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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Faith like yo-yos
Text:1 Samuel 27:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise

Psalm 108:1,2

Psalm 130:4

Psalm 53:1-5

Hymn 27:1

Psalm 35:4


Read:  1 Samuel 27 – 28:2.  Hebrews 3

Text:  1 Samuel 27:1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian biographies, books about the lives of those Christians who have done great things for God, are inspiring to read.  These books often tell us how, in the face of great discouragement and trials, godly men and women were strong in their faith to the very end.  These godly men and women are presented to us as Christian heroes, awesome saints, whom we may look up to for encouragement and inspiration.  But sometimes the people described in these Christian biographies seem to be almost unreal.  They seem to be too good to be true, too perfect.  In some of these books the people in them always seem to know what to say and what to do, and their faith never seems to fail.

But the rest of us are not like that. The rest of us have a faith that is more like a yo-yo:  sometimes it is going up but then at other times it is falling down.  There are times when instead of having a faith that moves mountains,  our faith is more like a leaking bicycle tire.  We come to church, we hear the gospel and we are all pumped up and excited to have Christ as our Saviour – but then we forget, our eyes look down, our foot slips, our faith gets deflated and we fall down flat.

And then those Christian biographies can not always help us.  Then we read about those seemingly perfect men and women and we wonder why we can not be like them.  And then Satan comes along and he taunts us: “You think you have faith?  You call yourself a Christian?  No, you are a hypocrite!  You won’t make the grade! You will never make it!  You are going to be just like those Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land because of unbelief.  What gives you the idea that you will do any better?  Why don’t you just give it up?”

And at such times, hearing about the seemingly perfect lives of others is a rather cold comfort, because you feel you will never be good enough, you will never reach their standard of holiness.

The Bible also gives us the life story of various people: Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Peter and Paul.  But the Bible does not treat these people as sinless heroes; it writes about them as sinful saints.  The Bible does not only describe their great acts of faith, but also speaks of when their faith seemed to fail.  We also get to read of their struggles with sin and with weakness.

This is also what we see in the story of David.  In 1 Samuel 24, David showed himself to be a man after God’s own heart when, in contrast to Saul, he did not take matters into his own hands, but waited on the Lord.  That was the also the case in chapter 26, when David could have killed Saul with Saul’s own spear, but he chose not to touch the LORD’s anointed.

But the Bible also shows David to be a sinner.  The Bible also tells us of times when David’s faith was weak and seemed to falter.  And that is what we see in 1 Samuel 27 when David became afraid and fled to the Philistine city of Gath.  And then we wonder.  For on the one hand it feels good to know that David, like us, was a sinner.  But on the other hand it just does not seem right.  For if David could fall into such periods of faithlessness, then how could the Bible describe him as a man after God’s own heart? 

There is nothing exemplary and nothing heroic about David’s faith in 1 Samuel 27.  And if we read this chapter to gain some form of inspiration from the life of David, we would be very disappointed.  But if we read the first book of Samuel to learn not about David in the first place but about David’s God, then in this story we see not just David’s failing faith, but also God’s unfailing grace.  And so I preach to you the Word of the Lord under the following theme:

God’s unfailing grace is magnified in David’s failing faith.

1.    A faith that failed.

2.    A grace that prevailed.

1.  A Faith that Failed.

When I speak about the events of 1 Samuel 27 and David in the context of “a faith that failed”, I do not mean to say that David was an unbeliever.  Nor do I mean to say that he had that “evil heart of unbelief” that Hebrews 3:12 speaks of, in relation to the Israelites in the wilderness.  But what I do mean is that while David was a believer, he was thinking and acting like an unbeliever.  He was not living out of faith, but out of fear.  His faith failed in that what he did was in complete contradiction to what he confessed to believe in.

The Bible does not spell this out, however.  The Bible does not explicitly say that David lost sight of God’s promises, that his faith was failing.  The Bible does not comment on David’s actions at all; it just tells us what David thought, what he did and what happened.  In fact, 1 Samuel 27 is somewhat surprising in that it does not mention the LORD at all!  This chapter is, as some commentators have described it, God-less.  The LORD is neither mentioned nor acknowledged, and it is as though God is not present in all that David did.  But when we think this through, then we see that this just highlights the problem, because for all intents and purposes David did not see God as being present in all that he said and did.

