Strengthening Hands (I Samuel 23:15-29)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 23:15–23:29
Crying for a King
I. For Our Instruction
When most people think about the Old Testament, words like these are often connected to such thoughts: big, strange, foreign, confusing, irrelevant. I daresay all of us have felt that way at one time or another when reading the Old Testament. In response to such feelings, some Christians, even from the early centuries of the Church, have tried, in different ways, to minimize the role of the Old Testament in the Christian life.
But listen to what the Apostle Paul tells us about the writings of the Old Testament. Far from irrelevant, Paul tells us that the things that took place in the Old Testament ...were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (I Corinthians 10:11)
God had a purpose in preserving the things written down in the first 75% of your Bible. And His purpose in preserving such things is inextricably connected to His purpose in all things; his purpose in Jesus Christ; His purpose in the Church.
So since these things were written down for "our instruction", let's allow God to teach us through these writings this morning. Turn with me to I Samuel 23. This morning we will pick up where we left off and finish the rest of the chapter by looking at verses 15-29.
II. The Passage: "David Was Hurrying to Get Away" (23:15-29)
So as we resume our ongoing study in I Samuel, I think it's enough to say that we are coming back to the situation that dominates the last third of this book, from chapter 18 through chapter 31. What situation am I talking about? I'm talking about Saul trying to kill David. I'm talking about David on the run from Saul. The first king, who was rejected by God chasing the second king, God's new king.
A. Encouragement in the Desert (23:15-18)
Listen to what we read in verses 15-18 of I Samuel 23...
David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. 16 And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. 17 And he said to him, "Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this." 18 And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.
So David is still on the run, fully aware that Saul is trying to capture him.
So where does he hide from the king? He hides out in the desert (that's what the word "wilderness" usually means in the Bible, "the desert").
But as we see from verse 16, Jonathan, the son of Saul, the crown prince of Israel, Jonathan has no problem finding David. And when he finds David, he gets right to work encouraging David. "Do not fear..." Jonathan tells David. "You will be king. I know it. And my father knows it."
Isn't that interesting? Jonathan is certain that his father knows that David will be the next king. And yet, Saul is working very hard to stop this from happening. But if he knows David will be the next king, why does he think he can change that?
Sin, is not rationale, is it? It very often does not make sense. Like Saul, we know there are things that will hurt us, there are things that will leave us cold and empty inside. There are things that could have disastrous consequences for us, and those we love. But we still choose to do the wrong thing. We continue on the path of sin, even though every reasonable argument is telling us to stop. Saul is tangled up in, as the writer of Hebrews put it, "the deceitfulness of sin".
But not Saul's son. Look at verse 18. Jonathan knows what God will do for David, and so he makes another covenant with David. Or more likely, he and David renew the covenant they first made way back in chapter 18. The same covenant they renewed in chapter 20.
The end of verse 20 tells us that Jonathan went home, while David stayed at Horesh. Even though Jonathan planned to be standing at David's side when the crown was finally his, we know, at least from what is recorded, that this is the last time these men will see one another. Jonathan will not live long enough to see his friend on the throne.
But nevertheless, his encouragement here is crucial.
B. Espionage in the Desert (23:19-24)
Look at verses 19-24:
Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, "Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? 20 Now come down, O king, according to all your heart's desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king's hand." 21 And Saul said, "May you be blessed by the Lord, for you have had compassion on me. 22 Go, make yet more sure. Know and see the place where his foot is, and who has seen him there, for it is told me that he is very cunning. 23 See therefore and take note of all the lurking places where he hides, and come back to me with sure information. Then I will go with you. And if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah." 24 And they arose and went to Ziph ahead of Saul.
So, unfortunately for David, word has gotten out about his little hideout in the desert of Ziph. The Ziphites (who were from a town called Ziph) so an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the king. They have obviously heard about the conflict between Saul and David.
And so they go to the king and tell him and what they know and invite him to come down and capture David.
David cannot catch a break, can he? At the beginning of this chapter, David saves the town of Keilah, but finds out the people of Keilah are planning to turn him over to Saul if Saul comes against them. Now, these Ziphites are actually going straight to Saul in order to betray David.
