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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:God Is My Help
Text:1 Samuel 23; Psa. 54 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the 1976 Psalter Hymnal:  

463 - He Leadeth Me
99:1,3,5 - O Save Me by Thy Name
407 - Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
460 - Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me  
Scripture readings: Psalm 54:1-7 (can be read responsively earlier in service); 1 Samuel 23:1-29

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“God Is My Help”
1 Samuel 23; Psalm 54
Years ago, there was a front license plate that you could put on your car if you lived in a state like Indiana, Florida, or numerous other states that only require a rear plate. The plate read: “God is my co-pilot.”  It was quite popular in the early 1990’s in Florida. We used to see many of them, and we always remarked, “They have that just backwards.  If God is their co-pilot; they are in trouble.  He needs to be at the controls, not them!”  Apparently, whoever made those plates came to the same conclusion, because later on a popular front plate declared, “God is my pilot”! 
David, of course, had no need for license plates, living 1000 years or so before the birth of Christ.  But if he lived in our day, and looked at those two plates, “God is my co-pilot” and “God is my pilot,” I can guarantee which plate David would choose.  He would choose the plate that says, “God is my pilot.”
The reason I can say that with certainly is because in Psalm 54, which serves as an inspired commentary on 1 Samuel 23, David writes in verse 4, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me.  There is nothing in the Psalm, or in 1 Samuel 23, that implies in any way that David saw himself as the pilot of his life, with God along for the ride, giving a little advice and direction here and there.
Quite the contrary, David realized that apart from God’s gracious work in leading him – piloting him – that his life was completely out of control. For example, in 1 Samuel 23 we see where Saul continued to pursue David, intent on killing him. Verse 7 and 8 describe how “Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and he said, ‘God has handed him over to me, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars.’  And Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.”
A town with gates and bars can offer protection, but the gates and bars can also serve as a trap. That was true for David, and for many others, including Samson. Samson’s downfall was sealed by being in a city with a gate. When his strength was gone, the bars of the gate sealed him in the town allowing his adversaries to capture him.  Saul expected a similar thing to happen to David.
David understood that just as the walls of a city offer protection, they also can trap a person who is being hunted. In verse 12 David asked the Lord, “‘Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?’ And the Lord said, ‘They will.’”
The answer of the Lord, “They will,” must have cut David like a knife. In the opening verses of the chapter, we read how David and his men had freed the people of Keilah from the Philistines.  The ones David put his life on the line for, turned around and reported his whereabouts to Saul. What type of gratitude is that?
Because of this, verse 13 and 14 describe how David and his men, about 600 in number, hid out in the hills of the desert of Ziph as “day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands” (v. 14).
Verses 19 to 29 record how the Ziphites reported to Saul on where David was hiding. This must have been especially grievous to David. The Ziphites were part of his people, yet now they were more than willing to betray him. In this way David is a foreshadow of Christ, who faced constant persecution, and of whom John says, “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
David’s life was unraveling. He was acutely aware that he was not in charge of his life. And he certainly didn’t conceive of God as his “co-pilot”. Instead, David clearly realized that although his circumstances were grievous and dangerous, putting his life in daily peril, his help would come from God who was his Pilot. That is why, reflecting about this predicament, David wrote in Psalm 54:4: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.”
God’s Guidance for David
In these passages from 1 Samuel 23 and Psalm 54 we read of a number of ways in which the Lord helped and sustained David. First, the Lord helped and sustained David by giving him guidance and direction in answer to prayer. Did you notice when we read the 54th Psalm responsively, how David had prayed to the Lord?  In verse 2 he prayed, “Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.”  The Lord did hear and respond to David’s prayers, even as He does to your prayers and mine.
He also guided David through the counsel given by prophets and priests. We read about that in 1 Samuel 22:5, where a prophet of Lord named Gad had warned David of his need to move from the cave at Adullam. And in this chapter we read how God guided him by the priest, Abiathar. Verse 9 describes how “when David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, ‘Bring the ephod.’”
The significance of Abiathar bringing the ephod, in the view of many, is that the Urim and Thummim were kept in the breastplate of the ephod, which was a robe worn by the priest. Little is known about the Urim and Thummim. However, we do know that they were used to receive answers from God. In Exodus 28:30 the Lord told Moses, “Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron's heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD.” David sought a decision from the Lord, and it was provided by Abiathar the priest.
Another way that the Lord helped and sustained David is that He encouraged David through Jonathan’s visit. Verse 16 describes how Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”
Jonathan’s friendship was a great encouragement to David. Why was it such an encouragement?  It wasn’t just because Jonathan was a bubbly, energetic guy who left everyone feeling good, even if they were down in the dumps. Not at all. The reason why Jonathan was such a valuable friend to David is because Jonathan pointed David to God. Verse 16 is a key verse: “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David ... and helped him find strength in God.” You will never find a better friend than the friend who points you to God and the promises of His Word. And you can never be a better friend to anyone than by pointing your friends to the power and promises of God, helping others to find their strength in God.