Not only did David have all the promises of a covenant child of Israel, but he was also promised that one day he would be king.  He was called to live by faith in the promises of the LORD and he had received many assurances of those promises.  David was anointed to be king by Samuel himself in 1 Samuel 16.  In chapter 17 this anointing was confirmed when he killed Goliath in the name of the LORD.  The LORD had saved him from the hand of Saul when Saul threw his spear at him.  He was also protected from Saul in chapter 19 when David fled from him and visited Samuel.  In chapter 23 Jonathan encouraged him and assured David that he would be the next king.  In 1 Samuel 24 Saul himself confirmed that David would be the next king.  In chapter 25:30, Abigail told David that she believed that God would fulfil His promises and David would be king over Israel.  In chapter 26, David spared Saul’s life a second time and concerning Saul David told Abishai in verse 10,

“As the LORD lives, the LORD shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish.”

And in verse 25 of 1 Samuel 26 Saul’s last words to David were,

“May you be blessed, my son David!  You shall both do great things and also still prevail.”

If anyone had enough evidence of the sure nature of God’s promises, it was David.  One might have thought that at a time such as this David’s faith would have known no bounds.  By now he would have been absolutely convinced that with God at his side nothing could harm him.

But that was not how it was.  In the very next verse we read,

“And David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul.  There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines.”  (1 Samuel 27:1)

It is as though all of God’s promises and all of His assurances and all of His past deliverances counted for nothing.  And instead of listening to the Word and the promises of the LORD, he listened to the voices in his own heart!

David took his eyes off the promises and the providences of God.  He forgot the fact that God’s mighty arm is stronger and could reach further than the arm of Saul.  And, failing to see through the eyes of faith, he looked into the future and he became afraid.  “This can not go on” he said.  “I can only be lucky so many times.  One day my number is going to be up, and Saul is going to kill me.”

And when we read this, and when we remember that in the verse just before it Saul had told David that David would do great things and would prevail, would surely triumph, then we are dismayed at David’s apparent lack of faith.  “David, you were a man after God’s own heart!  You were our hero!  You were so strong and in the Psalms you confessed your faith in God alone!  How could it now be, after all that God had said, and after all that He had done and after the many times He had rescued you from the hand of Saul, that you now say in your heart, “It’s no use.  If I keep going on like this, I’m going to die?”  How can it be that so soon after you spoke with such conviction in 1 Samuel 26:10 that Saul would be the one to perish, that now you say in despair that you are the one who will perish, and not Saul?”

And so we are disappointed in David and in his failing faith.  We had hoped for and expected great things, but in this chapter he did not live up to our image of what a man after God’s own heart would look like.  His faith did not look as though it could move mountains; his faith appeared to be more like a leaking bicycle tire.

But if we are disappointed in David, perhaps our disappointment stems from the fact that in him, we see ourselves.  For our faith also is more often than not like a yo-yo.  Our trust in God also appears to falter and to fail. There are times when our faith seems less like one that moves mountains and more like a leaking bicycle tire.  We come to church, we hear the gospel and we are all pumped up and excited to have Christ as our Saviour.  But then our eyes look down and our foot slips and our faith gets deflated and we feel flat.  And we hate it!  It is depressing!  It makes us feel more like a worm and less like a man.  And then we look at David.  “A man of passion and destiny” one writer calls him.  (Chuck Swindoll)  “A king according to God’s will” another wone refers to him.  (H. Geertsema)  “A man after God’s own heart who would do all God’s will” is how Paul described him in Acts 13:22.  And in David we want to see all those things, and there are times in Scripture when we do see all of those things.  But then we turn the page of David’s life and we see him in chapter 27 defeated and in despair looking not to God and laying hold of the promises in faith, but fearful of Saul and convinced that he would perish.  A man void of passion and telling himself that he had no destiny.  A man turning His back on God’s Word and failing stay in Judah as he’d been commanded in chapter 22.  A man hardly living as one after God’s own heart.  And so in David we see a picture of what we are like:  faith like yo-yos.  A faith that is seemingly strong enough to move mountains on one day, but effectively missing from our lives the next.

