1 Samuel 21:1-9
Jesus once said, “In this world, you will have trouble…”
Jesus didn’t say we might have trouble.
Jesus said in this world we will have trouble.
We live in a broken world
– where things are not the way they’re supposed to be.
Therefore, in this life we will have trouble.
But it’s easier to face the trouble – the challenges – we see coming.
More pointedly, it is easier to look to God, to rely on the Lord,
in the battles we choose to fight, in the struggles we are prepared to engage.
When David was just a lad – a teenager – he with the rest of the Israelites watched as a giant of a man – Goliath – a self-declared enemy of God’s people came on the scene and threatened to destroy them.
David, however, unlike the rest of the Israelites, chose to take on this fight.
David was prepared to face the challenge of Goliath
because he believed, he knew the Lord was with him.
It’s easier to face the challenges we see coming.
It’s easier to look to God – to rely on the Lord, when we choose our battles.
But what happens when you didn’t see it coming
– the challenge before you, the battle at hand, the fight you weren’t ready for?
What happens when living in a broken world sends you the unexpected
– what you didn’t choose, what you don’t want, and what you never anticipated?
David went from a lowly shepherd to the Lord’s anointed.
David elevated from being a court musician
to being a decorated and celebrated war hero.
David rose from the pastures of Bethlehem
to the royal court of Israel as he became the king’s son-in-law.
But now, David is on the run. David is a fugitive. David is a wanted man.
David’s got a price on his head and the king, his father-in-law put it there.
Just like that, David’s whole life got turned upside down.
He’s homeless. A man without a country.
A nomad who is running and hiding for his life.
And, as he confessed to his best friend, the king’s son, Jonathan, in the chapters of this story we looked at last week, David never saw this coming.
Out of nowhere, David’s life ran head first into the unexpected.
Not the life he wanted. Not the trajectory he planned for.
Not the battle he chose. Not the fight of his life he was ready for.
How will David respond? How do we respond?
What happens when we face the unexpected?
Let’s listen, let’s watch,
and let’s recognize our human nature in how David responds.
Let’s brace ourselves to witness
the brokenness of our humanity in what happens next.
Chapters 21 and 22 of 1 Samuel are really one unit, as we will see.
So please keep your Bible open as we will take them together.
After multiple attempts on his life and sure confirmation
that King Saul means to eliminate him at any cost, David heads for the hills.
He flees to the village of Nob which stood on what is now called Mt. Scopus
– roughly about 2.5 miles southeast of Gibeah, the king’s hometown,
from where Saul reigns over all Israel.
David’s first, chosen place of refuge is a town dedicated to worshipping God
– the home to 85 priests of the Lord – including the High Priest Ahimelech.
Now Ahimelech isn’t too happy to see David show up by himself.
“Ahimelech trembled when he met him and asked,
‘Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?’” -1 Samuel 21:1
Remember David was one of the king’s generals.
So, normally, he’d be accompanied by soldiers.
Is Ahimelech, are the priests in some kind of trouble? Is David?
Ahimelech doesn’t understand what’s going on.
And David doesn’t make things any easier for him,
when in answer to Ahimelech’s questions, David boldface lies.
David answered Ahimelech the priest, ‘The king sent me on a mission
and said to me, “No one is to know anything about the mission
I am sending you on.’” -1 Samuel 21:2
Instead of telling the truth about running from King Saul,
David makes up some story about being on a secret mission for the kingdom.
Lots of tellers of this story desperate to paint David as blameless
will argue David deceived the high priest in order to keep him safe from harm.
After all, you can’t be held responsible for what you don’t know, right?
It’s a common enough rationalization when we don’t tell the truth…
“It’s for your own good.” “It’s better if you don’t know.”
“I’m doing it to protect you.”
But any way you tell it and for whatever reason you do so, a lie is a lie.
And lies have consequences – as we shall soon see.
