Whose Side Are You On? | 05.02.21 | Humble Beginnings Pt. 4
1 Samuel 19:1-10
Have you ever read a “choose your own adventure” book? I used to love reading those when I was younger.
There was something so fun about being able to get lost in a good story, but also retain some of the control of the decisions. I would almost try and make it a game about whether I could choose the “right” choice to keep the story going, instead of picking the direction that ended in a river of hungry alligators or in a dead end for the detective.
Then video games came out where you could fully control the actions of a character, and it was amazing, because it was like you were watching a movie with incredible characters and a storyline, but you got to choose what the main character did.
Sometimes the choices you made were in line with the direction of the plotline, and your character continued to flourish and grow. But sometimes, you got to make choices that had consequences and negatively affected your ability to continue in the game
We all like to be able to choose, don’t we? Deep down, we don’t like being told what to do. But we also want to make the right choices.
How can we know if we’re choosing correctly in our life? How can we know the choices we made in the past aren’t holding us back from what we were created for? Where is God leading, and how can we choose to join him?
Today’s Bible story talks about the difference between people who choose to join God, and the people who choose to follow their own way. It’s an ancient story, but I was surprised with how much practical connection it has with our lives today.
Go ahead and open your Bibles to 1 Samuel 19. Our Bible story today covers both chapter 19 and chapter 20, so you’ll want to keep your Bibles open in order to follow along with the story. But for now, let’s hear a few verses from the beginning of chapter 19 to start…
PASSAGE – 1 Sam 19:1-10
Okay, if this is your first week with us, or if you haven’t joined us in the last few weeks, you might be a bit caught off-guard with how abruptly this starts: “Saul told his son and servants to kill David.”
Whoah, that seems excessive. Where’d that come from?
You might feel like you just started watching a TV show in the middle of the season. Obviously, it would give the most context and in-depth understanding for you to go back and watch the episodes you missed, but not everyone has that kind of time.
So, if you haven’t been able to participate in every worship gathering for the last few weeks, or if you haven’t been able to go back and watch the messages you’ve missed, here’s a quick recap:
Saul is the king of Israel. He got the job because they were under attack from the Philistines, and he was a good warrior and leader. Unfortunately, he didn’t follow God with the whole of his leadership, and instead just played the part in order to stay in charge.
David was chosen by God to be the next king, and through a crazy set of circumstances, ends up working for King Saul and becoming a trusted aid and general to the king.
While Saul drifted farther and farther away from God and experienced some intense darkness and doubt in his own abilities, David seems to get nothing wrong and is on the rise as the new favorite of everyone around Saul.
So, as befits a ruler who is afraid of losing power, Saul tries to get rid of his competition by placing David in dangerous situations so that he’ll meet an untimely end in battle.
Unfortunately for Saul, David just keeps winning and gaining even more acclaim among the people.
So, now that Saul’s subtle attempts at getting rid of David have failed, he’s decided to take a more direct approach, and he commands his son and soldiers to go kill David. And this is the first little scene of our story that we read together.
Jonathan talks his father out of his plan, and for a moment at least, it seems like everything is okay again. David is restored to the royal court. Saul has calmed down, but it’s going to be hard for everyone to forget that Saul just revealed his true heart.
David probably doesn’t want to spend very much time around the king now. So it’s a good thing that he gets called to battle again, and experiences great victory again, but the fact that it is DAVID who is successful taints the victory over the Philistines and Saul is driven to extreme jealousy again.
Saul, the one who was made king in order to fight the Philistines is sitting at home with his spear. He’s not on the battlefield, but he’s turning his house into a battlefield in its own right.
Saul hasn’t been able to kill off David through enemy soldiers, or his own soldiers. So he takes matters into his own hands and tries to pin David to the wall with his spear. David narrowly escapes.
And if you keep reading, you’ll notice that Saul isn’t finished. Knowing that he’s just exposed himself as deeply unstable, Saul decides it’s time to double down and just make sure to end David, so he sends soldiers to his house in the morning to ambush him.
Now, in verse 1, Saul’s attempt on David’s life is interrupted by the phrase “but Jonathan.” Here, in verse 11, his plan is interrupted by the phrase, “but Michal.”
Michal, Saul’s daughter, is married to David, and she realizes what is going on when a bunch of soldiers from her father show up. So she convinces David to escape out the window while she pulls a prank right out of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the soldiers. She gets a statue and some goat hair, and makes it seem like David is still in bed. Then she tells the soldiers he’s not feeling well.
They report this to Saul, who says something to the effect of, “Who cares if he’s sick? Go kill him!”
That’s when they discover the trick and we get to see a conversation between Michal and her dad where he calls her out for deceiving him. But she responds to him and says that David threatened to kill her in order to escape. Even though WE know this isn’t true, Saul at least is able to hold on to the fantasy that he still has the loyalty and respect of his daughter.
Soon enough, Saul gets word that David is hiding with Samuel, the old prophet of God who anointed both Saul and then David to be king. So he sends a detachment of soldiers, but when they get there, they are overcome by the spirit of God and end up joining in the worship service and prophesying.
