Faith in the Midst of Hostility

The story (maybe true, maybe not) is told of a time when the invaders entered a certain village.  The leaders reported, “all the monks, hearing of your approach, fled to the mountains.”

The commander smiled a broad, cold smile, for he was proud of having a reputation for being a very fearsome person.

But the leader added, “All, that is, but one.”

The commander was enraged, ran to the monastery, kicked in the gate and confronted the remaining monastic.  “Do you know who I am?” the commander demanded. “I am he who can run you through with a sword without batting an eyelash.”

The monk looked at the commander with a serene and patient look and said, “And do you know who I am? I am one who can let you run me through with a sword without batting an eyelash.”

Don’t you wish you had this kind of courage and faithfulness?  I do. But it is not as easy as it looks.  When people reject us, attack us, and make fun of us, it hurts.  It is especially painful when the attack comes from someone you thought was your friend.

This morning we return to the story of David to learn how to deal with difficult times with the heart of God. We pick up the story right after David’s victory over Goliath. David became good friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan.  We’ll talk more about that relationship next week. What we want to focus on this morning are the attacks that came at David and how this “man after God’s own heart” responded to those attacks.

The Unexpected Consequences of Being a Hero

Saul’s paranoia Immediately following the victory of Goliath Saul had David come and work for him full-time.  It was not however a smooth transition. Things got ugly during the ticker-tape parade after the killing of Goliath and the routing of the Philistines.  Saul came home as the triumphant leader and the people cheered for him, but they reserved their greatest cheers for David.  This did not please the insecure King. In verse 9 we are told, “From that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.”

Saul was so “crazy with jealousy” that the next time David came to play his harp for Saul, the King hurled his spear at David. If the chronology is literal, this was just days after they had returned from their battle with the Philistines! In Saul’s mind, David had gone from hero, to Public Enemy #1.

Jealousy can turn good people into monsters.  Do you remember the story of the mom who killed one of the cheerleaders at the school so that her daughter could get on the squad?  There are a whole class of crimes called “crimes of passion” that are related to jealousy.  Saul’s jealousy caused him to see David as a threat rather than an asset.

In verse 12 we are told Saul was “afraid of David because the Lord was with David but had left Saul.”  Saul remembered Samuel’s words that God had left him and was going to raise up another ruler. Saul could see the loyalty of the people moving to David. He might naturally have feared for his own life.  It was common for Kings to be killed by those who sought the throne.  David was so popular that a coup was not out of the question.  Saul was also jealous for his son Jonathan who would naturally be in line for the job of King after him.

The Great “Escapes” Saul was imprisoned by his jealousy. The building resentment and paranoia led to a number of confrontations. In the remaining verses of 1 Samuel 18 and through chapter 19 we see a list of these “close calls” for David.

Escape from Saul’s Schemes (18:17-30) Saul kept sending David out on military maneuvers in the hope he would die in battle. David continued to have success which only stoked the fire of resentment.

Saul offered his oldest daughter to David if he would continue to fight the Philistines for the King.  We are told, “Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!” (17). David demurred from being the King’s son-in-law because he did not feel worthy of such an honor.

When Saul discovered that his younger daughter had a crush on David (perhaps reciprocated), Saul offered her to David and suggested an appropriate dowry would be that he kill 100 Philistines, circumcise them, and bring the evidence to him. David was already hated by the Philistines. They hated the idea of circumcision (because it was to honor the God of the Israelites) Saul figured this would stoke the fire of hatred against David and they would kill him. David however, went out and doubled the dowry by killing 200 Philistines and became the son-in-law of the King.

Escape by the hand of Jonathan (19:1-7) In chapter 19 Saul told his son and all his attendants to kill David.  In other words, he put a “hit” out on him. Jonathan warned David of his father’s intentions.  Jonathan also interceded for David with his father.  He reminded him of David’s faithful service and argued that David was asset to Saul rather than a liability.  Saul withdrew his “hit”. . . for the moment.