Part of the reason for David’s deception quickly becomes clear. He’s hungry.
“Now then, what do you have on hand?
Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.” -1 Samuel 21:3
And so, David says what he has to say to avoid any complications
and to get some food.
You do what you gotta do when your basic needs are in question.
For David, the ends justify the means.
But David is not yet finished in making requests.
David, while no longer hungry, is still defenseless,
and so, he asks the priest if he has a spear or a sword handy.
“Don’t you have a spear or sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or
any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.” -1 Samuel 21:8
In making this second request, David repeats his original lie.
David claims he’s without a weapon because the king’s mission was urgent.
And surprise, surprise, Ahimelech does have a sword.
But not just any sword. The sword of Goliath.
“The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah,
is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it;
there is no sword here but that one.”
David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.” -1 Samuel 21:9.
The very same sword with which David slayed
that gigantic Philistine. in the Valley of Elah.
It’s the only sword Ahimelech has.
It’s not hard to believe David didn’t know this already.
It seems pretty obvious this also is why David lied
– so that he could have the sword of Goliath in his possession.
Newly acquired sword in hand, David departs Nob and goes to Gath.
Gath? Does the name of this place ring any bells for us? It should.
Back a few chapters when we were first introduced to Goliath,
we learned he was from Gath.
David’s next move is to get out of Israel all together
and to head into enemy territory – the land of the Philistines,
the hometown of their champion, Goliath,
whom David defeated and killed in battle.
While this may be the last place King Saul will look for him,
while we can all get the logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,”
I think we can all agree this isn’t a very wise move by David.
The foolishness of David’s scheme is soon revealed
when some servants of the Philistine king who see David quickly recognize him.
They head straight for their king and remind him of that hit song
that came out of Israel a few years back – after their champion, Goliath, fell.
You remember the one about David that went a little something like this:
“Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” -1 Samuel 21:11
It also probably didn’t help that David carried
Goliath’s sword into Goliath’s hometown.
Either way, David has been outed in enemy territory. He is no longer incognito.
A wanted man is now a known man. So, what does David choose to do next?
The man who once trusted the Lord and won
the greatest military victory in Israel’s history over the Philistines
starts acting like a lunatic – a madman.
“So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, marking marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.” -1 Samuel 21:12
David’s fear leads him to be deceptive yet again
as he pretends to be out of his mind.
David’s crazy antics get him summarily escorted out of Gath.
He saves his life but compromises his integrity.
As we turn the page into chapter 22, David escapes from Gath
and ends up back in Israel but this time hiding in a place
known as the Cave of Adullam.
“David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.” -1 Samuel 22:1
We’re told David’s family – his father and his brothers
– got word of where David was hiding out, they went to him.
And they brought along quite the motley crew…
“When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it,
they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander.
About four hundred men were with him.” -1 Samuel 22:1-2
All the refugees from King Saul’s reign –
“all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented”
went out to David and gave him their allegiance.
400 men in total, these would later become David’s mighty men – great warriors. But for now, they’re just a large bunch of protestors
who have aligned themselves with David’s situation
of being on King Saul’s bad side.
David’s next move is to secure his family’s safety in Moab
– among the people and the land of David’s great grandmother.
After doing this and in receiving a word of prophetic guidance,
David goes back to Israel and makes camp in the forests of Judah.
But sadly, the story doesn’t end here as the rest of chapter 22
returns us to the priests of Nob – all the way back to where things started
and now are about to tragically fall apart.
Word has gotten to King Saul about David and the 400 men who have joined him.
As Saul rants about the lack of loyalty among his officials – that no one is telling him what he needs to know about David’s whereabouts and plans – a man named Doeg the Edomite steps forward.
He is Saul’s head shepherd and he’s got information to share.
You see, something we might have missed back at the start of chapter 21, something that David chose to overlook while in Nob, was the presence of this man, Doeg the Edomite.