But notice Saul's response to the Ziphites. In verses 22 and 23 Saul asks them to gather more intelligence about David's location, about who has seen him, and about all of the possible hideouts he might be using. Saul is not going to get himself into another Keilah. He's not going to march all the way down to southern Judah just to have David move to another hideout.
And so the treacherous Ziphites are dispatched to be Saul's spies.
C. Escape in the Desert (23:25-29)
Look at what happens next in verses 25-29:
Now David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the Arabah to the south of Jeshimon. 25 And Saul and his men went to seek him. And David was told, so he went down to the rock and lived in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. 26 Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. And David was hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, "Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid against the land." 28 So Saul returned from pursuing after David and went against the Philistines. Therefore that place was called the Rock of Escape. 29 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of Engedi.
So from verse 23 it looks like Saul's spies have given him the information he needs. He mobilizes his men and goes after David. But David has his own intelligence network, and when he finds out that Saul is coming, he moves to a new location, to a place called "the rock". But Saul's informants again prove useful. He knows that David has moved locations, and he pursues David across this desert.
Now, look again at verse 26. This is the high point of tension in the story. It's like a great suspense movie. David and his men are fleeing around one side of a mountain, and Saul is coming from the other side, maybe in two different companies, maybe ready to trap David from both sides. All hope seems lost, doesn't it? There is nothing David can do here.
But all of a sudden, just as it seems David is in his clutches, Saul hears the sound of a messenger. "The Philistines! The Philistines!" Unlike at the beginning of the chapter where the Philistines were going after a small border town, the messenger tells Saul that the Philistines are making a larger incursion into Israel. Even though Saul considered David a threat against his throne, the Philistines were the larger threat. Saul could not NOT take action. So David is able, once again, to escape. And he flees to another desert hideout, this time due east to Engedi on the shores of the Dead Sea.
III. Perspective: "You Shall Be King Over Israel"
Now, as we think about the main thrust, the main message of this passage, I think we have to go back and look at the verse that comes right before this section: verse 14 of chapter 23:
And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.
"God did not give him into [Saul's] hand". David did not simply catch a lucky break, did he? The Philistines didn't just happen to invade Israel at the right time? The messenger didn't just happen to find Saul at the right moment. No! God is at work here!
And the truth of verse 14 is not simply evident from the conclusion of our main passage this morning, when David did escape from Saul's hand, when God delivered David. But the truth of verse 14 is expanded on in verse 17...by Jonathan.
Notice how the author describes Jonathan's visit at the end of verse 16. Jonathan came to David and did what? He "strengthened his hand in God" (x2). Now what exactly does that mean?
The word "hand" appears nine times in this one chapter: verses 4, 6, 7, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 20. And in every instance, the word, as is typical in the Hebrew Bible, the word means "power" or "under the power of".
So when God tells David in verse 4 that "I will give the Philistines into your hand", He's not telling him about his divine plan to miniaturize the Philistines and put them in David's palm. No, God will place them under David's power. In the same way, God did not, verse 14, give David into Saul's hand; He did not place him under Saul's power.
So when Jonathan strengthens David's hand, he is encouraging David in his divinely ordained power to rule. And he does this, as the text tells us (verse 16), he does this "in God".
But notice in verse 17, notice that Jonathan never even mentions God. So how is he strengthening David "in God"? Well, look at what he does tell him. He says, "Do not fear..do not be afraid...why(?)...because my father shall not find you...why (?)...because you WILL be king over Israel."
And how does Jonathan know David will be the next king? How is he so certain? Because of the promise of God. Not only is it probable that David told Jonathan about how he was anointed by the prophet Samuel, but it is also highly probable that Jonathan knew his father had been rejected as king by God. Jonathan most likely had heard or had heard about the words of God for Saul given through Samuel:
"But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you." (13:14)
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. (15:28)
And...and add to the mix the one fact that was obvious to every Israelite, including Saul: God was with David. By God's favor, David had triumphed on and off the battlefield.
And so even here, once again, we see God's blessings on David. In the desert of his discouragement, in the wilderness of his worry, God provides his anointed king with an oasis of encouragement. And what kind of encouragement is this? It is encouragement that flows out of the well of God's promises and God's plan. And who is the encourager? The prince himself. The one person in all of Israel who should be most bent on discouraging David.
