Out of the Frying Pan
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
The audio of this sermon will be posted soon.
As the summer comes to a close, so does our series through 1 Samuel, though we actually have one more week. Jason will run the last leg next week. As our series ends, one thing that keeps happening is that each passage ends with a cliffhanger. In this way, it’s lot like watching a TV drama. We flip back and forth between David / Saul and David / Saul. I’m mentioning this so that you know that as we begin this morning’s reading, if you are not on the edge of your seat, you can scoot there now.
Before I read the passage, I’ll just say this. Our pattern is that Jason and I preach through books of the Bible. Sometimes we get the privilege of hearing from other gifted preachers, but most of the time Jason and I take turns each week picking up where the other person left off. And while we try to do this rotation as thoughtfully as we can, I will say that we ought to not make too much of the fact that Saul—poor, pathetic, godless Saul—is being covered by Jason each time, while David—the man after God’s own heart—is being covered by, well, me. Let’s not make too much of that.
If you have a Bible, please follow along with me as I read 1 Samuel 29:1–30:31 (page 322).
29:1 Now the Philistines had gathered all their forces at Aphek. And the Israelites were encamped by the spring that is in Jezreel. 2 As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, 3 the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years, and since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” 4 But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him. And the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Send the man back, that he may return to the place to which you have assigned him. He shall not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? 5 Is not this David, of whom they sing to one another in dances,
‘Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands’?”
6 Then Achish called David and said to him, ”As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. 7 So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.” 8 And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” 9 And Achish answered David and said, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ 10 Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you, and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.” 11 So David set out with his men early in the morning to return to the land of the Philistines. But the Philistines went up to Jezreel.
30:1 Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire 2 and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. 3 And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. 5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
7 And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” 9 So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those who were left behind stayed. 10 But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor.
11 They found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. And they gave him bread and he ate. They gave him water to drink, 12 and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” He said, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. 14 We had made a raid against the Negeb of the Cherethites and against that which belongs to Judah and against the Negeb of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire.” 15 And David said to him, “Will you take me down to this band?” And he said, “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will take you down to this band.”
16 And when he had taken him down, behold, they were spread abroad over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing, because of all the great spoil they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. 17 And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. 18 David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all. 20 David also captured all the flocks and herds, and the people drove the livestock before him, and said, “This is David’s spoil.”
21 Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them. 22 Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.” 23 But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. 24 Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” 25 And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.
26 When David came to Ziklag, he sent part of the spoil to his friends, the elders of Judah, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.” 27 It was for those in Bethel, in Ramoth of the Negeb, in Jattir, 28 in Aroer, in Siphmoth, in Eshtemoa, 29 in Racal, in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, in the cities of the Kenites, 30 in Hormah, in Bor-ashan, in Athach, 31 in Hebron, for all the places where David and his men had roamed.
This is God’s word; thanks be to God. Would you please pray with me? “Heavenly Father . . .”
We could get a volunteer to act this out, but we won’t. Just picture it with me. If I asked a young man to come up here and do pushups until he couldn’t do anymore, it might take him a minute or so, but eventually, he wouldn’t be able to do anymore. His strength would be gone. But if, perhaps, we all got behind this person and cheered him on, maybe he could do one or two more. And then, maybe, if I said, “For $1,000, do one more!” maybe he could. But there would come the point where it didn’t matter if I put $1 million on the line, he couldn’t do it. His strength would be gone.
Maybe for some of us that would happen after ten pushups; for others, perhaps after a 100. But the point is the same: there are limits to our strength.
In this passage, David learns many things. One thing he learns is that leadership is a lonely thing, especially when things go sideways; no one wants to stand beside you while you’re being stoned. David learned this.
Sometimes, our situations are more than we can withstand. They are so far beyond us, that they crush us . . . or would crush us, if not for God.
But thankfully for David’s sake and for our sake, that’s not all there is to be learned in this story. The main thing we should learn is that when we have nowhere to go—when all of our strength has been depleted—we can always go to God because God has strength that can never be depleted.
Let’s talk about the outline. I find creating clever titles and outlines difficult. Some weeks, I just get tried and decide that, well, since I am a pastor, every once in a while I’m entitled to use a cheesy-pastor sermon outline. This week, is one of those weeks. Our first point is, Out of the frying pan. And our second point is, Into the fire.
