David: Servant of the King (November 11, 2018)
1 Samuel 18: 1-12; 24: 1-10
David: Servant of the King
So we are continuing today our series on David and looking at David’s life and the lessons we can learn from David’s life. And today we’re going to be looking at the time the David spends as the servant of king Saul: the time between when he is anointed the next king of Israel and when he is crowned the next king of Israel. What are the important lessons to look at in the midst of all of this time? What does David do with that tension: with knowing that he is going to be crowned king, but there’s already a king, and he’s being asked to serve him.
We begin early on in David’s time under Saul with him meeting Saul’s firstborn son and heir Jonathan. Jonathan and David quickly strike up a friendship. And this friendship becomes very close, and this friendship will sustain itself through incredibly difficult things that should have destroyed it. Jonathan‘s father will attempt to kill David. Jonathan will ultimately die and David will eventually be faced with a challenge where in order to be a friend to Jonathan he would have to lose political face. And yet throughout it all this friendship will continue because both of these men have an eye to God, and both of these men understand what God is doing in the country, and they placed themselves at God’s disposal.
After David defeats Goliath, David is brought into Saul’s court; and David, the little shepherd boy, is placed in charge of the army. He is the champion now, and he becomes in charge of the army. And this pleases the people who have witnessed David’s heroic act. And it pleases Saul. And David goes to war for Saul, and David win battles for Saul. And this is great. Until Saul goes to the celebration and he hears the people singing, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed his ten thousands.” Saul begins to wonder what the future holds. He begins to ask “if they are already giving David credit for the military victories, how long before they give David the kingdom? How long before I am facing a rebellion that is trying to put David on the throne? How long until David becomes a threat to me?” And admittedly this is not a huge leap to make from what is before him, but he also doesn’t have any basis recorded to believe that it will happen. And yet he convinces himself that not only are the people going to want to place David on the throne, but David wants to usurp him. He becomes paranoid about this. He thinks constantly about David and how David wants to take everything away from him. And he leaves himself vulnerable.
I do not believe it to be coincidence that the scripture tells us the next dayan evil spirit takes over Saul. He goes into a fit of rage. And David, as was custom apparently, comes in to soothe him. David is a wonderful player of the lyre, a kind of handheld harp, and David comes in to soothe the King. And the King sees him and the King is not soothed. Saul takes a spear and he throws it at David. David evades it, but from that moment on David knows that Saul wants to kill him.
When we allow jealousy to take over and control our minds it leads to disaster. For Saul in this moment, when he is wanting David‘s fame, he’s breaking a commandment: do not envy what belongs to your neighbor. But he allows that to fester. Anger destroys him, and it destroys us. And it leaves us vulnerable to evil thoughts. Saul is moved in a rage and he tries to eliminate a rival even though that person is actively helping him at that moment! We have to check our jealousy. We have to check our anger. Remember what Jesus said: “if you look at a person with anger you have already murdered them in your heart.” We often think that that’s hyperbole, but it wasn’t hyperbole for Saul here. We have to check that. That is lesson number one for today.
Several times over the next few chapters Saul attempts to kill David. And David tells Jonathan “your father is trying to kill me.” And Jonathan says “I know my father. My father would never do that. What reason would he have to take your life?” But David says “no, I’m telling you this is happening.” And so Jonathan will talk to Saul, and would realize that yes, he was pretty angry at David. And Jonathan would calm him down.
But eventually Jonathan is not able to calm his father. David and he engage in this coded exchange, it’s in chapter 20. They had this kind of agreement that Jonathan would do a certain action, and if he did this action then David was fine, but if you did this other one then David had to leave. And Jonathan goes to his father and he insinuates that he allowed David to go home to celebrate the feast day with his family, which means that David would not be at the feast day with the king. And the king had planned to kill him during the feast. Saul becomes enraged at Jonathan, and Saul belittles Jonathan. And Jonathan recognizes that David is going to have to go into hiding. So they do they’re coded message, and there’s a final exchange between the two where the two promise loyalty to each other. Here is the son of the King and a person that will ultimately be declared an enemy of the King pledging loyalty to each other. And they go their way in peace.
They remain friends even though Jonathan goes back to the man who wants to kill David and David becomes an enemy of Jonathan’s father. Their friendship remains strong and remains together because their friendship was before God, and no human interaction that Saul dad would be able to get in the way of that. And after this story is over, when David was king, he would uphold this pledge to be loyal to Jonathan and Jonathan‘s family by taking care of a wounded member of Jonathan‘s family after he becomes King even though it was politically risky for him to do that.
