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Three Kings

Three Kings

Preached by Jason Abbott

Today, I’ll be covering 3 chapters of Scripture, 1 Samuel 18, 19, and 20. You’ll, perhaps, be relieved to know that I’m not going to attempt to read it all. Instead, I’ll give you a summary of the action and then highlight some passages from these chapters.

Here’s the summary, there are 3 kings in the text. (Not the “we three kings” from the gospel accounts!) These 3 monarchs are Israel’s recognized king—Saul—and its presumptive, future king—Jonathan—and God’s anointed king—David. Those are the 3 royal players in this passage.

Now, as you can imagine, having 3 kings and only 1 kingdom is a problem. And these chapters (and much of the rest of 1 Samuel) deal with how these kings attempt to resolve this problem. We’ll see that Saul tries to consolidate his reign; Jonathan tries to transfer his reign; and, if he can survive, David attempts to wait for his promised reign. Each handles the problem before them very differently from the others: Saul seeks to kill; Jonathan seeks to protect; David seeks to evade. And, as we’re going to see, God is working graciously through it all.

Well, let’s pray and then see what this conflict over the kingdom teaches us about our God and about his grace to his people.

In order to organize our discussion, we’ll look at 3 things in this passage: (1st) a fearful father, (2nd) a steadfast son, and (3rd) a rejected Ruler.

1. A Fearful Father

In Saul, we see a fearful father saying—my kingdom come, my will be done. He is really still simply trying to maintain, by any means possible, his kingship even though God has rejected him as king.

Our narrator makes it abundantly clear that Saul’s fear of losing his kingship to David is what drives him here. We can see Saul’s jealousy, insecurity, and fear about David all over chapter 18. It’s stated explicitly in verses 9, 12, 15, and 29. Saul fears David—as a rival king, as a threat to his kingship—and, because of this, he attempts to kill him. His jealousy breeds fear; his fear breeds hatred.

Friends, Saul in this way is not alien to us. We’re all capable of doing this. Our insecure jealousies can and do give birth to hate in us. We meet someone who’s funnier or better looking or smarter or richer or whatever it is than we are, and we feel threatened and quickly look for some weakness to criticize in them—some way to build ourselves up by tearing them down.

We’re good at this—not too obvious about it. We do it with statements like: Fred’s a really smart guy, but have you noticed that he has a really short temper? Cindy’s house is beautiful, but she should probably spend more time with her kids; they’re awfully rowdy. Just subtle forms of hatred!

To his credit, Saul’s a bit more honest about his hatred than we usually are. He’ll just throw a spear at you whenever he feels threatened by you. Nevertheless, we must remember that our words can often wound like a spear (cf. James 3:7-9). We must not let our fears breed hateful speech in us.

Well, throughout these chapters, Saul’s fear and hatred of David grow. Consequently, he attempts to eliminate him over and over again. In chapter 18, Saul offers his daughter, Michal, to David in marriage if he will defeat and kill 100 of his enemies. Yet, our narrator makes Saul’s devious intentions abundantly clear when he explains that by this offer:

. . . Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines (18:25).

And, this fear that leads to hatred doesn’t only hurt others, it hurts Saul too. It wounds his relationship with his children, and it progressively transforms Saul into a pathetic beast of a man.

This is most clearly seen when Saul suspects Jonathan of favoring David. The narrator observes:

30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan . . . “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame . . . ? 31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” 32 Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him . . . (20:30-33).

Friends, Saul is constantly pursuing his kingdom come and his will be done, and it makes him so very, very ugly. In fact, it is his undoing.

This past weekend my brother-in-law and sister were in town with their kids. Charles is also a pastor, and after services on Sunday he drove a couple hours north in order to see a new Christian who had come to Christ at their church in Missouri before being sentenced to a 2 year prison sentence here in Pennsylvania.

This man had attained all that the world would say that you’d possibly want by the age of 26; he had a degree from Harvard and was worth millions of dollars. So he retired and moved to Las Vegas so as to simply indulge his every appetite. Yet, that didn’t fulfill him. Consequently, he thought he’d go back to Wall Street, make more money, even get married and have kids. Maybe that would satisfy him! But none of it did.

Finally, he was caught making a lot of money for a lot of people illegally. And everything came crashing down—finances, family, and freedom. All gone! The pursuit of his kingdom and his will was his end.

But it was also his beginning. See, his best friend had become a Christian and attended my brother-in-law’s church. And when everyone else abandoned him, this friend invited him to come live with him and his family before the trial. Consequently, my kingdom and my will were transformed into Jesus’s kingdom and Jesus’s will for him through this friend’s love of Christ and this friend’s love for him in Christ.

Maybe, like Saul, you’ve been pursuing your own kingdom. If so, repent. Turn to Jesus and ask him to lead you.

Perhaps you know someone like Saul—a person who says my will be done. If so, don’t underestimate what God might choose to do through your relationship with that person. God is often pleased to use us as conduits for his saving work.

Well let’s move on to our second thing:

2. A Steadfast Son

If Saul is a fearful father who says—my kingdom come, my will be done; then, Jonathan is a steadfast son who says—God’s kingdom and God’s will.

In fact, he shows this in a fashion that would have startled his ancient peers. Look at the beginning of chapter 18 with me.