And so, listening to the fearful voices of his heart rather than to the comforting promises of His God, David went with his two wives and his 600 men and he defected to the enemy, he surrendered himself to the king of Gath.  David, the man who had killed the champion of Gath, Goliath, now went there himself to beg for political asylum.  Some time before he had acted the madman to get out of the city, but now he acted like a madman to get back in.

“And it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath; so he sought him no more.”  (1 Samuel 27:4)

So David was safe.  Saul was off his back.  He could breathe easy.  He could relax.

But at what cost?  In 1 Samuel 26:19 David had complained that he was being driven out from sharing the inheritance of the LORD and told to serve other gods.  But now David is doing this of his own will.  David removed himself from the Land of Promise.  He chose not to trust in the LORD, but he leaned on his own understanding.  He no longer had the right to claim his inheritance with Israel, nor did he have the right to expect the promised kingship. 

No, we should not think that David’s faith had failed completely.  He most likely still hoped that one day he would return to his own country and people and be king.  In practice he did still fight for Israel and not for the Philistines.  We can also assume that he still prayed to God and worshipped Him (but it is striking that although he stayed in Gath for 16 months, none of the Psalms in the Bible were written in that time and it was not until 1 Samuel 30:6 that we read that David strengthened himself in the LORD his God).  But he was a child of God in hiding.  In effect he denied his people, he denied his God and he denied his faith.  By going over to the Philistine enemy, David presented himself as a friend and part of the heathen Philistines.  And David fell so low that whereas before David called himself the servant of the LORD and the servant of Saul, in 1 Samuel 27:5 he called himself the servant of Achish, a vassal of the king of Gath. 

And so if we felt the need for a hero, if we needed an inspirational figure to look up to, one who’s faith never wavered, who remained faithful to the end, we can not find such a man in David.  For his faith was far from perfect.  His trust in the LORD did waver.  He did not always stand firm in the day of trouble.

But God knew that.  He knew that David was a sinner, that David would not be the ultimate Great King after His own heart.  And that is why His plan from the very beginning was that from David would come the ultimate Man after God’s own heart.  In Acts 13:22,23 the apostle Paul said concerning David and the One to come after Him,

“And when [God] had removed [Saul], He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ “

But listen to what comes next:

“From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Saviour – Jesus.”

And it is our Saviour, Jesus Christ, whom we must look to.  And looking to Jesus we cry out, “Lord, I believe!  Help me in my unbelief!”  And Jesus Christ, who was faithful to the end, is able to help us in our faithlessness.  Hebrews 3:1,2 says,

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house.”

And then verse 5,6 –

“And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.”

In these verses we are reminded that by faith we are the house of Jesus Christ.  And in Jesus Christ we have the blessed assurance that He will hold on to us to the very end.  And not only that, but when our hearts fail and our faith sinks, we may look up to Jesus Christ who is the author and pioneer of our faith.  For we are partakers of Jesus Christ.  And when we are united by grace to Jesus Christ and when He lives in us, then God never sees us apart from His Son.  Yes, our faith is inconsistent and it does go up and down like a yo-yo.  But when we look to Jesus Christ, Satan may never accuse us.  For we belong to the One whose faith never wavered.  And in Him, we rest secure.

2. A Grace that Prevailed.

When David arrived in Gath with what would have been over 1000 people, the king of Gath was clearly pleased.  And so he should be:  for by having David surrender to him, he was one step closer to defeating Israel.  And not only that, but Achish, the king of Gath now had his own mercenary army – and free of charge, at that! And so Achish willingly gave David and his men the city of Ziklag for them to live in.  And from Ziklag David could now fight on behalf of Gath, rather than for Israel.

David did not, of course.  In his heart David had not changed; he was still an Israelite and he had not truly defected to the Philistines.  But David acted as a double agent.  He and his men conducted raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amelekites, the traditional enemies of Israel, but not of Gath.  But David fooled Achish into thinking that he was fighting Israel and her allies.  David was vague when telling Achish where he had been exactly, but he told him that he’d made raids against the southern area of Judah, or against the southern area of Jerameelites, or against the southern area of the Kenites.  But to fool Achish, David had to be a man of blood, annihilating every man, woman and child of the people he attacked.  David had blood on his hands, for he did this not in obedience to the command of the Lord but for his own selfish reasons, to avoid detection. 