Doeg witnessed the whole encounter between David and the priest, Ahimelech.
He saw Ahimelech give David food – the bread.
He saw Ahimelech give David a weapon – Goliath’s sword.
Armed with his information, King Saul immediately sends for
Ahimelech and all the priests of Nob.
When they all arrive, Saul accuses them of treason for helping David.
Now remember, based on what David told him,
Ahimelech thought he was participating in a secret mission for the king.
Ahimelech believed he was acting out of patriotism – honoring king and country.
Ahimelech assures Saul of his loyalty, but Saul will hear none of it.
David, his enemy, has been supplied with food and arms.
By order of the king, Ahimelech, all 85 of their priests, and their families,
are to be put to death by the sword immediately.
But the king’s soldiers refuse to comply with this order.
They will not harm, they will not kill the priests
– servants of the Lord God Almighty.
So King Saul turns to Doeg, the Edomite, a foreigner,
who bears no such fear or allegiance to YHWH, and commands him
to execute his command and annihilate an entire village of people.
Doeg, without any hesitation, follows orders
and the once peaceful village of Nob is savagely turned into a ghost town.
The dismembered bodies of men, women, children, infants, and cattle
are strewn all over the ground.
It’s a horrifying act of genocide that nearly wipes out everyone.
But one man, a priest named Abiathar, escapes.
He alone lives to tell the story of what happened.
Abiathar eventually finds David and shares this devastating news.
David’s reaction is important and telling.
“That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure
to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.”
-1 Samuel 22:22
David confesses his responsibility for what happened.
Why has Nob now become a graveyard?
Who ultimately killed the priests of Nob and their families?
Saul may have given the contemptible order.
Doeg may have mercilessly executed the king’s command.
But David put both of these possibilities in motion the moment he chose to lie.
Now some interpreters of this story try to argue
David lied to protect Ahimelech.
But even if that’s true,
David’s intentions don’t excuse the consequences of his lie.
Others will try and suggest, David didn’t lie as much as he withheld information.
But again, isn’t that just splitting hairs?
Do we accept this as a viable excuse
when others withhold necessary information from us?
And again, how does this justify the outcome of David’s actions?
Finally, there are those who will insist since Jesus points to
part of this story in the Gospels – the part where Ahimelech gives David
the bread from the tabernacle – then that must mean Jesus approves of,
Jesus endorses what David does here – his deception, his lie.
Really? Seriously? What we have here is a classic example of trying to make the Bible – trying to make Jesus say something, he doesn’t say. He would never say.
The blood of the innocent is on David’s hands – by his own admission.
David admits he knew what he was doing.
David admits he saw Doeg was there while he was doing it.
David admits he realized Doeg would tell King Saul
and thus put Ahimelech and everyone else in jeopardy.
But David didn’t do anything about it.
David didn’t try to warn or protect those he lied to.
He just left them vulnerable and exposed by his deception.
But hold on. Wait a second.
What about other biblical examples where
we witness people deceive others and their behavior is affirmed?
Like the midwives in Exodus 1 who deliberately deceived Pharoah in order to circumvent his order for all the male, Hebrew babies to be killed?
Or what about Rahab, the woman who deceives her own people
in order to hide the Israelites who are spying on Jericho?
While I don’t want to get lost in the weeds here,
biblically, it seems apparent there are occasions – like the above situations
when deception is ethically permissible or morally justified.
If we survey the Bible, those cases are rare and are defined by circumstances where someone has forfeited his or her right to know the truth
– because that person purposes to do something evil or harmful
to another person or group of people.
But such cases are the exception and not the rule.
As a rule, telling the truth rather than lying is what God’s word calls us to do.
a lie is an intentional withholding or falsification of information
that violates someone’s moral or legal right to know the truth.
Ahimelech the priest had a right to know the truth.
David had no moral or legal excuse for lying to him.
David had an obligation to fully inform Ahimelech of his situation
so that Ahimelech could evaluate the risk and decide what to do.