So Saul sends another group of soldiers. And the same thing happens.
So Saul sends ANOTHER group of soldiers. And it happens AGAIN.
So far, Saul has been stopped by Jonathan, Michal, and now Yahweh himself. David hasn’t said any words in our story yet, and so we don’t know what’s going through his head. All we know is that he has powerful friends, he seems to be very lucky, and he is prospering.
Saul on the other hand, is growing more and more psychotic, and isn’t even trying to hide his murderous rage anymore. So he decides to head down after David himself. But while he’s on the way to where David is with Samuel, the spirit of God comes on him, and he begins prophesying, instead of fulfilling his murderous purpose.
So chapter 19 acts as a sort-of close to Saul’s leadership storyline. He started out with hopeful expectancy, the first king that God had given to Israel. And here he is, laying on the ground in disdain, pitiful and an embarrassment.
Chapter 20 finally brings us into David’s experience, as he leaves from where Saul just tried hunting him down and goes to Jonathan, his good friend and confidant. It seems like Jonathan has been kept in the dark by Saul about the most recent few attempts on David’s life (probably because of how Jonathan tried talking Saul out of it the last time).
So he’s surprised that Saul still is trying to kill David. He thought he had settled it. But, he’s willing to test Saul’s temperament to see if he still is truly trying to kill David.
So they hatch a plan together. The next day is a big festival, and the king will be entertaining guests, and all his officials will be expected to attend with him, including David. David says he’s going to play hooky and wants Jonathan to see how Saul reacts. If Saul brushes it off, then his murderous rage must be on a downswing. But if he freaks out, Jonathan will know that Saul truly has crossed over a line that he won’t be coming back from.
Then David and Jonathan swear loyalty to each other, and reaffirm their deep love for one another. Both are described as loving the other as they loved themselves. Jonathan even goes so far as to ask David to be kind to him when he steps into power, showing that Jonathan knows that David will end up king, because Yahweh is clearly with him.
So Jonathan goes to the festival and waits until Saul notices that David is absent. Saul behaves exactly like we would expect, flying off the handle and accusing Jonathan of shaming himself and his family.
“Whose side are you on anyways? Don’t you know that David is gunning for the throne? My throne, YOUR throne?! As long as he’s alive, he’ll be a threat to you becoming king after me.”
But Jonathan still protests Saul’s desire to kill David, so Saul freaks out even more and throws his spear at Jonathan!
He had just finished making the case that his effort to get rid of David was all about protecting Jonathan’s claim to the throne, but now his anger overwhelms him and he tries to kill the son he’s supposedly protecting. Saul has truly been consumed by his anger.
Have you ever known someone who was so consumed by something that it overshadowed the rest of their character? Things that once were important to them are pushed to the side in the wake of anger, or greed, or addiction. People who used to have great integrity of character are suddenly carried away into a deep, dark hole of deceit, or jealousy, or shame. When this happens, it usually pushes away all the people they love, and that’s exactly what we see with Saul.
Jonathan storms off. Where he might have still had some loyalty and respect for his father before, he leaves that day with nothing but anger and perhaps pity towards his father.
His words to David in v13 are particularly chilling, as he prays a blessing over David that God would be with him as he HAD BEEN with Saul. (1 SAM 20:13) Past tense.
Jonathan knows that whatever anointing Saul had as the chosen king over Israel is gone now. And all that is left is a scared, weak, angry tyrant.
And even though it means walking away from his own chance at the throne, Jonathan chooses to join in the path that Yahweh is clearly leading: toward David as the next king.
Jonathan reconnects with David and they have one last meeting as close friends in covenant with each other. And then David leaves, officially beginning his life on the run from the king, and Jonathan returns to town, to take his place next to his father, though his loyalty is now with Yahweh’s anointed, David.
Okay, let’s just take a breath, can we?
That was a CRAZY amount of drama and intrigue and attempted murders and lies and being on-the-run and deep friendship. If anyone ever tells you that the Bible is boring, just have them read these two chapters of 1 Samuel. The movies at the Oscars this last week WISH they had as much suspense and emotional depth!
But what are we supposed to take away from this? There are honestly so many directions we could go. We could look at the continued decline of Saul and the deterioration of his character. We could look at the friendship between Jonathan and David. We could dig into exactly what was going on with the prophesying assassins and how Yahweh thwarted Saul.
But there’s actually one big theme that stands out to me from these two chapters that I want to spend the rest of our time looking at, and that is this:
You can either join God’s plan, or you can fight against it. He’ll let you choose.
These two chapters show how everyone but Saul seems to understand that Yahweh is leading the way for David, and they decide to join in with that. Michal, Jonathan, and Samuel all choose to follow God’s leading towards David, while Saul continues to fight against Yahweh’s clear direction in order to try and hold on to what HE wants.
And the crazy thing is that God LETS Saul do that and drive himself into ruin.
I think it’s a good reminder to us that God doesn’t force us to follow his lead. He’s constantly inviting us to join him in his mission in the world, but he’ll let us go our own way, even if that way leads to our ruin.
