There Was a Way that Seemed Right to David
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
We are nearing the end of our series through 1 Samuel. After this morning, we have only three to go. This means it might be a good time for a quick look ahead.
Things could change, but it’s our hope to preach through 2 Samuel next summer. The story that runs across the two books (1 & 2 Samuel) is a continuous story, and we think it would make sense to keep going. In the fall, however, we are going to start the gospel of Luke. We’ll be in that book for quite a while, much longer than a summer, though we’ll take breaks here and there.
Now, back to our passage this morning. 1 Samuel 27 is a passage that no one preaches. That’s an overstatement, I know. Some people preach it; we are preaching it. But just to put it in perspective, I have a list of a dozen or so preachers who I often listen to after I’ve done all of my sermon prep. They are men who, for the most part, have had long preaching careers and who have the habit of preaching through whole books of the Bible. That means that over the course of 20-30 years, each of them has covered a lot of the Bible.
But I didn’t find anyone who I knew—and believe me, I tried!—who had preached this passage by itself. That doesn’t mean that no one has done it, but apparently it is rare, certainly more rare than the last passage I preached: David and Goliath, which everyone has preached (there I go with overstatements again).
I’m not sure if the rarity of preaching 1 Samuel 27 makes you nervous or excited. At first while I was preparing, I was probably a little of both. But now that I’m prepared, I’m just excited.
If you have a Bible, please follow along w.ith me as I read 1 Samuel 27:1–28:2 (page 320).
27:1 Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.” 2 So David arose and went over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath. 3 And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal’s widow. 4 And when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he no longer sought him.
5 Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be given me in one of the country towns, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?” 6 So that day Achish gave him Ziklag. Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. 7 And the number of the days that David lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months.
8 Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. 9 And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. 10 When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” 11 And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’” Such was his custom all the while he lived in the country of the Philistines. 12 And Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.”
28:1 In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” 2 David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”
This is God’s word; thanks be to God. Would you please pray with me? “Heavenly Father . . .”
In the spring, a church that my wife and I used to be members of many years ago, they fired their lead pastor. It was sad for me to get that news. He’s a great guy. Years ago, over a Saturday morning breakfast, this pastor encouraged me to enroll in seminary, which I did.
And he’s a great preacher, especially to outsiders to Christianity. When Brooke and I were first married, we had a family member live with us for a few months. This person, and I won’t say who, had drifted pretty far from God and got into some bad things. But through the preaching of our pastor, our family member started to come alive again. It was awesome.
Now he was fired from the church he planted—a multisite church. And he was fired from the organizations and boards he served on, including his chaplaincy of professional baseball team.
Our passage this morning—admittedly a little odd and obscure passage—has a helpful, gospel reminder for us. This passage forces us to question our own propensity to moralize people. Deep down, we love to make the world into “good guys” and “bad guys.” It’s easier for us to have someone to hate and someone to love. It makes the world simpler. The Bible, however, forces us to think more soberly about people, even pastors and “Bible heroes” like David. This passage reminds us, as we see a raw and rogue David, that there is only one who is good, only one who can save, that is God.
I said at the start that this is a tricky passage. Rather than avoiding the trickiness, I thought it would be better to just take it head on. So, here’s our two-point outline. First, let’s talk about what we don’t know, at least what we don’t know for sure. Second, we’ll talk about what we do know.
1. What we don’t know
Let’s talk about what we don’t know for sure from this passage, that is, the things that seem unclear or tricky.
For me, this passage is a little like a rubix cube. You know this toy, right? It’s got six different colors on it and you “win” by lining up all the faces of the cube with one color. I know there are people who can dominate a rubix cube in 90 seconds but I can’t. After 9 minutes, I might get one side right. But as soon as I start to work on another side, I mess up the side I had already ordered.
This passage is a little like that. It’s very difficult to hold it all together. Let me mention two ways this comes up.
First, we don’t know for sure what to make of David’s exile out of Israel. David leaves Israel to get away from Saul who is trying to kill him. This much we know. David is convinced that Saul will kill him even though Saul has professed that he’s stopped trying to kill him. And on this point, David is right. We this in vv. 1 and 4. David says, “I have to flee or Saul will get me.”
But let’s think about this for a moment. His plan seems to work. He flees and is safe from Saul. But then again, he was also safe in Israel—safe because God had protected him thus far. In fact, this far in the book, lots of promises about David have been made. God promised Samuel that David would be king (chapter 16; 15:28-29). Jonathan, another character in the book, said this to David (20:12-15). Abigail had said this to David (25:28-29). Even Saul in the last chapter said to David, “You will do many things and will succeed in them” (26:25).
So let me ask the question better so that we can see the trickiness. Would it have been tempting God to stay in Israel (and so a bad thing) or would it be trusting God to stay in Israel (and so a good thing)? Do you see what I mean?
I’m not going to answer this; we just are not sure. And in this way, it’s like much of our lives. Sometimes very unclear, even about big decisions.
Second, we don’t know for sure what to make of David’s interaction with Achish and the surrounding foreign villages.
