A Stronghold in Times of Trouble

A Stronghold in Times of Trouble

I am really excited about this series we are in because we are studying the life of one of the best know characters from the Old Testament, one of history’s most famous kings, David, who is famous for a reason. There is so much to learn from this one example in the Bible and so much is relevant to us today.

Today is part two, and as we jump into this story of David, I want to ask you have you ever realized that when we are angry, when we are isolated, or afraid, the ways of God are not always appealing?

These three emotions – anger, loneliness, and afraid – and we’ve all discovered this, have the potential to undermine even the most dedicated, devout, disciplined person among us. These three conditions can cause us to crash through every moral and ethical boundary we set up for ourselves, relationally, physically, financially, or even professionally.

And I feel sure that one of these three, or maybe a combination of these three, are a part of your greatest regret. If you were to stand up and say, “I want to tell you about the greatest regret of my life,” chances are, it was a time when you’re super angry and you did something you regret, you were lonely or afraid and you did something you regret.

And unfortunately, one of these three will probably be part of a future regret as well. The reason is because when we are overwhelmed with any of these emotions, we feel compelled to do something. You just got to do something. There’s almost a sense of panic, “I’ve got to do something to relieve this tension.”

In fact, you will do just about anything. Oftentimes, we do the wrong thing. We rely on our instinct, we do just what comes natural, and as a result of that, things don’t get better, things generally get worse. Then there’s more regret, and things are more complicated. And we end up even more angry, we end up more lonely, and even more scared.

David had two colossal failures in his life. One that he’s very famous for that happened in his 50s when he was king that we’ll get to in a few weeks, and the other one that we’re going to talk about today that takes place when he was in his 20s. This one’s he’s not necessary so famous for, but I think it’s one of the most interesting and dramatic stories in the Old Testament.

Following his defeat of Goliath, he becomes the most famous person in Israel. He was about 15 yrs old and everybody knows his name. He’s become a legend. King Saul realizes this young man has a lot of potential, and suddenly has a lot of influence and power.

King Saul was Israel’s first king, and he was extraordinarily insecure. So King Saul came up with a plan that might have been a good plan if David wasn’t who he was. He decided to get David into his family so basically he could control him. So he offers David one of his daughters to marry.

And David’s response is really interesting. He said, “I’m not worthy to be the king’s son-in-law, and my family’s not a famous family or a rich family, so I don’t think I’m worthy.” And then there was the fact that he was 15 years old! I don’t know if that factored in or not. But either way, David refuses the king’s offer to be the king’s son-in-law, and then people are like, “Oh my, this kid is absolutely amazing. Who would refuse such an offer? What a humble kid.”

As time goes by, Saul is continuing to look for ways to control David. So it turns out that David falls in love with one of King Saul’s other daughters named Michal (Mee-how), they get married. Then he becomes friends with King Saul’s son, Jonathan, and the next thing you know, King Saul realizes that getting this kid into his family was not necessarily a good idea because he’s powerful, influential, and everybody loves him. And King Saul is extremely jealous.

So for about seven years, David is in King Saul’s favor, out of King Saul’s favor, in King Saul’s favor, out of King Saul’s favor. On one occasion, maybe actually more than one occasion, King Saul decides, “I’ve got to get rid of this kid, and I don’t want to do it myself, so I’ll let the Philistines do it.”

Saul makes David the commander over his soldiers, and sent him on these impossible missions, yet David would come back alive and successful every single time, and people loved him even more. This escalated to the point that King Saul had finally had enough. He discovers that every time he tries to have David secretly killed, that his own son Jonathan or his own daughter who married David assists him, and he continues to slip between King Saul’s fingers. The frustration builds. And finally, it all culminates one night at dinner.

Now, dinner with the king was a big deal. Dinner was also the big meal of the day in ancient times, and if you sat or ate at the king’s table, that was an extraordinary honor. David had typically shown up for dinner, but during these last few turbulent years David missed a few dinner’s when it seems like King Saul was in one of his jealous moods. King Saul would say to Jonathan, “Where’s David?” And Jonathan would cover for him, “Well, I think he’s out doing this or that.”

