1 Samuel 30
Today, we remember and commemorate our birth as a nation.
With barbecues, parades, and fireworks, we celebrate the freedoms upon which this country was founded – the freedoms for which countless, brave men and women have given and continue to offer their lives.
And in many ways, this is a good and right thing for us to do.
We should be thankful. We ought to enjoy the blessings of our freedoms. We must not forget or take our history for granted.
And yet at the same time, as we celebrate, we need to acknowledge, we need to confess, there is a dimension to this nation’s founding, an ongoing element to the American story that runs counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – our continued assertion of the right of self-determination – our dogged insistence that our strength and endurance as people and as a nation comes from within ourselves.
But as we’ll be reminded today, nothing could be further from the revelation of God’s word.
As we return to the story of 1 Samuel and near its conclusion, we come back to David, the man who has been anointed to be the next king of Israel but surprisingly has chosen to make his home elsewhere in a foreign land.
How David ended up here had nothing to do with God – the Lord’s direction.
Where David finds himself – taking refuge among the Philistines, the fierce, archenemy of David’s own people is a byproduct of his own self-determination.
David is being guided by the strength of his own insight and wisdom.
In all of the decisions that have led to this moment, David has not sought the will of God but has instead assumed as the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”
An expression of faith – a life philosophy – found not in the pages of the Bible but rather coined by one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.
David is about to discover, and hopefully so will we, that illusion of self-determination isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Trying to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps only ends up proving that doing so is actually impossible.
Looking for our strength within ourselves – only ends up revealing the truth of how weak and helpless we are.
But as we’ll also learn through observing David, this revelation can be a good thing – one that can transform our lives.
Because it’s when we reach the end of ourselves – the limits of our strength and control – that we become open to all that God can and will do in our lives and in this world.
Let’s listen to David’s story as recorded in 1 Samuel 30.
Please keep your Bible open as we’ll be looking at the whole chapter and not just what is about to be read aloud. (TEXT)
When we last left David and the 600 men in his company, as mercenaries under the employment of King Achish of the Philistines, they found themselves in the awkward position of being expected to march into battle against their fellow kinsmen, the Israelites.
But just before things got underway, the military commanders of the Philistines complained to Achish – voicing their distrust of David’s allegiance and expressing their concern that David and his men would turn against them once the fighting got started.
Facing sizable resistance to his plans, Achish summarily orders David and his men to leave the battlefront and to go back to Ziklag – the territory in Philistia over which David had been given control..
David’s more than likely self-initiated plan to turn the tables on the Philistines and thus defend his home nation of Israel is foiled.
No doubt dejected about this, David and his men undertake the three-day, fifty-mile journey back to Ziklag.
Just before their arrival, their situation gets worse, as David and his men begin to draw close to Ziklag and see smoke on the horizon.
Increasing the speed of their steps as the feeling of terror grips their hearts, David and his men return not to a home-cooked meal, the warmth of their homes, or a hug from their wives and children.
Instead David and his men find the stronghold of Ziklag has been completely leveled, burned to the ground, their wives and children taken captive.
When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. -1 Samuel 30:3
Later they will discover it is the Amalekites, foreign tribes to the south of Ziklag, upon whom David had been making his murderous raids, who have finally retaliated and in full measure.
But for now, with the smoke still rising from the ashes, David and his men are left with the realization they have lost everything.
“So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.” -1 Samuel 30:4
The blows kept on coming for David, however, as his own men, so loyal and trusting of him all this time, become embittered with his leadership.
“David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.” – 1 Samuel 30:6
Blaming David for their misfortune – the loss of their families – they even talk of stoning him to death.
David clearly reaches one of the lowest points in his life.
This particular episode is likely the source of more than one of his songs in the book of Psalms.
Can we picture David in this moment, seeing him in our mind’s eye, standing upon the ruins of all his self-determined plans and purposes.