Escape from Saul’s Spear (19:8-10) In verse 8 we are told that David returned to battle and once again was successful.  When David returned, Saul again fell into a depression. We can only speculate.  Did Saul hear everyone talking about David?  This would only feed his paranoia.

Saul summoned David again to play the harp for him. David was willing to serve the King in any capacity and came willingly. While David was playing, Saul’s jealousy boiled over again and he again threw his spear at David trying to “pin him to the wall”. David wasn’t stupid. He decided it might be a good time to get out of town.

Saved by Saul’s Daughter (19:11-17) David went home to his wife Michal, Saul’s daughter.  He told his wife he was going to flee in the morning.  Michal, knowing her dad, told David he had better not wait until morning. She was right. The King sent guards to his home with instruction to kill him in the morning. That night David snuck out of the house and made his escape. When the soldiers came looking for David in the morning, Michal bought David some time by making the bed look like he was still there and telling the men he was sick.  When the King discovered what happened, Michal said she was forced to help David.

Saved by the Spirit (19:18-24) David went to Samuel for counsel.  When Saul learned that David was with Samuel he sent men to go get him. He sent three teams of soldiers and each time the same thing happened.  They arrived at the place of the prophets and saw David and Samuel but were made by the Spirit to prophesy.  This doesn’t mean they predicted the future.  It most likely means that they were caught up into some spiritual involvement. Finally Saul himself came to get David and he too was “made to prophesy”. The Holy Spirit protected David.

Twice David dodged the spear of Saul, he was saved once by Jonathan, once by Michel and once by the Holy Spirit.

Lessons for Our Lives

Let’s get to the application of the story. This passage reveals a stark contrast between Saul who was consumed by jealousy, and David who continued to serve the King and honor God.  The passage serves as a warning against jealousy but I also see four things David teaches us about how to handle antagonists in our own lives.

First, we learn that we can choose how we will respond to threats from others.  Saul chose to become violent and vindictive; David chose to trust God.  We have the same choice before us. Think about the different ways we can respond to attacks from others.

  • You can fall apart. You can give up and let your emotions take over your life.
  • You can fight back and become combative (in other words, you can become just like those who attack us).  You can respond to slander with slander; aggressive behavior with aggressive behavior.  David could have shot a stone right past the ear of the King to remind him of Goliath.
  • You can compromise your principles and just “get along”.  Sometimes in a job situation workers are told to work less diligently because they are making others look bad by comparison. They argue that working slower lowers expectations and everyone benefits by getting paid more for doing less.
  • You can keep doing what is right no matter what others are saying. This is the person who continues to work hard out of respect for their employer with a realization that they are serving the Lord and not man. This is what David did.  He continued to serve the King faithfully.  He continued doing what was right.

It sounds so simple doesn’t it? We know from experience that it is not so easy. We can’t do this in our own strength.  We need God’s help. This leads us to our second lesson.

David Turned to the Lord. As you read the Psalms you see David often coming to the Lord in times of opposition.  Let’s look at one of those Psalms. Psalm 7 gives us a clue as to how David was able to respond to antagonists in a godly manner. David began Psalm 7 with these words of faith, “O Lord, my God, I take refuge in you.”  It is like the little child that has a bad day and what he needs more than anything else is to sit in mom’s lap and draw strength from her love.

David confessed his fear. He reported that his life was in danger.  He admitted his own powerlessness to control the situation.  David turned to the Lord for help. Instead of scheming or despairing, he laid his case before the Lord.

In times of attack we tend to spend all our time talking to friends as if we were gathering allies for a war.  We turn to counselors looking for explanations.  Friends and counselors are valuable, but our first stop should always be at the throne of the Lord.  He loves us.  He understands exactly what is happening. He has promised to protect us.  He is able to do above and beyond what we can imagine.

Our first step when facing opposition should be to turn to the Lord.  We should express our fear, our concern, our anxiety, and our feelings of helplessness, and ask the Lord for help.

