That evening it was clear that Ruth was on the final part of life’s journey. She was weak but peaceful.
I noticed that she had a number of devotional books beside her bed. One of these books was particularly worn. It was written by the greater preacher, Spurgeon. As I looked through it, I could see that one page was underlined more than the rest. It began, ‘meditate a little on the mercy of God.’ Ruth had underlined the words tender mercy, great mercy, underserved mercy, rich in mercy, abounding mercy and unfailing mercy.
This morning’s passage is full of mercy. I want you to see that God shows undeserved mercy to his children, even when we fail him, and that this mercy is the primary reason to obey him.
God shows mercy to a deceitful man
David had got himself in an awful mess. Despite the fact that God had rescued him on many occasions, David doubted God’s faithfulness. He reasoned that Saul was going to kill him, even though God had promised to make David king. So David went to Gath, the home-place of Goliath, and offered himself as a mercenary. He deceived Achish, the king of Gath, by pretending to plunder the Israelites, when in fact he was attacking other towns and villages.
However, things heat up for David when the various kings of the Philistines decide that they are going to attach the Israelites. What is David going to do? Surely the future king of Israel cannot fight against his own people! How is God going to rescue him from this impossible situation?
God rescues David in the most unusual way. You see, the commanders of the Philistines are not as naïve about David as Ashish was. The commanders don’t believe that David can be trusted. They remember how the Israelites used to celebrate David’s victories over them. So Achish apologetically breaks the news to David. He is not going to battle against Israel.
David had doubted God, but God never stopped being faithful. David had acted deceitfully, but God remained true. David had made wrong choices, but God did not give up on his plans for him. God quietly worked in the background securing David’s deliverance. We are great at getting ourselves into messes. We let him down every day. Yet God shows us undeserved mercy.
At one stage on that visit to Ruth, I read her something about the grace of God, and then said, ‘God is good.’ She responded with a smile and declared, ‘he is amazing!’
During the summer holidays, a mother took her children to the park to break the boredom of looking after the children at home all day. But what she saw broke her heart. She saw a young woman drive up, leap out of her car and virtually skip out of her car to a table by the lake. Who was the young woman so excited to be meeting? She found out as the young woman took out her Bible and began to read. The mother wondered why her enthusiasm for God had faded, that she no longer delighted to meet with him.
The next day she took her children to a Holiday Bible Club and she discovered why her faith had run dry. When she arrived to pick the children up the club was running late. She sat there listening to the children laughing inside. She felt sad as she remembered that Jesus used to another word to her for joy; when folding her hands in prayer meant you were talking to God; and when you said, ’Lord, I’m sorry,’ you felt really forgiven. Then she overheard the words of the children’s closing song. ‘I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.’ Suddenly she realised that this is what she had forgotten. Somewhere in the business of life, along with the sense of guilt that accompanied a thousand failures, the negligence of a thousand duties, and the pursuit of a million priorities other than God’s, she had lost her focus on the sheer undeserved mercy that God lavishly pours out on his children. ‘Affirmation of God’s mercy was the way back into his arms and all the joy that was there’ (Chapell).
God shows mercy through an innocent man
God shows mercy to David, and what David does next is truly audacious. He has just been told that he will not have to go into battle with his own people, and he complains! He protests to Achish, ‘what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the King?’ One commentator writes, ‘the cunning rascal! In fact, David is so cunning at this point that it is difficult for us to see what he is up to.’
There may be a hint in these words of what David is planning. A couple of chapters ago, David had used the phrase ‘my lord the King’ of King Saul (when he addressed him outside the cave of Engedi). Perhaps David was planning to march into battle with the Philistines, and then turn and fight with the Israelites against them. Of course the problem with that plan lies in what David does not know—Saul is going to be defeated and killed by the Philistines.
Notice that these verses sound like a trial. David is being accused, before an ungodly leader, who protests his innocence, but is too weak to resist. Does that sound familiar? It has been suggested that this scene anticipates the trial of Jesus, the Son of David, before Pilate. To the commanders of the Philistines, Achish declares, ‘I have found no fault in him’ (3). To David, he states, ‘… you have been honest … I have found nothing wrong in you’ (6). Again, Achish says to David, ‘I know that you are blameless in my sight as an angel of God’ (9). Similarly, Pilate tells the crowd, ‘I find no guilt in him’ (John 19:4) and he tells the chief priests and officers, ‘I find no guilt in him’ (John 19:6). Yet, like Achish, Pilate gave in.
Achish’s claims that David has been innocent and honest ring a little hollow. David had not plundered the Israelites, and so remained true to his promises to Saul, but he had deceived Achish and doubted God. It is the Jesus, the Son of David, who is the only blameless one. The Apostle Peter wrote of Jesus saying, ‘He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth’ (1 Peter 2:22; cf. Isaiah 53:9).
God’s undeserved mercy comes to us through the innocent man. In that Spurgeon devotional Ruth had written words from the hymn, ‘Man of sorrows’. ‘Guilty, vile and helpless we, spotless Lamb of God was he.’ God’s mercy flows to us because that spotless Lamb of God was sacrificed for our sin. In a great exchange, God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. God not only put his sin upon our shoulders, but treats us as if we live Jesus perfect life.
Conclusion—Mercy is the motive for holiness
John Bunyan was a great preacher of God’s mercy, in the sixteen hundreds. Some of his opponents complained, ’If you keep assuring people of God’s love they will do whatever they want.’ He replied, ‘If I assure people of God’s love they will do whatever he wants.’
One of the reasons I want us to meditate of God’s mercy is that mercy is what motivates us to be holy. The Apostle Paul writes, ‘therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.’
It is mercy that motivates holiness. If we think that God’s love is conditional on our obedience, then we will end up insecure and resentful. If we allow pride be the motivation for our holiness, we will change outward behaviours, but our hearts will be cold. A sense of guilt must not be our motivation, for the Christian confesses their guilt and then rejoices in the mercy of God. But when we truly understand God’s mercy our hearts will be softened and thankful, and our desire will be to please the one whose love amazes us.
Therefore, mediate a little on the mercy of God!