1 Samuel 29-31: Rising and Falling
May 13, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
It makes sad reading—but at least by contrast God’s king is being exemplified as the right man for the job. Meanwhile, as Saul is leading an army that is about to suffer a heavy defeat, David is dismissed from the army of the enemies of Israel (1 Samuel 29). They don’t trust him, for good reason, as David has not really switched sides. He is sent away, and as he goes, he discovers that Ziklag, and their women and children, have been taken captive by the Amalekites (30:1-3). You get the sense these are dangerous times in which to live in Israel. You must lock your house turn on an alarm system, and not let your children play outside for fear of some abuser passing by. When God’s authority is flouted, then evil powers attempt to take control. Pray that God would raise up good and strong leaders in church and state to provide protection for his people.
David is greatly distressed, and some of his people talk of killing him, so angry are they that they had to go to battle, get dismissed from the battle, and then return to find their families taken captive (30:4-6). But, the text says, “David strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (30:6). Once again, we see the secret of David’s great power as a leader: he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). That does not mean he was a perfect man—even these various shenanigans he is playing with the enemies of Israel are far from perfect, and the later story of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) is well known too—but he was a man who hid himself in God. He was first, and first of all, God’s man, and he relied upon God. When in distress, when weak, strengthen yourself in God. Pray, read the Scriptures, find some great truth and promise and hang your weak limbs upon its mighty power, and so be renewed.
David, also unlike Saul, asks God and hears from God what to do (30:7-8). He pursues his enemies and defeats them (30:9-20), then magnanimously dispenses the booty not just to the front line troops but to the whole logistics team as well so that everyone realizes they have an important part to play (30:21-25). He also sends gifts to his friends, the elders of Judah (30:26-31): David has friends and he expresses friendship to them. A strong king, a wise king, a victorious king.
Not so Saul. The battle is going badly (31:1). His sons, including the great Jonathan, are killed (31:2). He knows that his time has come, and he asks his armor bearer to kill him (31:3-4). Greatly fearing—fear is everywhere now starting from Saul and spreading throughout his army—the armor bearer refuses (31:4). Who would want to be known as the man who killed the king, the Lord’s anointed? So Saul finally commits suicide, and watching, thereafter so does his armor bearer (31:4-5). Things could not be any worse. As the Philistines move in, the Israelites flee from their towns, and the Philistines take up residence in God’s promised land (31:7). All because the king, Saul, did not obey the voice of God. Listen to God, hear him, and obey him.
There is a moment of sweetness in the sourness with which this part of Samuel concludes—Jabesh-Gilead rescue Saul’s body (31:11-13). Earlier, Saul had protected these people and rescued them (1 Samuel 11). They now return the favor and honor Saul by rescuing his remains. Saul was not all bad, he did some good, and he was the Lord’s anointed, but he failed to obey God when push came to shove. Who is the man that God esteems? He who is contrite in heart and trembles at God’s Word (Is. 66:2).
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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