A third way that God piloted David is by sparing him from Saul at Sela Hammahlekoth.  The English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV) - which is an excellent contemporary translation of the Bible, says in verse 28 “that place was called the Rock of Escape.”  The footnote in the NIV says: “Sela Hammahlekoth means rock of parting.”
Both translations have the same meaning. God provided escape for David by having the Philistines distract Saul from his pursuit of David. It happened as Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, ‘Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.’ Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth.  And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi.” (26-29).
That is hardly an isolated incident. The Old Testament records many instances where the Lord would raise up an adversary to distract whatever king was after His chosen people; He often did so to spare His people and grant them opportunity to repent and be faithful. When they made light of all the times that the Lord provided them with a “Rock of Escape” He gave them over, in His sovereign power, to the Assyrians, the Babylonians and other nations.
Reflecting on the Lord’s providence in raising up the Philistines to distract Saul, David recognized, and I trust we do as well, that God directs and pilots our lives today, just as He did so long ago when Saul was pursuing David.  
God’s Guidance for Us
How else do we apply these passages from 1 Samuel 23 and Psalm 54? By way of application we are reminded, first, that God gives us guidance today in His Word. We don’t have the Urim and Thummin, but we have the complete canon of Scripture, the Scripture which the Psalmist testifies is “a lamp to our feet and a light for our path” (Psalm 119:105). And we know that “All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
At times we may be envious of the priests of Israel, of someone like Abiathar who could reach in the ephod and pull out the Urim and Thummin and seek God’s will by them. But what we have is much better. We have the living and active Word of God to guide us and direct us as the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our lives. But in order to be directed – piloted by the Word – we need to be people of the Word.
Harry Ironsides, the president of Moody Bible Institute many decades ago, illustrated that truth by telling about a young man in the Church of England who was greatly helped in his understanding of the Bible by the guidance of an elderly man in the congregation. The elderly man was a cobbler by trade, and he was a faithful student of the Word of God; he had been a great blessing to this young man and to many others within that congregation.
On one occasion this young man had an acquaintance visit him. This acquaintance was a theology student – a seminarian we would say – and when he heard about the wisdom of the elderly cobbler, he wanted to meet him. He wanted to meet him, not to learn from him, but in a spirit of pride, the seminarian wanted to test the cobbler and show him to be deficient in his knowledge of the Scripture.
The young man brought his acquaintance to the cobbler’s shop and the seminarian said, “I understand that you know a lot about the Bible. Can you tell me what the Urim and Thummin were?”
The cobbler replied: “I don’t know exactly; I understand the words apply to something that was on the breastplate of the high priest. I know the words mean ‘Lights and Perfection,’ and that through the Urim and Thummim the high priest was able to discern the mind of the Lord. But I find that I can get the mind of the Lord by changing two letters.  I take this blessed Book,” and he held up his well-worn Bible, “and by usin’ and thummin’ I get the mind of the Lord!”
The Lord directs us today by His Word as surely as He directed His people in Old Testament times by Urim and Thummin.  But in order for the Word to be a lamp for our feet and a light for our path we have to be like that old cobbler long ago. We have to faithfully be “usin’ and thumbin’” – reading, meditating and memorizing – the Word of God.
A second application is that the Lord encourages us through His Spirit and His people.  In John 14 Jesus encouraged His disciples by promising that after He ascended into heaven the Holy Spirit would be sent to them in a different way than He had been sent in the past. He assured them that they would not be left as orphans, but that the Holy Spirt would come to them to comfort, lead and guide them, as well as to convict them of sin.
The Spirit dwells within us to comfort us and encourage us, as well as to convict us. But as brothers and sisters in Christ we are also to encourage one another. Hebrews 3:13 tells us, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that no one is hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” The way we are to encourage others today is the same way that Jonathan encouraged David so long ago. Verse 16: “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David ... and helped him find strength in God.”
In the Old Testament we have the wonderful example of a true friend in Jonathan, who encouraged David in his walk with the Lord. And in the New Testament we have the excellent example of Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus, who encouraged the New Testament saints and the local church as he sold some property and brought the proceeds and laid it at the apostles’ feet for the building up the church and the spread of the gospel.
But we don’t know him as Joseph the Levite from Cyprus, do we?  That is because Acts 4:36 tells us how the Apostles re-named him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.” They did so because he was such an encouragement to others.
In a world that is cruel, sinful to the core, where evil seems so often to reign, we need friends like Jonathan and Barnabas, friends who point us to God and His promises so that we find our strength in Him and take comfort in the fact that He pilots our life, even when nothing seems to make sense.