1 . . . the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul . . . 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. (18:1, 3-4).

You needn’t be a historian to know that kings were in a dangerous business. Throughout history, there have always been those who are ready to knock kings off in order to take that place themselves. Popular literature is full of this thematic—there’s Hamlet on the one end of the spectrum and The Lion King on the other. Such stories are easy to find.

What’s not easy to find are stories, or histories, like the one we find here. You see, Jonathan as the heir to the throne isn’t just making a gift of a nice robe and strong armor and sword, bow, and belt. He’s really transferring his royal claim to David1. Who does that?!

Just imagine Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump at their separate conventions walking up to the platform to accept the nomination from the party to be president, then calling Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruise forward in order to endorse one of them as president. Something like that’s going on here between Jonathan and David! This should make our jaws collectively drop!

Jonathan’s a steadfast son—a faithful follower of God. He puts his kingdom and his will away. He doesn’t attempt to consolidate power but rather sacrifices it in order to serve God—in order to see God’s kingdom come and God’s will done. Jonathan’s actions in these chapters should remind us of another, greater prince. They should remind us of the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus of whom Paul writes:

. . . though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing [emptied himself], taking the form of a servant . . . (Philippians 2:6-7).

Similarly here Jonathan empties himself (of the rights he could’ve asserted) in order to serve God’s purposes. Where his father is beastly, Jonathan is genteel. Where his father is afraid, Jonathan is courageous. Where his father is greedy, Jonathan is generous.

What makes the difference? Jonathan’s faith in God’s sovereign purposes and abounding goodness! Jonathan looks more and more like the One he worships. And, sadly, Saul looks more and more like what he worships.

Friends, we must be aware that what we worship will shape us in the end. The Psalmist makes this clear when writing of idols and those who worship them, he says:

4 Their idols are…the work of human hands. / 5 They have mouths, but do not speak; / eyes, but do not see. / 6 They have ears, but do not hear; / noses, but do not smell. / 7 They have hands, but do not feel; / feet, but do not walk; / and they do not make a sound in their throat. / 8 Those who make them become like them; / so do all who trust in them (Psalm 115:4-8).

As one commentator, on Psalm 115, explains concerning this likeness between idol and idol worshipper:

It’s not that these idolators lose their physical senses of speech, sight, etc. Rather, it’s a description of the idolators’ souls and spirits – lifeless and senseless like the idols they worship. They are spiritually dumb, blind, deaf, powerless, and breathless. They’ve become what they worshipped.2

Friends, we see it in Saul, the fearful father, and Jonathan, the steadfast son. The end result when we worship something other than God is disastrous and ugly. For this reason, we must be careful to center and re-center our lives around God and his worship. We cannot do it on our own; but, if we cry out to Christ for help, he is pleased to see us crafted in his likeness in the end.

Well this brings us to our last thing:

3. A Rejected Ruler

This is where you think I’m talking about David and his rejection by Saul. But I’m not. (You’ve been caught up in another of my powerful preaching tricks!) Rather than David as rejected king, we must see that it is God here who is rejected as King by his people.

How so? Well, we see it right at the beginning of these chapters in a song. When the Israelite army comes marching home following the victory over Goliath and the Philistine army, a celebration breaks out and some women begin singing. Their chorus is preserved for us:

“Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands . . .” (18:7).

It’s a song of praise, isn’t it? It’s a song glorifying 2 of the 3 kings, isn’t it? What’s amiss? Well, the real benefactor of this victory and the only genuine object of worship are missing. God (the rejected King) is missing.

Saul hears this song and feels disrespected, and, thus, he tries to kill David. But what does God do? What does the only true King do when left out of the song, left out of the praise? Does he go after David? Does he reject his people, Israel? The answer is, of course, no!

Rather, he protects David from Saul when David cannot protect himself. Look at one instance of this with me.

At one point, David runs to Samuel at Ramah for help and Saul finds out about it. He immediately sends messengers to get David so that he can kill him. This is what happens:

20 . . . Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Then he himself went to Ramah . . .  And the Spirit of God came upon him also . . . 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night . . . (19:20-22, 24).

Yes! This is some crazy stuff. This is a strange way for God to save David. Yet, notice 2 things that take place here. First, notice that Saul—“a king of God”—is attempting to defy God’s word, represented here by Samuel and these prophets. Who wins? In decisive fashion, God’s word wins against this would be “king”. (Don’t miss the humor. Saul and his men, who intended to come and to defy God, now roll around naked speaking for God. Maybe something like: Long live David! Long live God’s anointed king!)

Second, notice that this kind of protection comes only by the power of God. No human could have worked this strange salvation. When God saves David here, he’s being gracious to David and to Israel—the very nation who’d rejected him. God’s preserving David and his rule for the benefit of his people, Israel.

How gracious and merciful is this picture of God—the rejected King!

Israel and we are people who constantly sin against and reject God as King. Yet, nevertheless, he reaches out and offers us mercy and grace. For ancient Israel, he provided David. But for us, he offers forever mercy and grace and forgiveness in great King David’s greater Son—Jesus Christ.

Let him reign in your life, won’t you? Amen.

1 Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, 194.
2 See his full comment here.

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