David didn’t lie to protect Ahimelech.
David lied to get Ahimelech to do something
Ahimelech might not otherwise have done.
David didn’t have to deceive Ahimelech.
In the telling of his lie, David’s life wasn’t on the line; Ahimeleh’s life was.
The life of a whole community was thrown into jeopardy by David’s deception.
Why did David lie? Because he was afraid.
Fear drove him to come to Nob. Fear drove him to lie to Ahimelech.
There’s nothing wrong with being afraid.
Fear is a natural response when we face a threat.
It’s how we process, what we do with our fear that matters.
If we let our fear drive us, fear can make us desperate.
Why did David lie? Because he got desperate.
Desperation drove David to take Goliath’s sword.
Desperation drove David seek refuge in the hands of the enemy.
Why did David lie?
Because in that moment David trusted in himself rather than the Lord.
This gets to the heart of the matter.
The point of this message is not for us
to internally debate in order to find license
for wiggling our way around the truth
on the basis of some ethical or moral loophole.
Lying and deception are the manifestations of the problem.
The problem is when our fear and our desperation lead us
to look to ourselves, rather than to look to the Lord.
Facing the unexpected, what he never anticipated or planned for,
fearing that Saul is out to kill him and desperate to escape,
to put more ground between him and the one step he believes
he is away from death, David desperately fights for this life
rather than remembering, seeking, trusting, and abiding in the Lord
who has been fighting for him every step of the way thus far.
How many times already had the Lord provided for David?
Did David need to lie just to get some food?
How many times had the Lord shown Himself to be with David in battle?
Did David need to lie in order to take hold of Goliath’s sword?
How many times had the Lord proved Himself to be David’s refuge?
Did David need to become so desperate that he had no choice
but to find sanctuary among the enemies of Israel?
As David held the sword of Goliath,
he should have remembered how he came to win it.
David’s victory over that seemingly impossible obstacle,
didn’t come by his hand, through deception and guile.
The Lord gave David the victory and David took hold of that victory
through faith – by bolding trusting God with the battle and its consequences.
But as David finds himself in the wilderness
– initially cut off from his family and friends – facing the unexpected
he acts like a person who has run out of options.
Giving into fear and desperation, David lost sight of
the One who always had provided for him,
who always had been with him in the battle,
who always proved to be David’s shelter from the storm.
And all of David’s efforts to look out for his own interests,
to protect himself, to save his own life,
with little white lies and convincing deceptions,
didn’t making things any better.
They left only horrific wake of bloodshed and a guilty and shamed conscience.
Beloved, what happened to David can happen to any of us.
But perhaps we’re still thinking, yes but David’s life was in danger.
David’s deception, David’s lie was an act of self-preservation.
And is self-preservation really such a bad thing?
Aren’t we are created with an incredibly strong and natural
– God-given instinct or inclination to survive, to preserve our lives?
Of course, it’s logical and it’s right to be mindful of our health and well-being.
In fact, the Bible commands that we do so.
Self-preservation is a good thing.
Tying our shoelaces. Looking both ways before crossing the street.
Walking, and not running, with sharp objects. Getting vaccinated.
These are all good practices.
Self-preservation in and of itself is not wrong.
But when self-preservation becomes our ultimate thing
this is when we have a problem.
I was a lifeguard for a brief stint of my life.
During my training, I learned a drowning person,
in an effort to save themselves,
will push anyone in their vicinity under the water
in order to stay afloat.
When fear and desperation overtake us,
when self-preservation becomes our highest end,
we will drown whoever is closest by in order to save our own life.
This chapter in David’s life is an insight into what happens
when we live apart from Lord’s direction
when we operate in fear rather than trust in the Lord.
– when we convince ourselves that we have to save ourselves.