David Kept his hands clean and his heart pure.  Listen to what David writes,

O Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands— if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe— then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust. (Psalm 7:3-5)

Don’t miss this! David examined his own heart.  He looked to see if there was merit to what was being said.  None of us like criticism.  It stings.  We instinctively want to defend ourselves.  However, criticism can also be constructive.  The criticism of others can help us grow in faith and truth.  Consequently, when harsh words are spoken, the first question we should ask is: “Is there truth to what is being said?” Our primary concern should be that we are doing what is right.  We say it often, the first place to look in a time of conflict is in a mirror!

David understood that we cannot change another person.  Only God can change a heart. It is our job to make sure that our hands are clean and our hearts are pure.

Finally notice that David rested in God’s wisdom and justice.  Listen to these words,

My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.

David reminded himself that God was in control.  He did not understand why Saul was trying to kill him.  He did not understand how this was going to lead to him becoming the next King as Samuel had said. However, David trusted God’s character, wisdom, and judgment more than he trusted his own understanding.

As you read through David’s Psalms he always reminds himself of God’s greatness.  David knew that God uses the circumstances of life to accomplish his purposes.  He grew up hearing the story of Joseph who faced hostility and God used those circumstances to make him the second most powerful man in Egypt which saved the Israelites from famine.  Joseph’s famous line to his brothers was, ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

As a child, David had been taught about Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He knew that God often used hardship to accomplish His purpose in the lives of his people. Let me say it again, David trusted God’s character more than he trusted his understanding.

This is the challenge of faith.  We should come to God and explain the situation that we are going through.  We should be honest about our feelings, fears and frustrations.  We should examine our lives to see if there is something that we need to correct.  But when all is said and done we need to remind ourselves that God is not surprised by anything that happens. The judge of all the earth will do what is right.  He will use the trial of our life to enrich us and to advance His kingdom.  Our job is to trust Him.

We are having a hard time helping our dog overcome her fears. Any sudden movement, any strange object in our hands, any sound, makes her jump and hide.  We are struggling to find a way to help her understand that she is safe with us. We want her to know that we will protect her.  We want her to know joy rather than fear in her life.

God must feel the same way toward us.  Like our dog, we are often panicked by the circumstances of life. God continues to try to help us understand that He loves us.  He wants to protect us and guide us.  His intention is to enrich our life rather than destroy it.

Conclusions

I read about a group of seamen who were sailing in the NorthernSeas.  They were amazed that icebergs were often floating against the current of the water.  The reason for this was because 80% of the iceberg is below the surface of the water.  The strong current deep below the water was stronger than the current above the water.

This is a good picture of what it means to trust God.  We must develop a strength that is deep and strong so we will keep going in God’s direction regardless of what is happening on the surface of our lives.

We see this same faithfulness in the life of our Lord.  Isaiah writes,

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgression, He was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, And by his wounds we are healed.

Jesus trusted the Father all the way to the cross.  The mocking of the people broke His heart, but He trusted the wisdom of the Father.  The nails were excruciating, but His trust was firm. The breathing was difficult, but Jesus knew the Father had a plan.  The darkness was more oppressive than human minds can comprehend, yet He held on to the character of God.  On the surface, what happened to Jesus was the most horrible crime ever committed.  However, in God’s plan it was actually the most blessed event of history. Through that horrible circumstance, the Father made it possible for millions to have new and eternal life.

Chuck Swindoll says it well,

Living for Christ is the most exciting adventure in the world.  But it’s hard, G.K. Chesterton said, “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” It’s a lot easier to punch your enemy’s lights out….to devise a way to fight back, to get even, because that satisfies your flesh.  It’s a lot easier to keep than to give, because that comes naturally. It’s a lot easier to work up your own suspicion, and when he’s not looking, whomp, get in your stroke. But that’s not God’s way . . . and that’s not best.

It boils down to this: Walking in victory is the difference between what pleases us and what pleases God. Like David, we need to stand fast, to do what is right without tiring of it. Plain and simple, that’s what pleases God. And in the final analysis, that’s why we’re left on earth, isn’t it?

You and I will face opposition.  Our prayer is for God to give us the faith to continue doing what is right even when we don’t understand and even when we face hostility.  And if we do this, I am confident that one day we will applaud the wisdom of the God who is our refuge and strength.