1. Out of the frying pan, ch. 29
Although cheesy, it does fit. Let’s look at chapter 29. In this chapter, even though God is hardly mentioned (I’ll talk about that in a minute), God is all over this passage to save David from the frying pan.
But what is this frying pan specifically? Well, two weeks ago, we saw, what I argued for, was a dark and rogue David. Because Saul was chasing him, David lost sight of God and went to hide among the Philistines, specifically a Philistine governor of sorts named Achish. While there, David would raid nearby villages, though he wasn’t so truthful about which ones.
This endeared Achish to David. Achish even thought to himself and said as much, “Gee, David is da man. It seems right to me to make David my permanent bodyguard” (cf. 28:2). And that was the cliffhanger that we ended with two weeks ago.
Now the story picks back up with preparations for a big battle, a battle mentioned in last week’s passage about Saul; it’s the battle where Saul and his son will die, though David doesn’t know this. Look at vv. 1-3a,
1 Now the Philistines had gathered all their forces at Aphek. And the Israelites were encamped by the spring that is in Jezreel. 2 As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, 3 the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?”
The picture here is of a massive military procession. And at the back of the procession, there is David and his men. But this isn’t going to fly. The other Philistines are not having it.
To be fair, this is reasonable. They say that David is known for killing tens of thousands of Philistines, so there ain’t no way he’s gonna go with them into battle. It would be as if the late Chris Kyle, America’s most decorated military sniper, (acting as a double-agent) appeared to defect from the US to some Taliban leader. And then said Taliban leader tried to bring Chris Kyle into a battle against the US. To be sure, the rest of the Taliban would say, “No way! Send him home!”
That’s what happens here. So Achish goes to David is like, “So, here’s the deal. I wanted this to happen (I really did), but, well, my hands are tied and I have to fire you. Clean out your desk and leave first thing tomorrow morning.”
And he does. David and his men make the three-day journey back home. It’s a tiring 50 mile hike.
The thing I want to point out is this: David was in a real jam. He was about to go into a battle where there was no way for him to win. His character and integrity were not going to allow him to fight fellow Israelites; he had demonstrated this several times over. And now, if he started fighting the Philistines, he was behind enemy lines.
God is only mentioned once, and it’s by Achish. But it’s clear that God is at work, just like in the book of Esther—the invisible hand of providence moving to save his people.
And this is true in your life and the life of this church. Though we might not always see God working, he surely is. Let’s go to the next point.
2. Into the fire, ch. 30:1–6a
On this point, I just want to focus on 30:1–6a. Let me read it now.
30:1 Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire 2 and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. 3 And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. 5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters . . .
Really, there’s not a whole lot to say. This is devastating—especially because David and his men were (likely) so overjoyed to come home from battle without fighting, coming home without a scratch. Now they are crushed and want to crush their leader.
It says, “Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep.” They had reached their limit. No more pushups. They had nothing left. And to put this in context, David has been on the run for years! Since the time he was anointed king in chapter 16, people have been trying to kill him.
Once, when my wife and I were selling our house, we had specifically gone over with a realtor the plans of when and how to put the house on the market. Everything was set up. And I’ll say, this was all on the heels of the housing bubble that burst. We’d been at it for a year with no success. Now we were trying a new realtor.
On top of this, we no longer lived in the city where the house was. Everything about the situation was hard.
Yet now we had a new realtor, and there was hope and excitement.
Then I went out of town for a work conference and got a call. “Have you seen that email yet?” “Ahhh, no. What’s up?” “Well, it’s all wrong.” “What?” “The listing!” “How?”
So I look at it. I’m immediately I’m so nauseous that I wanted to vomit. I called the realtor who says, “I’m so sorry, but it can’t be changed.”
The next day coming home was a blur. We talked on the phone and I had to fire the person, to which they said yeah you should do that. I’m not going into the specifics, but it was egregious. After a year of draining our savings, I thought everything was resolved and things were looking up. And now we, like David, went from the frying pan to fire.
I made the joke at the start about the two-point outline. Well, actually this sermon is a three-pointer. We’re not done yet. First, out of the frying pan. Second, into the fire. Now, the third point: burned by neither.
3. Burned by neither, 30:6b–31
Let me read all of v. 6.
And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
Note the ending. When David can’t do another pushup—not for $1 million—he goes to his God.
