33:16-22 the Israelites were told,
"No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
even as we put our hope in you."
Christians, you can't really depend on other people. They may let you down just when you need them the most. Remember how at one point the apostle Paul wrote, (2 Timothy 1:15)
"You know that everyone
in the province of Asia has deserted me,"
Then in chapter 4 of the same epistle he wrote, (verse 16)
"At my first defense, no one came to my support,
but everyone deserted me."
Your faith, your hope, your joy—is to be in the Lord. Walk with God every day. He is your sure support and guide. Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
But someone may object and say,
"But God doesn't answer us like he did with David, with words from prophets and with 'yes' or 'no' answers from the Urim and Thummim."
That is absolutely true. But has God abandoned us? Are we in a worse situation than David, who was in the old covenant.
Are we deprived compared to David?
Should we be any less in prayer even though God doesn't answer us by the same method that He David? Are we deprived? Does God answer us any less? Absolutely not. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read,
"In the past God spoke to our forefathers
through the prophets at many times
and in various ways, but in these last days
he has spoken to us by his Son,
whom he appointed heir of all things,
and through whom he made the universe."
Remember what Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 13:17?
"For I tell you the truth,
many prophets and righteous men
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."
Jesus rebuked the people of His generation for not flocking to hear Him. In Matthew 12:42 He said,
"The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment
with this generation and condemn it;
for she came from the ends of the earth
to listen to Solomon's wisdom,
and now one greater than Solomon is here."
Jesus also told His disciples that it was for their benefit that He go away. In John 16:7 He said,
"But I tell you the truth:
It is for your good that I am going away.
Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you;
but if I go, I will send him to you."
Then later He said, (John 16:12-15)
"I have much more to say to you,
more than you can now bear.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes,
he will guide you into all truth.
He will not speak on his own;
he will speak only what he hears,
and he will tell you what is yet to come.
He will bring glory to me by taking
from what is mine and making it known to you.
All that belongs to the Father is mine.
That is why I said the Spirit
will take from what is mine and make it known to you."
Is prayer important now? It is indispensable. As John Calvin wrote, (Institutes 3:20:2)
"we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord's gospel."
Jesus told us the story about the persistent widow to teach us to keep praying always. Prayer is the means through which God's blessings flow to us. Notice that in Hebrews 1 where God tells us that He's not going to give us answers the same way that He did to His people of old, that God didn't say.
"You're on your own now."
No. No. No. We have something much better—we have Jesus. We have His Spirit. What does 2 Peter 1:3 say? Peter wrote,
"His divine power has given us
everything we need for life and godliness
through our knowledge of him
who called us by his own glory and goodness."
And Hebrews 4:14-16 says,
"Therefore, since we have
a great high priest who has gone
through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God,
let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way,
just as we are—yet was without sin.
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us in our time of need."
God does listen to our prayers. He does answer them. He does give us wisdom. As we read in James 1:5
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,
who gives generously to all
without finding fault, and it will be given to him."
God will not answer us the way that He did David—but we have something more—His Word and the Spirit.
The other main thing we see from our passage is that
you have to do what God tells you to do.
It's not enough to ask God what you should do. You also have to do what He says.
David obeyed the directions that God gave him. Contrast this with what Jeremiah experienced. You'll remember the story. The Babylonians had taken Jerusalem. They had set up a puppet government under Gedaliah and left some of the people there with him. But some rebels assassinated him. The remaining Jews came to Jeremiah and asked him to ask God for them and promised to do what God said. In their hearts they really wanted to flee to Egypt because they thought that the Babylonians would punish them for Gedaliah's assassination. But God didn't give them the answer they were expecting. God told them to stay in the land that they would be safe. But they didn't listen to Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 43:1-3 we read,
"When Jeremiah finished telling the people
all the words of the LORD their God
—everything the LORD had sent him to tell them
— Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah
and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, 'You are lying!
The LORD our God has not sent you to say,
'You must not go to Egypt to settle there.'
But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you
against us to hand us over to the Babylonians,
so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon."
So the people disobeyed the Lord's command to stay in the land of Judah. They fled to Egypt.
Today there are so many people that claim to be following God's commands. They're going by their instincts, their desires, their feelings, their understanding—but they're doing exactly the opposite of what the Bible says. They're not following God.
Don't be like them. Don't be fooled by them. As Jesus said in John 14:21,
"Whoever has my commands and obeys them,
he is the one who loves me."
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,
this passage shows you that you're really wasting your life.
King Saul should have been the one who saved Keilah. One of King Saul's great duties was to protect the land of Israel. When God first revealed Saul to Samuel, God said, (1 Samuel 9:16)
"Anoint him leader over my people Israel;
he will deliver my people
from the hand of the Philistines.
I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me."
But Saul isn't protecting the land from the Philistines. He's busy chasing after David and killing the priests of the Lord. He couldn't do both. He couldn't be in two places at once.
One of the great truths we see here is that
sin has a terrible cost.
Doing wrong has a terrible cost—a hidden cost. When you do something that's wrong you're depriving yourself of the time and energy that could have been given to doing something good.
Every day that you reject Jesus is a day of serving Him and doing good that is lost forever. Don't let another wasted day go by. Go to Jesus now. Trust in Him. Ask Him to save you. Give your life meaning.