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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:knock-out blows in the boxing ring of life
Text:1 Samuel 30:6b (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from the 1984 Book of Praise

Psalm 43:1,2,3

Psalm 4:2,3

Psalm 21:1,2,3,4

Psalm 28:4,5

Psalm 43:4,5

Read:  1 Samuel 30

Text:  1 Samuel 30:6b

* 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.

Have you ever had it that you’ve gone through a hard, rough time, that things seem like they are getting just that little bit better, when suddenly the world comes crashing down and there you are, “knocked for six” and sprawled out in the dust?  Have you ever had it that you thought you had hit “rock bottom”, that you really did not think that things could get worse than this, but then even “rock bottom” gave way and the word despair took on an even darker, deeper meaning?

It can be so hard.  Sometimes life feels like being in a boxing ring with some giant towering over us.  He’s knocked us down, he stands there watching and then just as we stumble back to our feet he hits us again and down we go, even harder and longer than the last time.

It is hard.  And what makes it so hard is that we lose our resilience, we lose our ability to bounce back.  We despair of ever getting out of the pit we are in and we hardly dare to get up off the floor.  We don’t dare to get up and keep going because we don’t want to set ourselves up for another failure, for another disappointment.  We just can’t take it any more.  We lose our hope.  We feel that no one can help us – and besides, we don’t know if we want someone to try and help us.  We don’t want to talk about it.  We don’t want to see anyone.  We don’t want to hear anyone.  We begin to cut everyone off.  And there we sit: all alone, in deep distress. 

In the Bible, David had some dark days and bleak times in his life.  While he was still a boy and taking care of his father’s sheep the prophet Samuel had anointed him as the one the LORD had chosen to be a king after God’s own heart.  But since that time his life had been hard.  For the past twelve chapters of 1 Samuel he had been hiding in caves and in the wilderness and he had been running away from Saul.  Then for the last 16 months he had been living in Ziklag, a city given to him by Achish, the Philistine king of Gath.  Recently he had been commanded to join Achish in fighting his own people of Israel but the LORD had delivered him from that predicament and now he was on his way back to Ziklag.  But when he got to Ziklag he was faced with a plundered, burnt-out city and all the wives and children of David and his men taken captive by the Amalekites.

Here was David, the man anointed to be king.  But where had this anointing led him?  What could he see of all God’s plans and promises?  All he could see was a smoking city, his wives and children gone and his own men ready to take up stones to kill him.  In the boxing ring of life, David had received what appeared to be the Knock-out blow.

But then comes our text. 

“But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.”

And from this text I preach to you the following message:

The one anointed to be king after God’s heart strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

1.    David’s distress.

2.    David’s direction.

3.    David’s deliverance.

1. David’s distress.

We tend to read and study the Bible one chapter and one story at a time.  But when we read those Bible stories, we need to remember that each story is a part of a bigger story.  The Bible presents us with the unfolding drama of redemption.  After the creation of the world and the fall of mankind, God came down to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and He promised them that although they would suffer from the effects of sin, there would come from the seed of the woman One who would crush the head of the serpent and so God would redeem a people for Himself.

It is good for us to remember this because it helps us understand a deeper dimension to these Bible stories – and also a deeper dimension to things that happen in our own lives.  In 1 Samuel chapter 30 we encounter Satan trying to stop God from fulfilling His promises and carrying out His greater plan of salvation – and we see the LORD triumphing over Satan and working all things for the good of those who love Him.

That’s the wide context in which we are to read the events of 1 Samuel 30.  But it is also helpful for us to read this chapter in the context of what was happening at that time.  The book of First Samuel contrasts Saul, a king after the peoples’ heart, with David, the man anointed to be king after God’s heart.  In 1 Samuel 15 Saul showed his true colours by deliberately refusing to obey the LORD’s command when he went to war against the Amalekites.  At that time Saul was told that because of his disobedience the kingdom of Israel would be torn from him and given to a neighbour who was better than him.  Then in chapter 16 David was anointed king and the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, while a distressing spirit came upon Saul.  And then followed a number of years where Saul did all that he could to kill David, and David had to flee from one place to the next. 