In the spring, as I was preparing for this sermon series and reading over the 1 Samuel, I remember taking note of that verse. In fact, in one of our morning Monday staff meetings, I used this verse as part of a short devotional. I said something like,
“But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” I don’t even know exactly what that means, but it sounds great. Let’s do that!
Then Jason gave the answer to what it means, which is why I love working with him. It means David rested in the promises of his God.
That was in the spring. Now, having worked through the whole book very slowly, this verse only feels more significant. Consider this verse in light of 27:1. After running and running from Saul, David finally gives up that God will take care of him and we read this:
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 . . .
With these words, David is throwing out all of the experiences of God’s past protection and all of the promises that had been made to him.
It’s like this. Consider 17:34–36.
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.”
Here David tells of the way that God has projected him from wild animals and would protect him from Goliath, which God did. In chapter 27:1, it’s like David had wadded that up the experience of God’s protection and threw it away.
Then there were these. In chapter 19, Saul tries to kill him with a spear. But God saved him. Wad it up and throw it out of mind.
Or the time in chapter 21 when David had no strength left and a priest—incidentally the same priest that was loyal to him in this passage (30:7ff)—gave him special bread. God provided for his hunger. Throw that experience out of mind.
Or the times in chapters 23 and 26, Saul’s army almost catches up to David. But God protects him. Throw that out of mind.
And I’m sure for a man like David, a man so familiar with war, there were many other close calls, far more than we have written in Scripture. He threw those out as well.
Not only the past protections, but David also threw out the explicit promises. Consider this one in 1 Samuel 15:28:
28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.
Samuel first said this promise to King Saul, but when Samuel anointed David—and throughout their friendship—surely Samuel also mentioned it to David. But David had thrown this away in 27:1.
And then there was Jonathan, David’s best friend, who said this in 20:12–13.
12 And Jonathan said to David, “The Lord, the God of Israel, be witness! . . . May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father.
David had thrown this away. Finally, consider the promise of God spoken through Abigail in 1 Samuel 25:28–29.
28 . . . For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.
David threw it away.
But, ah!, things were looking up in chapter 29. But as soon as they do, his men want to kill him, and he has no strength left.
That’s when we read, “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (30:6b).
What does that mean? I think the Lord put David down on his knees, and David began to remember. He began to remember the protection from lions and bears and Goliath; protection from Saul’s spear; projection from hunger and thirst.
And he began to remember the promises that God made to him: what he heard from Samuel; what he heard from Jonathan; what he heard from Abigail.
As David does this, God began to strengthen him again. David moves from no strength to supernatural strength; from being in the fire and getting third-degree burns, to lying “down in green pastures . . . beside still waters” (Psalm 23).
And oh, did David use this new strength well. He used this strength to rally his men. He used it to fight to get back his family. He used it to treat the men who were too tired to fight with grace. He used it to treat the “worthless men” who didn’t want to share the plunder with wisdom. David used this strength to not let the victory go to his head, but rather to declare emphatically that this was not his doing but God’s. Moreover, he uses this strength from God to share generously with the rest of the tribe of Judah, who had also lost things to the Amalekites (compare v. 14 with vv. 26ff). What a turn of events! Out of the frying pan . . . into the fire . . . and burned by neither.
Quickly, let me ask the question to you. Where will you go when you have nowhere else to go? When your father passes away, and then the doctor tells you it’s cancerous, and then the company you work for is “re-organizing,” which they tell you means that your position is no longer needed, and then, your marriage—which was already running on fumes–feels like it’s coming to a stop: what will you do? When you can’t do another pushup, where will you go for strength?
David went to God. But we can be more specific. The actual wording says, “the Lord his God.” David was in a relationship with this God.
This reminds me of a verse in the New Testament. A man named Paul, who had been through many trials and had many more to go, wrote this:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
I don’t know what’s going on in your life, nor whether you are a Christian or not, but the answer is the same. Look to God to find strength in the gospel. Look away from your own strength. Take your sin and weakness and give it to Jesus. Become convinced that, as Paul says, the Son of God (that’s Jesus) loved you and gave himself for you. When he died, he took your sin. When he lives, he gives you have his life.
If you do that look to God for strength in the gospel, you’ll find it. It may not be easy. It wasn’t for David. After he was strengthened, and after he was told that he would win the battle, he still had to do it. But God was with him. And he’ll be with you as well.