So finally, one night at dinner, the whole family is gathered, it’s a big deal because it was the new moon festival, and David’s nowhere to be found. And King Saul loses it. Have you ever come across one of those scriptures that you hope your child doesn’t see till their at least 30? Well this is one of them, so I’ll read you a cleaner version.

1 Samuel 20:30-31

30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, (remember this is at dinner with the whole family sitting there, and he said to him), “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman!”

That’s pretty strong. And I hope that that perverse and rebellious woman wasn’t sitting at the table. How awkward would that be?

“Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?

So Saul’s like, “I’ve had it. I’m tired of pretending. I know that everybody at this table has sided with this shepherd boy against me, the king. To your own shame, and to the shame of the mother who bore you…again is she sitting there? You just can’t leave her out of the equation. I think there was some marriage issues there, anyway. Back in these days, there were always marriage issues because you had too many marriages, too many wives, favorite wives. Anyway, that’s a story for another day. This goes on.

31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, (here’s the real issue) neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”

Now Jonathan makes the grave mistake of asking his father why David should be put to death, only then has a spear hurled at him by his father intending to kill him! And finally, Jonathan knew his father was serious about killing David.

So Jonathan goes and finds David and says, “David, you got to leave town. In fact, it’s worse than that, you got to leave the country, because my father is not going to rest until you die. He’s too threatened by your reputation, he’s too threatened by your influence.”

David was 22 years old, and suddenly he’s afraid for his life, he’s alone, he’s been rejected by the man that he’s risked his life for over, and over, and over. He’s feeling rejected by the nation that he risked his life for over, and over, and over. And in this particular case, he’d done nothing wrong.

He’s abandoned, he’s angry, and he’s afraid. And he did what many of us do when we’re abandoned, angry and afraid. He panicked. He decided to take matters into his own hands. He lost sight of something that is hard for us to imagine. He lost sight of the fact that God was with him. It’s hard for us to imagine this because when we read these stories and especially when we know how the story ends, it’s like, why would you do that? Why would you make a decision like that? Why would you panic and run and abandon your morals? But we’re looking at the story from a distance.

In fact, let’s be honest. You can look back on a season of your own life, now that you have some time, and some context, and you ask yourself, why did I ever do that? Why did I go there? Why would I call him back? Why would I say yes to that invitation? Why did I spend that money? What was going on was real simple. When you feel abandoned, angry or afraid, our natural inclination is to panic. And that’s what David did. So here’s what happened.

1 Samuel 21:1-4, 8-9

1 David went to Nob (knob), to Ahimelek (A-him-e-lek) the priest.

Now at this time in history, the city of Jerusalem was not part of Israel, so there wasn’t really a capital city. So the epicenter of Jewish worship was wherever the Tabernacle or the Ark of the Covenant was. And the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle would be moved around from city to city, to the safest place within the territory that Israel controlled.

At this particular time, it was in a city named Nob (knob) and because the Tabernacle was there, the priests were there, and Ahimelek (A-him-e-lek) was the high priest at the time. So when David shows up…

1 Ahimelek trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”

Every time David showed up, you heard him long before he got there. David traveled with a thousand personal warriors. Ahimelek had never seen David by himself and suddenly David shows up a little nervous, a little ruffled, he’s by himself and Ahimelek looks around thinking what’s going on? And David answers with a lie.

Now, I guarantee David is against lying. He’s a Jewish man who knows the law, who loves God. But yet he lies. Why? Because he’s afraid that Ahimelek won’t help him. And when you’re afraid, or angry, or abandoned and lonely, so much for the ways of God.

2 David answered Ahimelek the priest, “The king sent me on a mission and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about the mission I am sending you on.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place.

That was just so lame, but he’s just trying to cover for himself. He didn’t have any men.

3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.”