Once again, the writer of Samuel gives us a beautiful affirmation that God is surely in this; God's plan will succeed and God's anointed will be blessed.
IV. Practice: Following Jonathan's Lead
This morning, we need to come full circle and remember that the events recorded here...were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
Think about what Jonathan did here. At the risk of further inflaming his father, Jonathan travelled by himself, twenty-five miles to the south, into the desert, to find David; and he went there with only purpose: to encourage his friend. How many of you would like to have someone like this in your life?
Think about this: what if our church was filled with Jonathans? What if every person who names the name of Christ in this church saw themselves as a Jonathan? What would be different about us, if that were the case?
This morning, I want to encourage you to follow Jonathan's lead. How do we do that exactly? Well, let me share a few point of application with you:
First, to be a Jonathan, we need to remember the reality of the wilderness. Right now, all around you, there are individuals, there are brothers and sisters who are spiritually languishing in the desert of discouragement.
I think there are several reasons we forget this fact. We are chronically self-centered, and so we usually spend more time rehearsing all of our problems, rather than thinking about how others are struggling. We also can be fooled by the smiles people can wear, smiles that mask the real discouragement they feel inside.
So how then can we know who needs encouragement and who doesn't? Well, I think the best way to address that question is by simply encouraging everyone...at all times. When is the last time you deliberately sought to encourage a brother or sister, to strengthen their hand in God? We need to remember the reality of the wilderness that is all around us, everyday.
Second, to be a Jonathan, we need to encourage others with the reality of God's promises and God's plan. While a friendly "hang in there" or a loving "keep your head up" can be helpful at times, in Ephesians 4:15 tells us that we need to "speak the truth in love" to one another. And the "truth" Paul has in mind there is the truth of God's word.
I love how Jonathan understood what God was doing and because he did, he could draw out and customize encouragements specifically for David. If there was no doubt that David would be king, then logically, it was also certain that Saul would never capture and kill David. Verse 17: "Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you.
Brothers and sisters, in the same way, we need not only to know God's promises, but also know how to administer them to others in their times of struggle. This heartache will not sink you. This trial will not overcome you. This loss will not break you. This confusion will not consume you...because God is with you, because God is in charge, because God has promised to work all things for your good, because God has said "I am faithful, and I will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation I will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (I Corinthians 10:13)
Finally, third, to be a Jonathan, we first need to be encouraged by the reality of God's anointed. Jonathan was now blessing David because God first blessed Jonathan, and all Israel, with David's faith and leadership. Jonathan recognized how God was with David. This should remind us of the words of Peter who long ago told a room full of Gentiles about...
...how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear... (Acts 10:38-40)
To be encouragers we must first be encouraged. To give, we must first receive. To empty ourselves for others, we must first be filled. In the desert of our discouragement, in the wilderness of worry, we need the encouragement only God can give us through Jesus.
In his excellent commentary on I Samuel, Dale Ralph Davis quotes this small selection from the diary of the 19th century Scottish pastor Andrew Bonar. He writes:
"Spent an hour in my old retreat in the wood of Dunsinnane, the place which I used to call the 'Wood of Ziph', where God has often strengthened my hands, my divine Jonathan meeting me there."
Is Jesus your divine Jonathan? Has he come to you, to encourage you, in the reality of God's promises? He is in fact, the one who makes such promises possible. In taking our death sentence upon Himself, in triumphing over death, all the promises of God find their Yes in him. (II Corinthians 1:20)
However the waters of encouragement came, David knew the source from which they flowed. The subtitle of Psalm 54 says this: A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, "Is not David hiding among us?" This is what David wrote and sang during his time in the desert:
Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life...6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. 7 For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies. (Psalm 54:4, 6, 7)
God wants us to not only be encouraged, to be refreshed, by Jesus and the promises He makes possible, but he also wants us to be encouragers, to be Jonathans to one another, taking what we've freely received and freely giving to others in their times of need.
As we go to prayer, will you ask God to do that in your life, OR to keep doing that in your life? I suspect most of us can think of Jonathans that God has given to us. Thank God for them, and encourage them by letting them know they have been an encouragement to you. May we, as a church, model this very thing more and more, that God's anointed one, Jesus, might be more and more visible through us.
Amen? Let's pray.