But for those of us who want to join God in what he’s already doing, the invitation is wide open! That doesn’t mean it will be easy, and it might even come at personal cost. Just take a look at our story today:
Michal could have chosen to protect herself and the comfortability of her life. She could have told David to stay with her, or to try and make things right with her father. She could have reacted in fear of losing her stable marriage and place in the royal family.
But instead, she helps David escape, knowing that her husband would be on the run and might not be present in her life very much. And then she goes back to face the soldiers and her murderous father on her own, placing herself in harm’s way. Michal knew that David was being used by God for something bigger than her small idea of security and familiarity. She chose to sacrifice her own safe ideal in order to join in with what God was doing.
How many of us would be willing to sacrifice our ideal of home, or of family, in order to join in with something God is doing? God might not ask you to help your spouse escape a murderous in-law, but what if he was asking you to invite someone into your home to live with you for a while? What if he was calling you to change up your routine in order to be able to serve someone else on a regular basis? Are we willing to join God’s plan, or are we fighting against it? Are we choosing instead our own comfort and familiarity?
What if it seems like following God is dangerous? Samuel knew that harboring David would definitely bring the ire and violence of Saul straight to his doorstep. And when he saw the soldiers in the distance, I wonder if he felt afraid. I wonder if he felt the urge to defend himself.
I would have! I easily try to defend myself even when it’s just against the “threat” of someone’s opposing viewpoint to mine!
But Samuel chose something different. He just kept worshiping God. He stayed committed to the thing that God had called him to in that moment, which was overseeing a prayer meeting. And by doing so, he got to see God step in in a way no one could have predicted!
Are we willing join in with God’s plan when it means giving up the right to defend ourselves? Are we willing to follow God if it means surrendering our ability to fight for our rights? Or do we bristle at even the mention of “rights”? Do we clutch at what is “rightfully” ours?
Now, Jonathan was the next in line for the throne. And David’s success was just as much of a threat to him as it was to his father. If he had chosen to join forces with his father, the situation would have become extremely dangerous for David.
But Jonathan chooses fidelity to Yahweh’s anointed, David, rather than joining forces with his father against David in order to fight for his own right to the throne. And not only was this a sacrifice of what Jonathan felt was rightfully his, it was also a risk to his life and his family. In the ancient world, when one dynasty replaces another, it was really common for all male descendants of the previous regime to be killed to ensure there would be no challenge to the throne. In other words, if David took over as king, it wouldn’t be out of character for that time period for him to kill Jonathan, and any sons he might have in order to fully extinguish the line of Saul and therefore eliminate any threat of a coup in the future.
By supporting David, Jonathan is putting his faith in David’s character and friendship to him. But he was also abdicating his right to rule. He was willingly handing over the throne to David. This reminds me of John the Baptist, who paved the way for the anointed one that David was a precursor of, Jesus.
John the Baptist was getting a huge following in the wilderness, baptizing people, getting a lot of people who wondered if he might be the Messiah, which is the Hebrew word for “anointed one.” Once Jesus showed up and started his ministry, someone came to John and told him that Jesus and his disciples were actually baptizing even MORE people that John had. His response? “He must increase; I must decrease.”
How many of us would be willing to give up what is rightfully ours in order for God’s plan to be magnified? How many of us would be willing to choose a lower rank, a lower pay, less prestige in order for God’s mission to take center stage? How many of us are willing to join in God’s plan, even if it means giving up the American Dream?
We can either join God’s plan, or we can fight against it. He’ll let us choose.
But how do we know what God’s plan is? How do we see what he’s doing in our world, so that we can join him?
Well, that’s a whole other sermon, but I can tell you this:
God is already at work around you. He’s inviting you to partner with him. So ask him where he’s at work. Look around, where do you see God’s grace? Where do you see a spot that needs the light of Christ?
I’ll always remember something that a mentor of mine told me: “If you want to see Jesus at work, spend time with the people he spent time with.”
Maybe God is calling you to change your routine a bit to spend time with the people and the places that Jesus spent time in: the poor, the marginalized, the misunderstood, the needy. Maybe we need to get out of our familiar, comfortable routine in order to join in what God intends to do through us.
Because God is already at work in the world. And he’s inviting us to join him. You’re invited to join in God’s mission of restoration in our world. You’re invited to join in God’s mission of reconciliation.
This isn’t something that we have to do on our own to prove ourselves to God. There is no bar of sacrifice that we have to meet in order to become the “right” kind of Jesus follower. God’s grace is sufficient for you. God has already loved us in the deepest parts of our sin, and he’s calling us to join him so that we can keep learning to become like his son along the way. That’s such good news!
What would it look like for you to join in God’s work this week? What if all of us found one person to serve? What if all of us found one small way to sacrifice for someone else this week? What if Grace Lutheran Church was known as the church family who chooses God’s way over our own comfortable routine?
Let’s try that this week. Ask God to give you one person to sacrifice for. And then take that next step. And the next step after that. And see where God is leading. Amen.