Caving to the pressure of Saul’s relentless persecution, losing faith in God’s assurance to protect and provide for him – despite the Lord’s perfect track record of doing so, believing he was wiser, convinced he was stronger on his own, David left Israel and built his sanctuary in a foreign land.
And how had David built his fame and fortune – keeping himself not only alive but highly successful in the land of the Philistines?
Through smoke and mirrors. Through cunning, lies, and deceptions.
Accomplishing and profiting much but now at what cost?
Following the track of his own choice, David ends up here – with his life literally going up in smoke.
The consequences of David’s attempt to go it alone – to be a self-made man – have now left him completely isolated.
Everyone he once considered family either have been taken away from him or are busy finding the rocks to kill him.
Visualize, put yourself in the sandals, of the crestfallen David – who is realizing the implication of all his choices extended far beyond his own life,
who is coming to understand that my self-determination always comes at the cost of someone else paying the price.
Some 600 families had followed David in this new, self-started venture in Ziklag.
And now David feels the unbearable weight of having put every one of those families – including his own – at risk, a direct result of his choice to try to find his strength from within himself.
Where do we get our strength?
Before the obstacles before us in this life, the ongoing challenges of living in a broken world, from where do you find your power to keep going, to overcome?
In these last eighteen months, during these times of a global pandemic – of isolation, unemployment, and cancelled or postponed plans,
over the course of ongoing political division – a heated and contested election, growing civil unrest, and increasing violence, from where has our strength come?
And by strength, we’re not just talking about physical strength.
We’re speaking of our mental stability, our emotional health, our spiritual core – our wholeness as human beings.
From where does your strength come? From within? Do you perceive – maybe even pride yourself – on being a self-starter?
A “take charge, always in control” kind of person? Someone who has – through your decisions, your choices, your initiative and hard work, built and earned the life you live?
Are you a self-made person?
What do we do when it all falls apart?
What will we do – how will we respond – when, like David, we experience loss – maybe even lose everything of the life we have tried to fabricate on our own?
Loss is inevitable in a broken world.
Loss is unavoidable when we buy into the myth that our lives are self-determined.
Loss is devastating when the only strength we rely on is within ourselves and we find ourselves exhausted and spent.
What loss have you endured?
What deep trouble, what loss is on the horizon before you – despite all your effort to be strong – to self-determine the outcome of your life?
Where do we turn when everything we invested ourselves in – a home, our family, a job, a community, a dream of our own – what do we do when everything we invested ourselves in – turns to ashes?
Do we kick and scream and stomp and demand our rights?
What do we do when we are confronted with the reality that our choices do not affect only me, myself, and I – but in fact, our so-called personal choices bear consequences – sometimes even contributing to the suffering and devastation of others?
In the midst of the guilt and the shame that is borne of living a self-centered life, do we attempt to deflect and deny our responsibility and instead like David’s men, assess blame and look for a scapegoat?
As Jesus once said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
When we reach the end of ourselves, how do we respond?
Weary, heartbroken, rejected, pressured, and afraid, David responds by “finding his strength in the Lord his God.”
“But David found strength in the Lord his God.” -1 Samuel 30:6
In the midst of all the other stuff going on in this chapter, this verse is the key. This single sentence is the answer.
David, unlike his men, doesn’t look for someone to blame. David doesn’t jump up and down and claim that life is not fair.
David doesn’t give into his despair and wallow in his guilt and shame. David, unlike King Saul in chapter 28, doesn’t try to go around God.
David, who has ignored the Lord’s direction, relied on his own wisdom and power, and come to end of himself, David, who exhausted himself with tears, surrenders himself to God.
David, who has finally hit rock-bottom, looks the only way that he can. He looks up – beyond himself.
David who has lost everything starts over by finding his strength in the Lord.
Practically speaking, what does this mean, that David “found strength in the Lord his God”?
Well, let’s begin by clarifying what it doesn’t mean.
It doesn’t mean David thought about God and that made him feel better about things.