It was a hard life for David and his men.  Always on the run, just one step ahead of Saul.  And it wore them down to such an extent that although the LORD had spared him so many times, David said in 1 Samuel 27:1,

 “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.”

And so David crossed over to the Philistines, and gave himself up to Achish the king of Gath.  Then Achish gave David the town of Ziklag to live in and he and his men and all their families lived in the relative safety of Ziklag, under the protection of the Philistine king Achish.

The picture we have of David living among the Philistines is not a flattering one. We tend to think of David as an upright man who committed just one serious sin: the sin he committed with Bathsheba and the killing of Uriah.  But the Bible presents David as having many faults and failures, and his time in Ziklag was a very low point in his life.  David went to Ziklag because he had failed to strengthen himself in the LORD his God and was afraid that in spite of the LORD’s promises to him, Saul would finally catch up with him and kill him.

It is telling that in his time at Ziklag, we read of no reference to David calling upon the name of the LORD to find his strength in him or to seek His direction.  For all intents and purposes, it was as though God was out of the picture.  Even when David was told by Achish to join the Philistines in fighting the people of Israel, we read nothing about David strengthening himself in the LORD or seeking His direction through Abiathar the priest.  David was doing things his own way.

But David’s “own way” backfired on him, (When we go our own way it always does backfire on us) and he found himself along with his 600 men, marching in the rear of the Philistine army.  What he had planned to do next or how he had hoped to get himself out of this situation, we don’t know.  But the LORD was gracious to David and the rest of the Philistine kings vetoed king Achish’s plan to have David fight alongside them for they did not trust David to remain loyal in the Battle.  And so reluctantly, Achish dismissed David and told David to return to Ziklag, and reluctantly (or perhaps not-so reluctantly) David and his men walked the three day march back to Ziklag.

But as David and his men were walking the 130 km or so from Aphek back to Ziklag, you can imagine the roller coaster ride of emotions that they all felt.  Being called up to fight against their own countrymen in the presence of the entire Philistine army and then walking up to 50 kilometres a day with all their supplies and weapons was not just physically tiring: mentally it would have done their head in!  What David’s men knew of David’s plans (if he had any), we don’t know; we can guess that they were simply following orders and did not know themselves what the plan was going to be.  But it ended up that if there was a plan, they would never get to carry it out, for now they were on the long walk home.

But as they came closer to Ziklag the thoughts of the men would have changed from thoughts of the battle to looking forward to see their wives and children, to eat a good meal and to sleep in their own beds.  But as they drew closer to Ziklag, an uneasy feeling would have spread that something was wrong.  There was a cloud in the distance where Ziklag must have been, but it was not a rain cloud: it was smoke.  The cold hand of fear must have grabbed the heart of every soldier:  what had happened to Ziklag, what had happened to their wives and children while they were engaged on that useless, tiring march to Aphek and back?  And so, summoning whatever energy they had left, the men would have picked up their pace to find out what had happened to Ziklag.  And then they saw the fire and the burned houses.  And then they wondered what had become of their families.  And then they entered the burned city, but no one was there: the Amalekites had taken captive the women and those who were there, from small to great; they did not kill anyone, but carried them away and went their way.

And while on the one hand it would have been a relief to learn that their loved ones had not been killed on the spot, on the other hand the very idea of their wives and children at the mercy of a ruthless enemy and facing the likelihood of being sold as slaves in a distant land would have filled their hearts with fear.

And so David and his men lifted up their voices and they wept until they had no more power to weep.  For David and his 600 men, this was the last straw.  This was where they cracked.  David and his men had been under severe physical and emotional strain.  They had been driven away from their land and homes in Israel and Ziklag had been their last chance, but now the Amalekites had wiped them out.  And what was left for them?  They had no future in Israel and no future with the Philistines.  They no longer had a home, and their families were gone. 

