Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Wrath of Man and the Righteousness of God (I Samuel 21-26)

David is on the run, along with his mother, father, and kin. One easily forgets how, in the ancient world, revenge was taken out on the person’s entire family. Blessings and curses, immortality and utter damnation, were experienced through posterity.

David is no fool. Saul quickly proves to what lengths he will go to eliminate his rival. After leaving Jonathan, David had feigned to be on an errand for the king, and had received provisions from the High Priest Ahimelech. Saul learns of it from a man named Doeg the Edomite, and his retribution upon this completely innocent priest is severe:
And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father's house.” And the king said to the guard who stood about him, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me.” But the servants of the king would not put out their hand to strike the priests of the Lord. Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.
If I pitied Saul before, I do so no longer. He was loath to carry out the Lord’s wrath against the Amalekites – preferring to keep the spoils for himself and his men. However, for the sake of his own wrath, he is willing to devote the city of the Lord’s priests to himself for destruction. Samuel’s words rejecting Saul come hauntingly to mind:
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Saul’s envy upon his brother “doing well” had sin crouching at his door. Its desire is against him, and it now rules him.

Meanwhile, the Philistines draw Saul’s attention away from David, who makes camp in the wilderness of Paran. Here he encounters a local group of shepherds. Perhaps David identifies with them, having been a shepherd himself, and makes sure his men make every effort to protect them and not exploit them in any way. When the time comes for shearing, David requests that Nabal, their master, share some of the meat of the feast with him and his men who have helped protect the flocks. Nabal not only refuses, but sends David’s messengers back to him with a string of insults. David, is furious. He calls his men together and makes a vow to kill every male in Nabal’s household.

As they are making their way toward Nabal’s house, swords in hand, Nabal’s wife Abigail comes out with gifts for David and his men.
She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt…Please forgive the trespass of your servant…And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord taking vengeance himself.”
David is touched – indeed, he is profoundly grateful. This woman, with her clear-headed gesture of kindness, has saved him in his anger from killing a host of innocent bystanders. (Interestingly, unlike Saul and Jephthah, upon realizing the foolishness of his vow, David doesn’t give it a second thought.) Ten days later, the Lord strikes Nabal dead. David then marries Abigail.

After Saul finishes dealing with the Philistines, he continues his relentless manhunt for David. By chance, the king stops in a cave to relieve himself – the very cave where David and his men are hiding. David’s friends urge him to take this chance to kill Saul, but David only sneaks up and cuts off a corner of his robe unnoticed. Afterwards, David comes out and confronts Saul:
Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord's anointed.’…May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.
Saul is amazed, and bursts into tears:
You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil…For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe?...And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father's house.
The two part ways, and I am left awestruck at the heart of David. The man has the spunk of Jacob and the integrity of Joseph. It isn’t just that David is merciful. He is, but the mercy is driven by an intense love for the Lord that I really don’t recall seeing yet in all of Scripture. It is the insult to the Lord first and foremost that roused him against Goliath. Saul is the Lord’s anointed, and so must not be touched, even though the man is actively trying to kill him.

Saul sought to cling to his kingdom despite God’s rejection, so that he fell into idolatry. David seeks first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, so that even Saul recognizes that everything else will be given to him as well.

Just a reminder: make sure you read David's vow concerning Nabal in the KJV (1 Sam 25:22)

Remind me why you were so excited about the ESV coming out?

I can't help but wonder what happened to Abigail? She deserved better than to be passed over for Uriah's wife.

I sure can't argue with that.

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