So now Ahimelek is thinking, “This is just weird. You’re by yourself, the king’s son-in-law, the captain of the bodyguard shows up without any food because he’s on a secret mission from the king and his men are hiding somewhere?”

4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.”

Now, let me explain the consecrated bread real quick. Every Sabbath, the priest would bake fresh bread and put it on the altar before the Lord. Now I know this sounds strange to us, but this was their way of honoring God. Low and behold, the next day they would come back to the altar and God had not eaten any of that bread. So then they would take the bread and the priest would eat it, but it was considered consecrated bread, which meant you had to be ceremonially clean to eat the bread.

So Ahimelek tells David, we don’t have any normal food here because we’re the high priests but we have consecrated bread and if you want it, you can have it. So David takes it and says yeah sure, my men are clean. Now David has not only lied about why he’s there, now he’s lied in order to be fed, which if you were here last week and heard the first part of this series, you have to begin to wonder what happened to, “In you I put my trust, my hope is in you all day long”? What happened to that version of David?

And then the story gets so intense. There is so much drama in this story, but especially this next part.

8 David asked Ahimelek, “Don’t you have a spear or a sword here? I haven’t brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king’s mission was urgent.”

Okay, this is when Ahimelek has to believe something is up. You’re like the most famous warrior in the nation, you show up by yourself, you look like you haven’t slept in days, you have no food, and you don’t even have a weapon?

David’s like “a spear or a sword, whatever you have. I’m not particular. I just didn’t get a chance to grab my sword or any other weapon to PROTECT MY LIFE, because the king’s mission was just so urgent.”

Now, pay attention here. David is virtually transported back in time to the very event God used to catapult him into fame. This is the wake-up call moment. This should be the “What am I thinking?” moment. This was the moment when his eyes should have been open.

9 The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod.” (e-fodd)

Can you picture this? Scripture tells us that when David beheaded Goliath, that he kept the sword as a souvenir. Who wouldn’t? He put it in his tent, but later out of gratitude to God, he took the sword of Goliath and he dedicated it to God, gave it to the high priest basically as a way of saying, “God, I recognize that I did not deliver myself with this weapon. You delivered me, so I want to give this weapon back to you as a reminder that I’ve been dependent on you.”

There was so much emotion, so much significance to this sword of Goliath. Can you imagine this? The priest brings out that sword and all of those memories come flooding back of the afternoon that David wandered down into the Valley of Elah all by himself as just a shepherd boy with nothing but a sling shot and five stones and did the unthinkable. Thousands of men lined up on both sides of the valley to watch, and he stood there in front of a giant.

What happened to that clear-eyed, courageous, God-fearing shepherd boy who looked at a giant, a battle-hardened warrior and said,

1 Samuel 17:45-47

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

What happened to that kid? What happened to the boy that ran toward danger as opposed to running away from it? What happened to the poet who wrote these famous words, “I will fear no evil for thou art with me”? Where’s that faith? Where’s that confidence in God?

The answer is it’s blocked by fear, anger, loneliness. These three giants have the potential to cause all of us to forget the defeated giants of our past, what God has already done. But David gets this extraordinary reminder, David is shown a visual aid to remind him of God’s faithfulness and God’s power. Yet he misses it or flat out ignores it.

9 The priest replied, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. (efodd) This was the garment that the priests wore when they did their priestly duties. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.”

Surely, this would be a decision that David would regret for the rest of his life and would become, like all of our decisions do, a permanent part of the story of his life.

David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

David takes matters literally into his own hands. He runs away from crazy King Saul, then lies, then takes a flawed weapon, a sword that was held by the giant warrior who was defeated by this very 15-year-old boy, and David somehow totally misses the message. And we are about to see a disastrous outcome. Why because anytime you tune God out, it’s going to be a disaster.

But this is where our stories intersect with the story of David, isn’t it? This is where we all have been and maybe are right now. When we need God the most, seems to be when we tune God out the most. When we need God the most we are oftentimes tempted to run away rather than towards Him. We opt for things that never worked before, and more often than not, lead to regret.