In the boxing ring of life, the knock-out blow had been delivered.

And then David’s men, men who had been with him and stood by him through thick and thin, David’s men turned on him.  “David, it is all your fault!  Some leader you have turned out to be!  Some saviour, some king!  You are finished, David.  You and all your great plans that one day you will be king are history.”  And David’s men took up stones to kill him.

And so David was distressed.  Just when he thought he had hit rock bottom, the bottom gave way and grief turned to despair.  To whom could he turn?  If only Jonathan was here!  Jonathan, his bosom friend, the one who in chapter 23:16 had strengthened his hand in God.  But Jonathan was not going to come to strengthen David this time – or ever again.

And you can imagine that Satan, who had his eyes on an even bigger prize, was rubbing his hands in glee, laughing in anticipation of the victory that would be his.  What a way to end it all!  What a way to see God’s plans for a king after His own heart come to ruin.  Let David, the man anointed king after God’s heart, be killed at the hands of his own people!

And remember also what was happening to Saul at about this time.  In 1 Samuel 28 King Saul was also in deep distress.  But in his distress Saul had turned to a witch for help.  And then when the witch called up Samuel and Saul was told that he would die, he fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid.  And there was no strength left in him.  (1 Samuel 28:20)  But Saul then sat on the witch’s bed and ate her food.  And so Saul’s departure from the LORD and his fellowship with darkness was complete.

And when we keep all of these things in mind, - the battle between the Serpent and the seed of the woman, the distressed state of Saul eating food in the house of a witch, and David in the burned out city of Ziklag weeping in distress and about to be killed by his own people - when we keep all of these things in mind, then we see just how significant are the words of our text:

“But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.”

2. David’s Direction.

David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.  So what does that mean?  What sort of strength did David get, and how did he strengthen himself?  That is a question worth asking because if you have ever had the world come crashing around you, if you have ever been knocked down so badly that you hardly dare to get up off the floor for fear of being knocked down again, if you have ever been in that dark place where there seems to be no hope and you have wept until you had no more power to weep and you were at that stage of distress that goes beyond weeping, then how can you strengthen yourself in the LORD your God?

Modern psychology and secular counselling does not encourage you to strengthen yourself in the LORD.  What they will commonly do is to get you to look not to the LORD but within yourself, to understand the reason for your fears, to discover what went wrong.  And many spiritual leaders will encourage you to get in tune with your inner feelings and get your strength from that.  But that is not what David did.  Instead David turned to the only One who could truly help.  David directed his thoughts and his desires on the LORD his God.

But what does that mean?

First of all, notice that David strengthened himself in the LORD.  That’s “LORD” with capital letters.  That’s the name Yahweh, the personal name of the God who revealed Himself to Moses in the Burning Bush and then more clearly on Mount Sinai.  That is the Lord who had made promises to His covenant children and who could be trusted to keep those promises.  And David would have remembered that the LORD had promised to be near him and to love him.  And David would have remembered the specific promises that God had made to Him, also the promise that one day he would be king over Israel.  And by strengthening himself in the LORD his God, David confessed the LORD as being almighty, as the One who not only makes His promises, but is also able to keep His promises.

But not only that, David also strengthened himself in remembering that the LORD was not simply God, but the LORD was his God.  David strengthened himself in the One with whom he had a personal relationship. 

And David’s personal relationship with God went back a long way.  Already when he was a boy looking after his father’s sheep he confessed that it was the LORD who delivered him from the paw of the lion and of the bear when those wild animals came to attack the flock.  When he stood before Goliath he did so by calling upon the name of the LORD.  And David had been in a crisis many times since then but he could confess that although the righteous man has many afflictions, the LORD delivers him from them all.  David could look back at both the promises he had received and also at how the LORD had fulfilled those promises and in that way he could be strengthened.  He was standing in the midst of a city that lay in ruins.  His wives and his children were gone.  His men were ready to stone him.  But David could turn to the LORD and say “You are the LORD, the Great I AM, and You are my God.  I love You and I trust You.”