And that is also the type of friend that you and I need to be to others. Befriend others using the example of Barnabas and Jonathan, and the Lord will use you to be a great blessing in other lives. We are to earnestly try to be a son or daughter of encouragement, helping others to find their strength in God. Look around and you will see so many people in need of encouragement. Then you can, by God’s grace and Holy Spirit’s power, fulfil Hebrews 3:13: “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that no one is hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” 
By way of further application, we also see from these passages that the Lord helps and sustains us, sparing us from many calamities even when we don’t realize it. David certainly realized that God was His pilot. Reflecting on the danger he faced as recorded in 1 Samuel 23, he writes in Psalm 54:4, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.”
And the same is true for you and for me. The Lord has often spared us at the “Rock of Escape” by providentially working in our lives.  We get stopped by a train, or some other irritating thing slows us down, and up ahead, as we are driving, there is a fatal accident. And we realize at that moment that the Lord in gracious providence has spared us; He has given us the “Rock of Escape” by His providential hand.
And there are even more times, I’m sure, when we have been preserved and spared from calamity without even realizing that we were in harm’s way. I am reminded of that whenever I reflect on moving from Oregon to Florida decades ago. We had stopped for lunch west of Salt Lake City at a truck stop on Interstate 80. My wife, Karen, was showing our little daughters what was on the menu. One of the girls flipped the flap of the menu suddenly, and that flap, with its plastic covered sharp edge, cut the cornea of my wife’s eye.
We were in a predicament because I was driving a 24 foot truck and towing our van, and Karen was driving our station wagon. We obviously couldn’t tow both vehicles at one time, but my wife was in excruciating pain. We had to get her to a hospital.  I unhooked the van from the truck and put the drive shaft in, which was easier than trying to unload the wagon which was packed to the roof with stuff that wouldn’t fit in the truck. We got in the van and drove to Salt Lake City, leaving the rental truck and the station wagon at the truck stop. 
The people at the hospital were very kind. They attended to my wife’s eye, and bandaged it. We explained our predicament, that she needed to drive to Florida with a stop in Chicago on the way.  They believed that she could see well enough to drive but warned that she would be in a lot of pain all the way to Florida, and for some time afterward.
We stayed the night in Salt Lake City, and then went back in the morning to the truck stop west of the city on Interstate 80.  I hooked up the van and took off the driveshaft again.  And we started going east, through Salt Lake City, and into northeastern Utah and Wyoming. We had to stop for gas, and as I was filling up the truck, a tractor trailer pulled up to refuel. It was packed with snow.  The wheel-wells were packed, and snow was packed in underneath the truck and trailer so that it looked like it was made out of snow. 
I asked the driver, “Where did you get all that snow?”  He looked at me like I was really stupid.  He said, “You haven’t heard about the blizzard? You didn’t know that east of here in Wyoming Interstate 80 was closed?”  He said, “I was stranded in the blizzard with other people. There were some fatalities from accidents.  It’s been all over the news.” But I hadn’t seen the news. I had been trying to take care of three little girls while the doctors attended to my wife’s eye. I didn’t know what was going on in the world.  
But I know this, that flip of the menu, which caused my wife a great deal of pain and delayed our move to Florida by a day and half, may well have spared us from being one of the fatalities in that blizzard that swept through Wyoming.
You see, still today, God in providential care provides His people with many “Rocks of Escape.”   Along with David, every believer can say with joyful confidence, even in excruciating pain, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me.” Amen!
bulletin outline:
 “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me.”
                                                                           Psalm 54:4
                              “God Is My Help”   
                           1 Samuel 23; Psalm 54
I. In Psalm 54, which is written in reference to the events recorded
    in 1 Samuel 23, David writes, “Surely God is my help; the Lord
    is the One who sustains me.  As Saul continues to pursue David
    in an effort to kill him (7-8 , 13-14, 19-29; cf. Psalm 54), God
    helps and sustains David by:
    1) Guiding him through the prophet, Gad (cf. 1 Samuel 22:5),
         prayer (Psalm 54:2), and through the Urim and Thummim
         found in the ephod (9-12)
     2) Granting him encouragement through Jonathan’s visit (15-18)
     3) Sparing him from Saul at the “Rock of Escape” (28, ESV),
          the “Rock of Parting” (28, NIV footnote) 
II.  Applications:
      1) God gives us guidance today in His Word (Psalm 119:105) 
      2) The Lord encourages us through His Spirit (John 14:16)                
           and His people (Acts 4:36; Hebrews 3:13)
      3) The Lord helps and sustains us, sparing us from many
           calamities even when we don’t realize it (Psalm 54:4)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Ted Gray

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