As Saul’s and David’s generals continue their war, let’s turn to Jesus today.  All of Jesus’ parables bear directly on our lives, but today’s is unusually apropos for churches today.

It begins with a table guest, we assume a Pharisee since that is the crowd with whom Jesus is eating at the moment, trying to curry some favor with this famous Rabbi.  Or to make a point about Jesus’ previous parable perhaps.  Whatever the reason, it gives Jesus a great opening to make a very important point that the Pharisees continuously miss, then and today.  Basically, Jesus says that God’s kingdom is for everyone except those who purposely reject it.  We all have excuses for avoiding being part of the Kingdom with it’s requisite life, worldview, and interpretive change.  “Our tradition is not what the Kingdom seems to require, so I’ll stick with my tradition, thank you.”  “That seems like a lot of commitment to be part of this Kingdom and I’m really too busy for one more thing.”  “I’m going to live my comfortable way for now and then later I’ll join the Kingdom of God.”  “I’m part of the Kingdom already because I’m so good.  I don’t need all that other ‘caring for people’ and ‘serving others’ stuff.”

But Jesus says, “When you give your excuses, you walk away from the Kingdom and will not be given a second chance at it.  Then God finds others to take your place.  He goes to those you won’t allow in and welcomes them who come without excuses and without expectations.”

What excuses have you made to not give your all to the Kingdom of God?  What is keeping you from going “all in” for God?  Too busy?  Too comfortable?  Doing fine on your own?  Don’t like the people at the party?

And so ends the cautionary tale of King Saul, killed in battle with the Philistines.  He lost his sons including Jonathan, he lost his army, and finally he lost the battle.  But in the end, to finish off the godlessness of King Saul, he is not killed in battle but kills himself.  While this seems honorable, in Jewish society suicide was considered a breaking of the 6th commandment since it was considered murder of oneself.

This story, about a king chosen and anointed by God but abandoned due to his sinfulness, is a nervous-making one for us.  If we sin against God, will He abandon us, too?  How will we know if we’ve lost God’s blessing, His anointing for ministry?  And what sins or number of sins are required before God leaves us?  This very question exposes our ignorance of sin.  We in our Western, individualistic, guilt-innocence based culture keep thinking of sin as something we do.  “I committed a sin,” is our default thought, “and so I am sinful.”  But the bible makes it clear that we aren’t sinful because we sin, but we sin because we are sinful.  We live in a state of rebellion against God, of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness.  And because of this sinfulness, we sin.

The Good News is that Jesus died to pay for our sinfulness.  That state of things is gone for we who are In Christ.  We still sin, but are not in a state of rebellion against God.  Things have changed with the cross.

Now, before we take too deep a breath of relief, we have to remember Jesus’ words in our New Testament reading, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”  The relationship Jesus wants with us, a saving relationship, is not a matter of attendance at church, or number of people we’ve served in this world, or amount of money we’ve given away.  Like every relationship it is based on time spent together, common interests, and mutual love and respect.  For those who don’t truly love God, (“No greater love has anyone than this, that they lay down their life for their friend”) that door is narrow indeed.

Due to a lack of trust/faith, David, one of the greatest military assets King Saul could utilize, is chased into the hands of King Saul’s enemies.  It’s amazing what a lack of trust can do to harm us.

King Saul is foolish, impatient, arrogant, proud, and impulsive as we have already noted.  Today we see that he is controlling as he attempts to force Samuel to do his bidding from the grave, and that he is lacking in trust.  And it may be this last that is ultimately his downfall.  Saul doesn’t trust that David is not out to kill him and claim the kingship for himself.  And as with everyone, it is true of Saul that we always assume others will act the way we would.  Nobody is more afraid of being gossiped about than a gossip.  Nobody assumes someone else is lying as quickly as a liar.  And for King Saul, nobody assumes another would attempt to wrongfully take his throne than he is.  Even when David has proven again and again that he will not harm God’s anointed King, no matter how easy and justified it is, still Saul won’t trust him and so pursues him.

David is forced into the land of his sworn enemy, the Philistines.  And yet here too he is met with mistrust.  After over a year of faithful service to Achish, David has earned his trust.  But not that of the other military leaders who send him away rather than allowing him to fight with them.  Again, David’s military prowess goes unused due to a lack of faith in him.