In v. 8 we read this,
8 Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt.
Notice that phrase “land from of old.” We have to remember what’s going on throughout the Old Testament from the book of Exodus forward.
God had made Israel a special nation. God was using Israel to set up an outpost of his kingdom on earth. Israel was tasked with the glorious purpose of displaying to the world the beauty of what it was like to be ruled by Yahweh. And to do that, they needed a land, The Promised Land. And thus, they needed to push out other nations who were acting wickedly so that Israel could be a light to those nations.
With that said, what do we make of the phrase “land from of old”? In raiding these foreign peoples and taking more land for Israel, is David here doing a thing that God wanted, something that Saul was failing to do, something that has been left undone since the time of Joshua some 400 years before? Or, is David just going rogue? Is this just a man acting cruelly as he sees fit?
I actually think we can answer this one. I’ll save that for the end of the sermon.
Along this line, what do we make of David’s interaction with king Achish, this Philistine ruler? David deceives this king several times. In an earlier chapter (21), when David first met Achish, David pretended to be out of his mind, even drooling on himself, so that Achish would leave him alone, which he did. It was deception. And here in this passage, David lies to Achish saying he is raiding David’s own people, when in reality David is actually raiding those who are friendly to Achish. In this way, he’s a double agent.
But what do we think of this? Was this deception a wise, shrewd plan? I mean, in a war, we use deception all the time. It’s a great thing. That sounds strange to say, I know, but consider something as simple as camouflage. What is camouflage? It’s a way to deceive. (“I’m not really here!”) And consider hand-to-hand combat. If I fake a punch up here, but then I kick you in the shin, what is that? It’s deception: faking high, kicking low. Nothing wrong with these things in war. Or consider a curveball in baseball or a bluff in poker—all part of the game. Or even Rahab lying to the soldiers in the book of Joshua.
So again, was David doing something like camouflage and a fake punch? Or on the other hand, was David just being a ruthless killer who goes off the grid and kills a lot of people?
Do you see the issues? Do you see why no one preaches this?
There are a few others things that I could point out but I’m not going for the sake of time. Let’s go the second point to see what is clear, what we do know for sure. As we do so, I think some—but not all—of the ambiguity thus far will go away.
2. What we do know
Let me point out a few things. First, what we see in this passage is that something is missing: God is not mentioned—not once. Throughout the whole, we have neither a mention of God, nor God’s view of the events, nor even the inspired narrator’s view of what’s taking place. There is no moral commentary on the events. I think that silence is significant, in this case, indicating that God himself was not pleased.
I’m not sure if you were here earlier the summer, but in chapter 15 there was a time when God spoke clearly and repeatedly to King Saul that he was supposed to engage in a battle against enemies. God was very clear about this. In this passage, we have none of that. It does seem that David has gone off the grid and is in a bad way.
This dark and backslidden view of David, it seems to me (and others) is confirmed with a few the other details.
Look at vv. 11 and 12.
11 And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’” Such was his custom all the while he lived in the country of the Philistines. 12 And Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.”
Do you notice the word “thinking.” From the parallel (and the one in 28:1-2 on the words “Very well…”), it would seem that this pagan king and this soon-to-be king of Israel are doing the same thing. They are consulting no one but themselves. “Hummmm, Self, is this a good idea? I think it is.”
In fact, in two weeks we’ll see that when Achish’s army finds out about all this, they put a stop to it. They aren’t letting David come around with them in a battle. But here, Achish is just making decisions as he sees fit.
And consider the way this is reinforced by v. 1.
27:1 Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.”
Notice the phrase, “Then David said in his heart . . .” What does he say in his heart? Essentially, “This is never going to work out; this is always going to go bad for me; I’ll never be king.”
Now, it’s one thing for me to get all mopey and say, “Ahh, now I’ll never become a professional basketball player.” But that’s different. God has not promised me that I would ever become a professional basketball player. But God has promised to love me forever if I trust in his son Jesus. So, what David says here is more like me saying (when something bad happens), “Ahhhh, now God doesn’t love me.”
The sad thing is that David—just like you and I—know better. We are not to look at our circumstances and determine whether God loves us. Our circumstances will always go up and down. Rather, we are—as Christians—to look at the cross. The Bible says that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV). We know God loves us because he died for us—indeed, now in heaven he lives for us. The demonstration of the love of God for the people of God is not our circumstances but the cross. Friends, don’t look at the circumstances of last week to see whether God loves you or not.
As I said, David knew this. Many of you are aware that David wrote many Psalms, which are hymns that God’s people are to sing in all sorts of circumstances, especially when life is hard. And David wrote more Psalms than anyone else.
The problem in 1 Samuel 27 is that David is speaking doubt and lies into his heart and therefore he went into a dark season of well over a year—a season where God was not on the radar at all.
But look at Psalm 57 to see how David acted in another hard time. Look what we read in vv. 1-3.
To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.