David finding his strength in the Lord isn’t about David receiving some sort of spiritual boost or divine shot in the arm.
David finding his strength in the Lord also doesn’t mean David did everything he thought he could do and then figured now let’s see what God can do.
David doesn’t, as we so often tend to, come to the Lord as his last option having exhausted all other possible avenues.
Notice David doesn’t ask God to straighten out the mess he’s made. David’s first move is not finding out what to do next.
No, David starts over. David goes back to square one.
David simply abides in the presence of God.
Without qualification or any request, David puts his life back where it belongs – in his Father’s hands.
David rests in the promise and the assurance that the Lord is not just any god or some higher power – but the Lord is his God.
Beloved, let me underscore an insight that’s easy to miss here.
It is the relationship and not the results that are paramount when it comes to finding our strength in the Lord.
We often view God as a means to get what we want out of life.
Part of the reason for this is we’ve bought and sold a watered down, “tastes great but less fulfilling: version of the Gospel that says, “Jesus has a wonderful plan for your life.”
And while this is most certainly true, it leaves out the part that “it’s not YOUR wonderful plan that Jesus has for your life, it’s His.”
If we believe God only exists as a means to give us what we want out of life, then finding our strength in the Lord becomes equated with getting the results we desire in a given situation.
We put our faith in the Lord – God is good – when things go the way we expect.
But the Lord is not a means to our end. God is the end.
There’s all the difference in the world between an intellectual capacity to conceive of a higher power and entering into a vibrant ongoing relationship with the living God
– the God who purposes not just to be known by us but to be in present and everlasting fellowship with us.
– the God who even goes so far as to come down in the person of Jesus Christ to show us just how much – how far and wide and deep – His love and commitment to this world is.
A full, abundant life is not having it all.
A full, abundant life is knowing the Lord – being a child of our Heavenly Father – and thus receiving everything we need to flourish and grow into our best selves.
Being in a loving, dependent relationship with the Lord is what satisfies.
Again, notice it is only after David has found his strength in God that he then inquires of the Lord and receives divine assurance.
It is abiding and being in communion with the Lord that strengthens David – not a promise of success.
Yielding and leaning into his relationship with the Lord, David stops relying on his own wisdom and insight and seeks the Lord’s direction.
“Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” -1 Samuel 30:7-8
And God answers him
“Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” -1 Samuel 30:8
– encouraging David to pursue those who have carried away their families and assuring David that he and his men will be successful in rescuing them.
So David and his army travel swiftly south to the Besor Ravine, about a dozen miles south of Ziklag.
Along the way, for about one third of David’s men, the journey is too much.
“David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Valley, where some stayed behind. Two hundred of them were too exhausted to cross the valley, but David and the other four hundred continued the pursuit.” – 1 Samuel 30:9-10
Already exhausted from their three-day, fifty-mile journey back to Ziklag, they can’t go on and so David and the rest of his men press on without them.
Together they travel without stopping through the wilderness, trying to track whoever has attacked them, looking for signs of their passage.
Finally, David and his men stumble upon a half-dead Egyptian in the desert.
“They found an Egyptian in a field and brought him to David. They gave him water to drink and food to eat— part of a cake of pressed figs and two cakes of raisins. He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights.” – 1 Samuel 30:11-12
Offering some water and food to revive this ailing man, this Egyptian slave who had been left behind for dead, reveals to David that it was the Amalekites who raided Ziklag.
“He said, “I am an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago. We raided the Negev of the Kerethites, some territory belonging to Judah and the Negev of Caleb.
And we burned Ziklag.”
David asked him, “Can you lead me down to this raiding party?” – 1 Samuel 30:13 -15
The Egyptian then proceeds to lead David and his men to the Amalekite camp.
When they arrive, David and his men are very much outnumbered, but thanks to the initial element of surprise and relying on the Lord’s strength, they soundly defeat the Amalekites after a full day of fighting.