We can see this in other people so easily. You have friends right now that are making terrible decisions based on anger, fear, or a sense of abandonment. You see it in them and you’re thinking to yourself, “You’re just going to make it more complicated, you’re going to create more regret.” It’s so easy to see this in other people, yet it’s almost impossible to see this in the mirror, and here’s why.

Because you’ve convinced yourself that your situation is different. It’s different and no one understands. That’s what David thought. And he also thought, what we think. “If God were with me, if God were really with me, this wouldn’t be happening to me.”

Here’s one thing that I’ve learned through the years as a Jesus follower. It is so easy to trust God when we have nothing to trust Him with or nothing to trust Him for. When things are going great, how difficult is it to sing these songs? When things are going great, how difficult is it to show up and serve? When things are going great how difficult is it to trust God and pray for your friends that are going through difficult times?

It’s easy to trust God when we have nothing to trust Him with and nothing to trust him for, but when the things that we value start to slip away, it all of a sudden gets real and it gets hard to trust Him.

Now again it’s easy to be critical of David, but we all have our version of this. David takes Goliath’s sword, he knows he has to leave the country and guess where he goes? He goes to the land of the Philistines. That’s a good move, right? To show up in the land of the Philistines with Goliath’s sword. Not only that, it gets worse. He goes to the city of Gath. Guess who was from Gath? That would be Goliath. It’s like, “David!” This is why I believe this actually happened. Nobody could make this up. It’s too ridiculous.

But David panicked. He was afraid, and so he goes to the king of the Philistines. The scriptures don’t exactly tell us why, but my guess is either to hide there or more likely to ask for help against King Saul. But the officers of the king weren’t real happy that David showed up. They know who he is. David hears the comments that they’re making, and now he’s really afraid because now he’s surrounded by his enemies, so what does he do? I’m telling you it just keeps getting worse. He pretends like he’s insane. Literally. He starts scratching on wood with his nails, he starts slobbering all over his beard. You can’t make this stuff up. You should read the Bible.

He starts slobbering all over himself and the king is like, “Okay, I have enough fools in my court as it is. Get this guy out of here.” So David flees the Philistines, and he goes and lives in a cave because he doesn’t know what to do, and he feels abandoned, he’s angry, and worst of all, he’s alone. And in all honesty, he doesn’t deserve any of this. Remember David didn’t do anything wrong to King Saul.

And then finally, he comes to his senses and goes back to his country, finds another prophet and he says, “I have really messed up. I want to know what God’s will is for me. Would you seek the Lord on my behalf? Would you provide for me the counsel of God?” But the problem is, the damage is already done.

When David was with Ahimelek looking for bread and looking for a weapon, there was someone else there as well, a fellow named Doeg. Doeg was actually the chief herdsman for King Saul. He saw David there and he overheard just enough of the conversation to twist up what was really said make things really look bad for Ahimelek. He tells King Saul that the chief priest sided with David.

1 Samuel 20:10-11, 13-17, 22

10 Ahimelek inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

In other words, he fed him and he armed your enemy. The king is furious.

11 Then the king sent for the priest Ahimelek and all the men of his family, who were the priests at Nob, and they all came to the king.

13 Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, giving him bread and a sword and inquiring of God for him, so that he has rebelled against me and lies in wait for me, as he does today?”

But Ahimelek’s like, “Wait a minute, what’s going on?” He knew something was up with David, but not this.

14 Ahimelek answered the king, “Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king’s son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard and highly respected in your household? 15 Was that day the first time I inquired of God for him? Of course not! Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair.”

16 But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelek, you and your whole family.”

Cause he’s crazy, and he’s afraid, he’s paranoid. And then the king did something really foolish.

17 Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.” But the king’s officials were unwilling to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord.

Because they’re not crazy; you don’t kill a priest of the Lord!

But Doeg, the chief herdsman, thinks this is an opportunity for him to get in good with the king and he raises his hand to do it. Doeg slaughtered 85 priests, but Saul isn’t finished. Then he has Doeg go to Nob and kill the priests’ families – every man, woman, child, and baby.