But David’s deceit was a success, and Achish believed David, saying, “He has made his people Israel utterly abhor him; therefore he will be my servant forever.”

The only problem was, however, that David was a little too successful.  And then it happened that the Philistines gathered their armies to fight with Israel.  And Achish the king of Gath was very keen to have his trusted servant David at his side, to battle against the people of the Lord.  And now David was stuck.  It was as if the trap was sprung and he had no way out.  Through his failure to trust God and through listening to the fearful voices of his heart, he had sought safety with the Philistines.  Then, through a web of lies and deceit he had fooled Achish into thinking he was his servant forever.  But now the chickens had come home to roost; now the consequences of David’s failing faith had come.  And David was trapped.

The best David could do was to try to buy time and find a way out of his predicament.  And he did that by giving a response to Achish that said nothing but implied much.

“Surely you know what your servant can do.”  (1 Samuel 28:2)

To which Achish responded with the promise,

“Therefore I will make you one of my chief guardians forever.”

And there, until chapter 29, we leave this sad story of David in Gath.  David’s failing faith and his fearful flight to Gath had led to the consequence that he might be forced to fight his own people and we are left in suspense as to how it will all end.  Of himself, he could not easily get out of the sticky situation that his actions had brought him in to.  David would need the help of the LORD to escape from this one. 

And so 1 Samuel 27 to 28:2 leaves us with the hard question:  How could it be that David, a man after God’s own heart could fall so far?  It is a hard question, but we know the answer.  For in our hearts, we know that but for the grace of God, we too would fall that far.  And we know that even we, the children of God,  fall that far, do fall into serious sins.  Yes, sometimes even such serious sins, that they are not able to find their own way out of them. 

And so what amazes us more than David’s failing faith, is God’s prevailing grace!  What is amazing is that even when David fell into such a state, God in His grace did not let him go, but dragged him from the mire and set Him free.  David was God’s servant, and the LORD used him in spite of what he had done. 

And that is the gospel of our text.  God’s servants are not free from sin and guilt.  As one commentator (Dale Davis) put it, when God calls people to serve Him, the stuff the Potter works with is mired, sin-filled clay.  But the amazingly good news is that God the Potter is willing – and able – to use such sin-filled clay.   The story of David fleeing to Achish of Gath fills us with wonder and amazement that God’s grace is so great that He will choose and use sinners to be men and women after His own heart.

It is not as though sin is unimportant, that it does not matter.  Sin is terrible and the wrath of God against sin is so great that He could not leave it unpunished.  And just as the people of Israel perished in the wilderness and could not enter the Promised Land, so those who harden their hearts and refuse to hear God’s voice will not have a sacrifice for sins left.  (That is what happened to King Saul in the next chapter.)

But David was not like that.  David knew he was a sinner, and later he would seek The LORD his Saviour, and be strengthened in Him. (1 Samuel 30:6)  And in His grace, God would hear David and God would hold on to Him.

And the same promise is for you and for me.  Our faith is not always strong, and our failings are great.  There are times when we are shocked and even bitterly disappointed at what Hebrews 3:13 calls “the deceitfulness of sin”.  There are times when you too might despair should your faith be like a yo-yo.  But then you may be encouraged that it was for sinners such as you and sinners such as me that Christ died.  And Jesus Christ has gone ahead of us, making straight the paths that lead to the Father.  He did not shrink back in fear, but has brought us salvation through His perfect obedience.  And now, through faith in Christ, our failures are hidden in His victory.  Our sin is covered by His obedience.  It is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us.  The life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.  (Galatians 2:20.) 

1 Samuel 27 may be called a Godless text because it does not mention the name of the LORD.  But it is in fact a God-filled text, for through it we see again His amazing grace!  It was God’s prevailing grace that followed David to Gath and then on to Jerusalem, and it is God’s prevailing grace that picks us up when we fail and carries us all the way to the new Jerusalem.  1 Samuel 27 calls us to look again not to ourselves, nor to another, but to Jesus Christ, the author and the perfecter of our faith.  For in Him, our faith is no longer like a yo-yo.  In Him, God covers us with His prevailing grace.  In Him we are safe and rest secure.  Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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