“He led David down, and there they were, scattered over the countryside, eating, drinking and reveling because of the great amount of plunder they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from Judah. David fought them from dusk until the evening of the next day, and none of them got away…” – 1 Samuel 30:16-17
In fact, the victory is so complete that the Amalekites are not mentioned as an opponent of Israel for another 300 years.
Amazingly, miraculously, David and his men regain all that they have lost.
“David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back.” – 1 Samuel 30:18-19
Every one of their wives and children are unharmed.
Let us pause for a moment and observe another important insight.
While it is evident that the Lord gave David and his men this incredible victory, God did not just hand it to them – magically eliminating the Amalekites and whisking their families back to them.
Blood, sweat, and tears were necessary. A battle still had to be fought.
The point is, finding our strength in the Lord means acting out of the strength that the Lord gives to us.
There is a reflexive component in Hebrew to the phrase, “finding his strength in the Lord his God.”
David is strengthened by the Lord, but David is involved in the process.
David is assured of the victory to come but David and his men have to follow God, trust the Lord, and act upon God’s promises.
Much later in the New Testament when the apostle Paul is communicating with the early church in Philippi, Paul expresses this same idea when he writes, while it is God who works in us, we are still to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Paul repeats this theme a little differently when he writes to the Ephesians and stresses while we are saved through faith and not by works, we also are called to do good works out of the faith, the grace we have been given.
In other words, our life with God – living out of the strength of the Lord – is not just intellectual or emotional reliance upon God but actions rooted in faith and reliance upon the promise and power of the Lord.
Finding our strength in God means practically and tangibly living out of the Lord’s strength rather than our own.
But what does this look like?
How do we break the habit of trying to live out of our own resources instead of beginning by finding our wisdom and strength in the Lord?
Before we can speak of specific practices, we need to recognize finding our strength in the Lord is fundamentally about our posture towards God.
And the repeated posture the Bible calls us to have in relation to our Creator is one of complete reliance.
We are to look to and approach our Heavenly Father not as equals or partners but as helpless and dependent children.
To put this another way, we only can begin to find our strength in the Lord when we adopt a posture – as we embrace, as we confess – our absolute weakness and thus our total need for God.
But this isn’t easy because together we have crafted a world built on the false conviction that only the strong survive.
In attempting to build a life apart from God, we’ve turned self-autonomy, rugged individualism, and the ability to take care of oneself as one of the highest values.
As a result, we live in a world that doesn’t value weakness at all.
We’re taught early on never to let others see our weakness. “Pull yourself together.” “Stop crying.” “You’ve got to be strong.”
We’re raised to understand that thriving in this life – let alone any chance of surviving – is “Never letting them see you sweat.”
We must overcome our weaknesses or at the very least, disguise them.
Before becoming a pastor, I worked in HR.
From my time in that line of work one of the things I’ll always remember is when potential candidates for hire would be invariably asked, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
Every person I interviewed would attempt to avoid acknowledging any weaknesses that they had by always reframing them as being actua strengths.
“One of my weaknesses is impatience – particularly with those who are not as committed to their work as I am but I just really like to get things done.”
Or how about this one?
“One of my weaknesses is my tendency to be a perfectionist, but it’s just that I am all about seeing things done right.”
Try as we may to deny or disguise our weaknesses, we aren’t fooling anyone but ourselves when it comes to our relationship with God.
Any strength we have – any intelligence, any innate gifts, any learned skills, any achievements or resources we accumulate – are first by the mercy and grace of God.
Our Creator gives. Our Heavenly Father provides. Apart from the Lord we can do nothing. On our own, we are unable to hold onto anything we build. On our own, we end up losing everything we love – including our life.
The only reason we have any strength at all – of body, mind, heart, or soul – including the very air that fills our lungs is because of God alone.
In other words, it is only in acknowledging – not hiding or denying – our weakness before God that we can find our true and lasting strength.
Our greatest strength means nothing without God. Because without the Lord we have no true strength of our own.