1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
2 I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me.
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
Now this, this is how we are to talk to our heart when things are bad. “God, my circumstances are so hard. I don’t see a way out. But I know you love me. I know you died for me. I know that no matter what happens, as I keep my eyes on you, you’ll take care of me in this life and the life to come.”
All this is a very different way of talking to our soul than, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines . . .”
Our hearts seem to want to make people either into villains or heroes. We like the simplicity of it. Someone is either good or bad; that’s it. It makes the world easier to deal with. If you’re a Democrat, this influences how you see Republicans, including the good ones. And if you’re a Republican, it influences how you see Democrats, including the good ones. If you can immediately write someone off, than you may have some right conclusions, but your world is too simple.
You see, most of the time, the people we make into heroes look a lot like us. And the ones we make into villains are those who don’t look like us.
The Bible, however, is far more realistic than this. When read carefully, the Bible leaves no room for “hero worship,” even of the best leaders. Over and over again the people of God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament don’t get things perfect.
Think of the nation of Israel and the way she’s repeatedly chastised her spiritual adultery. And what of the disciples of Jesus in the gospels and the church in the New Testament? As you read the gospel stories about Jesus, it would almost seem that the disciples understand less at the end of the gospels than at the beginning.
And those epistles, those New Testament letters. One pastor titled his sermon series through 1 Corinthians like this: “Christians Gone Wild.” And consider the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3. If you’re familiar with them, you know that those churches didn’t have it all together. Don’t look at God’s people with rose-colored glasses. Don’t airbrush them.
This is not a small thing. It’s a gospel issue. If we miss this, we miss the gospel. The real gospel is for real sinners, not those that were pretty much fine, pretty much good.
The Bible tells of some wonderful men and women who did great things, but when viewed under a microscope, they all needed a savior.
This is true of David, as well. And this is so important to recognize. It’s important to see this because the book of 1 Samuel, thus far, has painted David in bright light: “Saul is bad; David is good.” As Ben preached last week, at least when David messes up, he’s quick to repent. So, if you’ve been around this summer, it could almost seem that David’s wearing a halo, right? Well, no. He’s not.
Last week, I did some flying on airplanes and on the way home, I was flying Delta. If you saw the news last week, Delta had a massive, world-wide computer debacle that canceled or delayed thousands and thousands of people. I was one of them.
When I finally boarded my plane to come home, I sat with two other guys. Massive delays had a way of bonding us pilgrims trying to make it home. The guy next to me talked and said, “I spent the night in the Seattle airport. Got a 21-hour delay going.” The other guy said he was at 24 hours. That’s when I said, “Got you beat: 27 hours!” It was like I laid down the full house, though it’s not the competition, generally speaking, that you want to win.
This conversation lasted 4 minutes. Then we didn’t talk for 4 hours. But at the very end of the flight, as I’m folding up my laptop, the guy who was in Seattle said to me, “So, did you finish writing your sermon?”
I’m like, “Uh, so you were peaking, huh?” He said not really but sorta.
But it lead to a great 15 minute conversation about the gospel—because after all the delays, we were again held up on the runway. This guy had all kinds of great questions. He had grown up in the church but wasn’t a Christian himself.
Eventually, it came up that I was speaking to some guys at a men’s retreat all weekend, so he asked what I talked about. I told him the book of Judges. He said, “Why?” I said because I was assigned the topic of “things that tend to imprison men” and that Judges was a great book to talk about the way that our sins, things like lust and anger and pride and no accountability, lead us to bad places, especially if you stretch these things over 20 or 40 years.” Jason will often say, what does a life addicted to porn look like after 40 years? It looks like prison.
Then he said, “So what were some of your conclusions?”
I paused. I did about 3 hours of preaching and sat in small group discussion for another couple of hours; I had page after page of notes. But here’s what I said. I just told him that when you study the Bible, a theme emerges again and again. It shows up in Judges and it shows up, I told him, in my own life. And that theme is this: We have a big problem within us, and if the problem is within us—if the problem is inside us—then if we are to break free, we need someone from outside ourselves to save us. In short, we need a savior. I told the guy, “This is why we need Jesus.”
I won’t recount the whole conversation. We went on to talk about miracles and the Holy Spirit. And then I asked him questions about what he did, which was interesting too.
The title for my sermon (“There is a way that seems right to David”) is an allusion to Proverbs 14:12,
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Well, David doesn’t die—at least not from this incident. But I do think this passage is to show that, apart from God’s intervention, this pattern would have ended in death.
To close, I’ll go back to where I started, talking about the pastor who was recently terminated. I’m so thankful for the way God used that pastor in my life and the way he encouraged me to go to seminary. It makes me sad that right now his life isn’t in a place where he can actively pastor a church. I spent time this week praying for him and other people I know who are in similar places. I hope things change for him in the future.
But his life reminds me of, and what David’s life reminds me of in this obscure passage, is this: our hope is in God and God alone. People can let us down. I know someone who is holding a 15 year grudge against the local church, in large part because of the way some people mishandled a situation. If we think too much of people, we’ll always be disappointed. God is our savior. Trust in him and he will not let you down.