The world offers so much, but cannot deliver what it promises.
Some of its promises ring so hollow. Coke tells us to ‘open happiness’. Coke isn’t the key to happiness, but it is good at rotting your teeth. KBC, ‘the bank of you’—oh come on, they don’t care more about you than their profit margins. Nutella got in trouble for the time they claimed it was good for our health. McDonalds has an ad with the song, ‘where everyone knows your name’, yet it is the antithesis of the family restaurant.
The promises of the world are empty, but God offers us what we really need.
This morning we see two very different kings, offering two very different lifestyles, and yet only one can deliver what he promises.
The empty promises of the world’s king (6-8)
As we read this story we are keeping in mind the fact that Jesus claimed all scripture pointed to him (e.g. Luke 24:27). The books of Samuel centre on the person of David, who is God’s chosen king. David has been anointed, and the word Messiah/Christ means ‘anointed one’. David foreshadows Jesus, our Christ, who is referred to as Son of David.
But there is another king in this book. He is the sort of king the people wanted when they decided to reject God’s leadership and be like the other nations. This king is Saul. Saul has been rejected by God. He is a worldly king. At this stage in the story, Saul is an anti-christ figure who is trying to kill the Lord’s chosen king and opposes all who are loyal to him.
Look at the portrait of Saul in the opening verses of our reading.
And Saul spear in hand … This mention of Saul’s spear reminds us of his volatile nature. Saul had thrown that spear in rage at David, hoping to kill him. Saul had also thrown that Saul murderously at his own son Jonathan. Saul is an unstable leader.
He is sitting under a tamarisk tree, possibly holding court, and he addresses his officials. ‘Listen, men of Benjamin …’ Benjamin was his tribe. He is a king who has favoured his own tribe above the rest of the people. Many despots do this. They are so paranoid for their safety that they only trust people from their clan.
‘Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds?’ These words echo a warning Samuel gave the people earlier in the book. When the people demanded a king, Samuel said that the king would be selfish and harsh. He said, ‘He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and give them to his attendants’ (8:14).
Not only is he suspicious of his officials, he believes that his own son, Jonathan, is plotting against him, along with David. He is filled with self-pity—‘none of you is concerned about me.’ What a pathetic portrait of a king! It is all about him!
Saul is appealing to their materialistic greed. He offers influence, favouritism, wealth and ease. But he can’t deliver beyond the short-term. He is in the last days of his reign. Soon he will be dead and gone. His power will go with him.
In the same way all the enticements of the world will prove to be short-lived. You can devote yours life to becoming rich, do everything to remain popular, surround yourself by the in-crowd, and protect all your comforts. But the offers of this world are short-lived. You are destined for a six-foot box that will be placed six-foot in the ground.
The cost of standing up for God’s anointed (9-19)
Remember how Kimberly, at her baptism, said that it was tough being a Christian teenager. Our passage demonstrates how costly it is to remain faithful to the Lord’s anointed.
Last time we looked at the life of David we saw that he had fled to the priests at Nob. He told them a lie—telling them he was on a mission from Saul (he is an imperfect pre-figuring of Jesus). Ahimelech gave him the bread of presence and Goliath’s sword. But there was a man there who was watching everything, his name Doeg the Edomite (the only official of Saul that was not from his tribe or even his nation). Doeg now reports to Saul. I think that this vicious character plays of Saul’s fears as he describes what happens.
As a result of what Doeg says, Ahimelech the high priest is brought to Saul. He is not questioned, but simply accused. ‘Why have you conspired against me?’ He is not given an opportunity to explain himself.
I think that Ahimelech comes across as a hero in how he responds. He tells Saul that he has no more loyal servant than David. He reminds Saul that David was his son-in-law. He recalls that David had been entrusted as the captain of Saul’s bodyguard and highly respected in his household. However, Saul is an anti-christ figure who hates the Lord’s anointed king and all who stand by him. Ahimelech’s truthfulness cost him his life.
If the god of this world tries to seduce you with promises of acceptance, recognition and wealth, standing by the Lord’s Christ offers you trials and tribulations. In the book of Hebrews we read of those ‘who were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging. While still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated—the world was not worthy of them. They wondered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground (Hebrews 11:35-39).
Saul orders the destruction of priests of Nob. None of his officials are willing to carry out the order, except for Doeg, who erases all that live there.
Before we move on to our closing point, I have to mention something very uncomfortable about this event. Earlier in the book God had revealed that because of Eli’s unwillingness to deal with the corrupt and perverse disobedience of his sons judgement would come upon his household. These are Eli’s people, and this is part of the judgement. It is a reminder of a truth that is seen most clearly at the cross—evil people, like Doeg and those who called for Christ to be crucified, do what their evil hearts want to do, and unwittingly God uses those evil actions to bring about what he foreordained would happen!
The comforting promise of the Lord’s anointed (20-end)
How different David is from Saul! Saul sits in luxury, David is on the run. Saul is surrounded by the most impressive people from his tribe, whereas David welcomes all who come to him. Saul is Saul is self-obsessed, but David offers refuge.
Abiathar escapes the hate of Saul, and flees to the safety of David.
But, as I said, David is an imperfect messiah figure. He knows that he shares responsibility for the death of those at Nob. But look at what he offers Abiathar. ‘Stay with me; don’t be afraid; the man who is seeking your life is seeking mine also. You will be safe with me (23). And Abiathar was safe during the reign David.
The Son of David says, ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows’ (Matthew 10:28-31). ‘You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life’ (Luke 21:16-18).
How sad it is when the prosperity-preachers of the Christian TV networks only offer what Saul offers. ‘Give me your money,’ they ask, ‘and you will become rich.’ Do they not know that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil?
ike Saul, the world promises much, but is passing away. You can live for popularity, privilege and possessions but you are still going to end up six-foot in the soil. But the Son of David accepts all who come to him, says ‘do not be afraid’, and will soon be seen in all his fullness. He is loving and he is for us!