How often do we lose out on great opportunities and gifts because of a lack of trust?  (The Greek word for “trust” is pistis, which is also the word for faith, making them almost interchangeable).  How often are we the recipients of Jesus’ dispirited and dispiriting words, “Oh, you of little faith.  Why do you doubt?”  Are there situations in your life where your lack of trust is causing you to lose out on relationships, on ministry opportunities, or on peace of mind?

Two fools face David’s wrath in today’s reading – one a traditional fool, the other a self-proclaimed fool.

Nabal refuses to meet David’s kindness with kindness of his own.  Instead, he sees only the financial cost of feeding and caring for an army, small thought it may be, and so refuses.  His wife Abigail becomes the hero of this story by showing proper hospitality to David and his men.  Because of his disrespect and foolishness, Nabal dies, apparently from fear.  Because of her honor and obedience to the law which requires hospitality to strangers as well as friends, Abigail not only lives, and not only doesn’t become a widow bound to live only by the kindness of others, but she becomes the wife of the future king.

Saul, the second fool of this story by his own proclamation (v. 21), is a fool because he continues to hunt for David, simply because David has a better reputation than he does.  We know that David is the newly anointed king and that, while Saul was anointed with oil, the anointing that matters, the Holy Spirit, has left him.  But Saul only knows that people like David more, and so he sets out once again to kill David.  In the process, just like last time in the cave, David spares Saul’s life and Saul is shown for the fool he is.

Foolishness doesn’t seem like a sin, but it is.  God doesn’t intend for us to play the fool but to be His righteous followers.  The good news is that we have the choice of whether to play the fool by not following God’s commands or to be a follower by following them.  Foolishness is not about ability but about willingness.  Don’t be a fool today.  Be a follower.

David’s followers were an early protest movement.  Having fled from Saul’s capital, David now finds himself gathering an uprising that it is not clear he intended or understood.  First, his family joins him.  Then “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him.”  And suddenly, from fleeing alone for his life, David is now the leader of a rebel army of 400 plus followers.

Our culture is a culture of protest.  Every week there is a new protest going on.  We are protesting racial inequality, sexual harassment, gun control, and the underpayment of teachers.  We protest wars and taxes and statements and people.  It has become chic to protest and so we do it, for good and bad reasons.  Yet have we considered what God might think of all of our protests?  Have we asked Him what He thinks or just asked Him to bless our work?

Here we have an example of God blessing a protest against an ungodly political leader.  God left Saul for his disobedience, and David’s uprising stands against that.  Yet David is the first to admit that he wants this protest to be different than what we usually expect.  First, it is non-violent.  With the perfect opportunity to kill Saul and cut the head off the proverbial snake, David declines and even in his non-violence feels remorse for his activity against the leadership.  Second, it is patient.  David is not looking to overthrow Saul but is instead biding his time.  He has already been anointed by Samuel as the next king, but rather than rushing the plan, he is patiently waiting.  And if you think his army was happy with that, you don’t know people very well.  Finally, David’s protest took responsibility.  David knows that his protest will cause violence and even get people killed.  And he takes responsibility for that violence, not blaming it on Saul but proclaiming it as his own.

Protests are an effective way to speak truth into the silence of the powerful.  Just because something IS does not mean that it SHOULD BE.  But I think we could learn a lot about protest from David and the bible.

David and Jonathan have a very interesting relationship.  More than friends, these two were like brothers.  They rely on each other, inform for each other, and have the kind of intimate friendship that most of us only long for.  Yet their relationship is also very real.  Jonathan can’t imagine his father Saul not liking David as he does, so he denies the testimony of his own eyes.  This kind of loyalty is what Saul craves, and he finds it in his son.  Yet once Jonathan sees Saul’s rage against David, he is Team David all the way.

Many have questioned this relationship as “unusually intimate” and have declared them homosexual lovers.  Just in the last month, I’ve heard this argument brought up in a discussion, so the argument is not going away.  I don’t believe them to be bisexual (David does have a wife and children) for a few different reasons.  First, it would have been so unusual in Jewish society that it could not have gone without note.  Homosexual activity was against the holiness code of Leviticus and so would have been commented on had it been so for David, Israel’s greatest king.  Second, the argument is one from silence – there is no mention of homosexual activity in the scriptures.  Instead, we tear this friendship out of it’s time and put it in ours with our assumptions and our cultural norms.  Because today we don’t have this kind of friendship, a friendship of love without sex, we cannot imagine it ever existing.  American culture is so obsessed with sex that we read it into everything, even when it’s not there.