Only one of them escaped the slaughter, Abiathar (A-Bith-thar), one of Ahimelek’s sons. He flees to David, falls down at his feet and tells David the entire story, and David is broken.

22 Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.

David was responsible for the death of an entire village because taking matters into our own hands, sometimes feels good, but it just doesn’t turn out good. We’re going to pick up the story of David right here next time, and I promise you there are some happier endings, but I want to ask you a few questions as we think about how this intersects with our lives.

There’s going to be a time in all of our lives when our anger pushes us to do things we know we shouldn’t do, or our sense of isolation or fear push us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. Suddenly the things that we would tell other people they have no business doing, somehow become live options for us. Why? Because these emotions are powerful.

So here’s the first question. What is your loneliness, anger or fear causing you to consider that you’ve never considered before? Maybe that’s relationally, financially, physically, some sort of risk you would never take before.

Maybe the idea of re-embracing an old habit that you spent days or weeks or possibly years and thousands of dollars overcoming, suddenly you find yourself rethinking embracing that habit. Have you ever seen that actually work out for anybody?

How about this question. Who is your loneliness, anger or fear causing you to consider that you shouldn’t consider?

You’ve never called him back but you’re thinking about calling him back now. She’s made it very obvious, he’s made it very obvious that there’s potential for a relationship and you’ve ignored it, and ignored it, but because of what’s going on at home, because of what’s going on financially, suddenly that’s a live option. And you know you have no business doing that.

And here is the wake-up call question. This is the question that David completely ignored, and we kind of get it. He was 22 years old and by himself. But this was the wake-up call question that I hope will be your wake-up call.

Who, besides you, do your considerations put at risk? Who, besides you, do these options that were never options before but suddenly they’re live options now, who do these options put at risk besides you?

I already know the answer to the question. The answer is the people you love the most and the people who love you the most. Some of you know this through personal experience in your own family growing up. Dad’s anger spun out of control and you’ve been dealing with that ever since. Mom’s depression or mom’s sense of abandonment got out of control, she turned to things, and you’ve been dealing with that ever since as a son or a daughter.

Who else’s future hangs in the balance of your personal decision to give in to the impulse caused by anger, abandonment, or fear?

One last one. What advice would you give someone who is in this same situation? What would you tell yourself? Isn’t it true when it’s someone else it’s so clear and when it’s you, you think you’re an exception to the rule? But you’re not an exception to the rule. You’re a very unique person, but your experience is not unique. These are well worn paths. That’s why it’s so easy to know what other people ought to do.

Now the interesting thing about this question is that we know the advice that David would give us. Not 22-year-old David, grown-up King David would later give this advice, he journaled it for us.

Psalm 9:9-10

9 The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. 10 Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Not alcohol, not an affair, not another person, not a lot of debt, not a new car, not a new house, or whatever else you can list. The Lord is the refuge for the oppressed.

A stronghold is a place that you would flee to in times of war, the place you run to. God is the place you run to when you feel oppressed, when there’s times of trouble.

David took refuge in his own ability to control the outcome, and that ended in a disaster.

David thought that he had been forsaken. He thought this wouldn’t be happening to me if God was really with me. But he only felt forsaken because he didn’t seek God’s will. He didn’t seek God. Read Psalm 9:9-10 again.

As David looked back on the time, he realized he was never forsaken. God was always with him. David just took control. You know what he would tell you today, “Don’t make that mistake.”

One last thing I want you to consider because this is so powerful. A thousand years after this event, David’s most famous descendant, who was actually born in the City of David, would be put in the place of God, and would gaze into the eyes of some frightened, angry, abandoned, overtaxed Israelites, in that very same part of the world and he would say,

Matthew 11:28-29

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you (my burden, my perspective, my worldview) and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Because when you feel forsaken, you are mistaken. God is with you. That’s what Jesus and David said. Don’t run. Don’t move until you’re led. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, YOUR stronghold in times of trouble. Don’t make the same mistake David did.

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