All that we have and all that we are is by the grace of God alone.
It’s not by our power, but only by His power working in and through us – that our lives, that this world can be changed for the better.
Do we truly believe this? Do we functionally, daily surrender to this foundational truth of the Gospel?
Or have we convinced ourselves that our salvation in Christ – finding our strength in the Lord – is not an ongoing, daily posture but a response that’s only necessary when we end up on death’s door.
Are we getting up and beginning each day, do we enter into each situation and relationship that life brings – by confessing our weakness, our absolute need for Jesus and thus living out of God’s grace with every decision and action we take?
Or are we still trying to project the impression that we are self-made and self-sufficient – that we’ve got it all together, that we’re in control of our lives?
And when those moments of loss come – only when we get stuck in a jam – is that when we attempt to find our strength in the Lord – using God as a means to our end – rather than being with – knowing and becoming our true selves in Christ?
We can’t claim to be saved by grace and yet attempt to live out of our own strength.
For God’s strength – His grace – is revealed, is manifest, the grace of Jesus Christ transforms our lives through our weakness.
Finding our strength in the Lord begins with a daily, regular posture of humble but hopeful acknowledgment of our absolute need for God.
Such a posture is hopeful when we realize our Heavenly Father doesn’t expect perfection from us.
Calling us His children, the Lord knows we are still learning and growing in Him.
This process of maturing, becoming our best selves, and the birth of a perfect world – is the very work that God has committed Himself to do in and through us by the Word and Spirit of Christ.
Instead of perfection, God asks us for honesty.
Instead of valuing our strength, the Lord calls us to prize His grace.
Instead of attempting to put our hope in ourselves, our Father looks for us to find our strength – our hope – in Him.
The litmus test of whether or not we are relying on our own strength rather than the power of God is
when we find ourselves exhausted and worn out but still not satisfied and content – convinced we have to keep all those plates spinning, – trapped by the pressure put on us by others or the fear that comes from that relentless voice in our head that it all depends on us.
We can most certainly tell when we are trying to find our strength within ourselves because when we fail, when we experience loss, because instead of embracing our weakness and accepting our limitations, our knee-jerk response will be to blame someone else for all our troubles – maybe even God – and not long after that our grief will become bitterness.
Living out of our own power only leaves us running on empty.
Trying to muster our strength from within inevitably reveals – whether we admit it or not – our true weakness.
If you have ever sensed you are fighting an uphill battle in changing yourself and transforming life,
If you have ever felt that you can’t win your battles on your own, I have good news for you: you can’t. We can’t.
God never intended us to live this way – on our own – helping, saving ourselves.
The help we need, the salvation we seek aren’t the result of working out of our own wisdom and strength.
We can’t change ourselves into who we were meant to become – the best version of ourselves – no matter how hard we try
– no matter how much we eat right, work out, educate ourselves, work hard and get promoted, earn money and buy stuff, and attempt to construct the ideal life, marriage, family, or community.
The limitations and consequences of our humanity due to sin, the sufferings and chaos of this fractured world, that’s a burden we can’t carry, these are problems we can’t solve on our own.
It is in facing these realities rather than denying them – that we come to see why we need to find our strength in the Lord – not just as some encouraging phrase on a sticky note or decorative bookmark – but as the posture and practice of every single day of our lives – so that we can flourish together.
Just as David finally looked up and instead of continuing to look within and responded to the Gospel – the good news of who God is and how God purposes to be our strength
let us, even as we wave the flag of this nation, always look to the Cross, remember the Resurrection of Christ, and abide in the Spirit – as the source of our true and lasting freedom and our present and enduring strength – both now and forever.
For lasting growth and real transformation are only possible when we declare the truth of our weakness, stop living in our own strength, and receive the power of a loving, present God.
Transformation comes when we make room for the Holy Spirit to fill us and set us free from trying to be perfect and to empower us and direct us to be perfected through following Jesus.