Now David is in hiding from the King, and this entire time he is portrayed as an enemy of the King. and yet he never lifts a hand or attempts to overthrow Saul, even if he begins to be able to do so. He is a servant of God first. And he recognizes that God appointed Saul too, it is God’s kingdom, and he trusts God to tell him when Saul’s time is officially up. David stays a servant of God through this incredibly difficult time.
There are stories that follow in the next few chapters about Saul chasing David around and David escaping him. The most notable one of these is when David is chased into a place called Nob, where he eats food that only the priest could, by law, eat. This is notable because this is the story that Jesus quotes when he’s talking to the Pharisees in the gospels, when he said that “didn’t you read that David, when he was on the run from Saul, ate bread that he wasn’t supposed to eat?” This is the story; it’s in chapter 21.
But then we arrive at chapter 24, which is the story that was read today. And in chapter 24, David is chased into a valley. And Saul brings 3000 men to the valley to chase David. And he sends them out to go looking, and then he goes into a cave to relieve himself. Little does he know that at the back of the cave is David, in the shadows with all of his men. Saul comes and becomes extremely vulnerable. And David;s men are sitting here going “hey David, there’s your opportunity. Kill him now and become king!” David knows that it is God who sets the timing, and he knows that not even he should lift a hand against God‘s anointed. And so he takes his knife and he cuts a corner off of Saul‘s robe. And then he lets Saul leave the cave. And then after Saul leaves the cave, David emerges from the cave. And now he is the one who is vulnerable, because all of those men who were chasing him now know where he is. And he says “my King, I had you at my mercy. I could have killed you. This is proof, this corner of your robe is proof I could’ve done whatever I wanted. And I didn’t. I do not hate you; I am not trying to kill you.” And with this act Saul is humbled and goes back home.
It doesn’t last forever though. There are a couple of times where Saul becomes convinced that David is trying to take his kingdom. This is in part because David does not go back to direct service to Saul; he stays kind of out on the fringes and he continues to build up a kind of tribal following behind him. He is building up a power base; building up a tiny little militia army. There’s another opportunity where Saul begins to chase David and David has a chance to kill Saul again, and again David does not do so. We repeat that story.
Finally Saul and the Philistines go to war, and David had actually gone to the Philistines for shelter so he lines up his militia next to the Philistine army against the army of Israel. The Philistines say “I know that we’re not going to have an Israelite fight with us against Israel. You go home.” So David does not have to fight Israel and does not have to fight against Saul. But at this battle Saul and Saul’s children are killed. And David received word that Saul has been killed in battle, and that Jonathan had been killed in battle. And David greaves. He states he’s grieving for Saul, but if you look at the song he’s grieving for Jonathan; for his friend. And after the appropriate time he asks God in the appropriate way if it is time now to become king; If it is time now to finally take on this role. And God says it is. So David goes to a town called Hebron, which is in the south part of Judah just a few miles south of Jerusalem in what is now the West Bank. And David is crowned king of Israel
So what do we take from this? We understand again that David continually yielded to God‘s providence. He recognizes that God had chosen Saul to lead the country too; and he refuses to forcibly take the throne from him. God had anointed David in God’s own time, and God would appoint David at God‘s own time.
Now one reaction to that might be “well David, God said he now rejects Saul so Saul is no longer God‘s chosen one; you are. Go take the throne and stop being stupid.” But what we see is that actually there were things that David needed to do in order to become king, and God helps him to do that. He builds up a power base; he builds up a reputation; he builds up some fame. Remember he was an ordinary person, and so he needed to build up a name for himself. And all of that happens before Saul does die, and indeed Saul dies not by David’s hand. And it actually will protect David, because David is also God‘s anointed, and they didn’t establish that you could revolt against the king as a normal thing in the country.
The other lesson to look at is that David differentiates between father and son. That David does not take the sins of the father and place them upon the son. And when he makes an oath to Jonathan he keeps it in spite of everything with Saul had done to him. And we recognize that there’s a possibility that actually David’s goodness towards Saul is in part a goodness toward Jonathan.
May we this week be as loyal as David: loyal to our friendships, and loyal to our God. May we find strength in learning from David and in trying to be like David, the man of God. May you do this this week. Amen.