When we tell ourselves that our lives are in our hands alone,
that we have to take matters into our own hands,
looking out for our own self-interest eclipses being mindful,
being receptive of God’s interests
– of the Lord’s promise that He alone can provide what we need.
The leading and wisdom of the Spirit is replaced by human reason alone.
Our instinct for self-preservation leads us
to believe and to self-justify we can only secure our own well-being
– at the cost, at the expense of others.
Apart from abiding in the Word and the Spirit of God,
we rationalize whatever serves our interests even if it put others in harm’s way.
We do what’s wrong and tell ourselves it’s all right.
It was necessary. We didn’t have any choice.
And other people get hurt and pay the price.
Certainly, all that we’ve been through in this last year
– not just in terms of the pandemic but in the midst of the racial, economic, political, and global tensions we continue to experience
– have proven this to be true.
Lives have been lost. Lives continue to be sacrificed.
All because of the lies we tell ourselves –
like “might makes right,” like “the ends justify the means,”
like “everyone gets what they deserve,”
like “I’m not my brother or sister’s keeper”
All because of the lies that we actively or passively propagate –
that – our safety, our comfort, our provision, our plans, and even our very lives are more of a priority than just and equitable treatment of all persons.
When we can convince ourselves to put an asterisk by “doing right”
if doing right will bring us personal inconvenience, hardship, or pain,
then we’re aren’t loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
We are just loving ourselves at the expense of our neighbor.
Some Christians believe or have been told
since they believe in Jesus, because they come to church,
life now will be free from hardship or struggle or pain.
But if we truly know Jesus
– anybody who is committed to the journey of actually following Christ,
understands, this life of faith is not a get rich quick scheme
of health, wealth, and prosperity.
Following God means being transformed by the Lord
– from whom we have been to the best version of ourselves we can become.
And change means conflict – challenge, struggle, and yes, pain.
To say the Lord always provided what we need does not mean
the Lord protects us from hardship or suffering when we step out in faith.
What is best for us and the Kingdom of God might be
something very painful for us – even lethal – putting to death
some former way of thinking or living or even taking our earthly life itself.
But thanks to Jesus, death has taken on new meaning.
Death is never our end.
In Christ, whatever seeks to kill us,
by the promise of the Resurrection, will only make us stronger.
We may be hard pressed on every side, but will not be crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.
Living by faith is unnecessary when we believe we are in control,
when the shape and direction of our lives is what we expected,
what we planned for, what we want.
But we all come to the proverbial fork in the road
when we face the unexpected, when we encounter what was unplanned,
when we come to grips with embracing what we didn’t want to happen,
when we discover we are not ultimately in control.
These are the moments when we either
try to do whatever we have to do in order in our effort to survive
or we choose to live by faith – faith that God gives us in Christ,
but faith in following Jesus that asks us to forego safety, security, comfort,
and even our lives, trusting that God will work all things together for our good, committing to live the Lord’s way even when life isn’t going our way,
holding onto God’s promise of a full and abundant life not as some future fantasy but an eternal reality being realized in the here and now.
Jesus once put it this way,
“For whoever would save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25)
Whatever it is you’re facing right now
– especially whatever is unexpected, unplanned for, and even unwanted,
believe and trust the Lord is with you and for you.
You are not alone. You don’t have to go it alone.
Beloved, faith is like a muscle, it must be worked.
If we want our faith to grow, we have to exercise it.
We have to step out in faith.
Our God-given faith flutters and can even flounder
whenever we try to save ourselves.
When our own self-interest is all that we live for,
faith becomes muted and we slowly die inside even as
we inflict immeasurable wounds on the people God has called us to love.
But when we lay down the supremacy of our own self-interest
and step out in faith, we find the courage and the strength we need
not just to survive but to thrive – to flourish and to show the world
the truth of God’s presence and promises.
The same Spirit of Christ that dwells inside of us giving us faith,
enlarges that faith with each step of faithful obedience
we take in following Jesus one moment, one day at a time. Amen.