But don’t we all long for a friend like this?  Someone who would give up their family, their power, their wealth, even their own life for ours.  Someone so close that we share everything.  Someone like Jonathan was for David.  If you have someone like that in your life, hold on to them.  If not, it would be a good idea to work for one.  “To have a friend, you have to be a friend,” my mom always used to tell me.  Maybe it begins by being the kind of friend you want to have and then going from there.

How often do you spend a huge amount of time trying to solve a problem only to realize half way through that you’ve been doing it without God?  That is the story of David and Goliath.

Look at the text of this story.  How many verses does it take before anyone even thinks of God?  Twenty six!  King Saul, his entire army, even David’s brothers don’t think to ask God for help until David shows up.  So they go to war, confront a 9 foot enemy who mocks them and taunts them for 40 days, and on every one of those days while they are lining up for war – twice! – they don’t think to pray, to ask God for help.

Finally, David comes and brings God with him.  Goliath isn’t mocking Saul’s army; he’s mocking the God they stand for.  And through the whole of this story, only David turns to, or even mentions, God.  Except once when Saul wishes David well in the battle with, “The Lord be with you.”  This means little from a king who has already identified God as “your God” when talking to Samuel earlier.

Too often we fight our battles and wage our wars with little or no thought of God.  We do our work, live our lives, bemoan our society, raise our families, and only before meals or at bed time do we think of God.  And we wonder why our lives are so hard.

Today, turn to God right now.  Include Him in your daily living, your work and family and rest.  Ask Him to help you, to fight for you in your daily battles, and see what a difference it makes to have God fighting on your side.  You might even be able to slay that giant you’ve been running from all these years.

Today’s reading has a lot of different verses that are often used for devotional writings:
“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
“To obey is better than sacrifice.”  (BTW, do we ever consider that this particular “obedience” is killing an entire city?)

But I don’t think I’ve ever read a devotional about this one:  “An evil spirit from the Lord tormented him (Saul).”  What?  Since when did God send “evil spirits” on people?

There can be a number of interpretations of this one and I have heard some of them in other discussions before:

(1)   This is an early description of a psychological problem.  Saul suffered from a diagnosible mental condition that caused these fits.  Music has been shown to calm people and even animals.

(2)   God is omnipotent so everything that happens is attributed to Him without questioning.  Much of our confusion about God’s activity in the Old Testament comes from our questioning why He wouldn’t act like us.  In the Old Testament, the key wasn’t that we understand God but that we honor Him.  He could do anything He wanted because He was God, and He was in control of everything.  Therefore, anything that happened would be attributed to God, even evil spirits.

(3)  God sends evil spirits, even Satan himself, upon the world to test (like in the story of Job) or to punish (like here with Saul, or in the story of Baalam who’s donkey helps him avoid “Satan” (that’s the name used for this “Angel from the Lord”) on the road).  This is a more direct version of the second option since it still recognizes God’s complete control over the world but then also gives God more direct agency in the matter.

So which is it?  You’ll have to take it up with God.  He knows and I don’t believe anyone else on earth does.

Today’s reading has a lot of different verses that are often used for devotional writings:
“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
“To obey is better than sacrifice.”  (BTW, do we ever consider that this particular “obedience” is killing an entire city?)

But I don’t think I’ve ever read a devotional about this one:  “An evil spirit from the Lord tormented him (Saul).”  What?  Since when did God send “evil spirits” on people?

There can be a number of interpretations of this one and I have heard some of them in other discussions before:

(1)   This is an early description of a psychological problem.  Saul suffered from a diagnosible mental condition that caused these fits.  Music has been shown to calm people and even animals.

(2)   God is omnipotent so everything that happens is attributed to Him without questioning.  Much of our confusion about God’s activity in the Old Testament comes from our questioning why He wouldn’t act like us.  In the Old Testament, the key wasn’t that we understand God but that we honor Him.  He could do anything He wanted because He was God, and He was in control of everything.  Therefore, anything that happened would be attributed to God, even evil spirits.

(3)  God sends evil spirits, even Satan himself, upon the world to test (like in the story of Job) or to punish (like here with Saul, or in the story of Baalam who’s donkey helps him avoid “Satan” (that’s the name used for this “Angel from the Lord”) on the road).  This is a more direct version of the second option since it still recognizes God’s complete control over the world but then also gives God more direct agency in the matter.

So which is it?  You’ll have to take it up with God.  He knows and I don’t believe anyone else on earth does.