And the same applies to us.  When we strengthen ourselves in the LORD, we remember that the LORD is our God.  We remember the covenant promises that He made to us and we remember how He has been and always is faithful to those promises.  And we remember that He is the God whose promises are Yes and Amen in Jesus Christ.  It is when we hold on to the promises of our faithful God that we are strengthened in our distress.

And then, strengthened in the LORD, David was once more ready to walk in His ways.  And so he called Abiathar the priest to come with the Ephod.  Now this ephod was a sleeveless garment that the high priest used to wear.  It had a number of stones on it, including two stones called the Urim and the Thummim.  The Urim and the Thummim were used in Old Testament times to ask God to show them His will in specific situations.  How these stones were used exactly is not entirely clear, but what we do know is that this was the way in which the LORD wished to give specific guidance to His people at certain times.  And so, by means of these stones David asked the LORD whether or not he should pursue the Amalekites.  And God told him to pursue the enemy for he should surely overtake them and without fail recover all.

And so David renewed his strength in God, and God gave him a new direction.  No longer distressed and in the pit of despair, David got up and he, along with his 600 men, stepped forward in faith, trusting that the LORD would do what He had promised.

3. David’s Deliverance.

In David’s pursuit of the Amalekites, there were two events of particular importance.  First, when they got to the brook Besor, 200 of David’s men were too exhausted to keep going.  The six days of marching to Aphek and back, the despair of finding Ziklag burned and now being on the march again was too much, and these men were exhausted.  And so David left them behind to take care of the baggage.  But trusting in God for the victory, David pressed on. 

Then his men found an Egyptian lying in the field, who had not eaten or drunk for three days.  And like the Good Samaritan in the parable of Jesus, David’s men gave him bread and water and figs and raisins.  Such care for this Egyptian took valuable time and food, but David was blessed for his godly compassion on this Egyptian, and by God’s providence, this man was able to tell them who exactly they were pursuing and where they could be found.

And so David and his men came upon the Amalekites and there they were, spread out over the land, eating and drinking and dancing.  And then the LORD renewed the strength of David and his men, and they fought the Amalekites from twilight of the one day until the evening of the next day.  None of the Amalekites escaped, apart from 400 young men who rode on camels and fled.  And so the word of the LORD came to pass and the victory was complete.  1 Samuel 30:18,19:

“So David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away, and David rescued his two wives.  And nothing of theirs was lacking, either small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything which they had taken from them; David recovered all.”

And then David received the flocks and the herds of the Amalekites and it was rightly said, “This is David’s spoil.”  And it was right for David to take it.  You may remember that in 1 Samuel 15 Saul was forbidden from taking the Amalekite flocks and herds, but David was not forbidden from doing so.  Rather, by receiving these flocks and herds, David was once more acknowledged as the leader of his army and Israel’s future king.  And David then displayed how a king after God’s own heart would act.  He did not claim the victory for himself as a king of the nations around him would have done, but confessed that the LORD had preserved and delivered them, and that all that they received came from His hand.  And so David made sure that the men who stayed with the baggage would share in the spoils of war.  He also sent gifts to the leaders of the towns of Judah saying,

“Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the LORD.”

But there was no present from the spoil for Achish, the Philistine king of Gath.  Now that David had once more strengthened himself in the LORD his God, he no longer aligned himself with the Philistines, but he aligned himself once more with the people of Israel.  And so in David Israel would receive a king in whom the LORD was well pleased.  After the dark days in which both Saul and the nation of Israel had been forsaken, there was a new hope for God’s people in the glorious restoration of David.

David was not a perfect man; he had many faults and failings.  But he was not a king like the nations around him, nor was he a king like Saul.  Rather, when David was in distress, he strengthened himself in the LORD his God.  He clung to the promises that the LORD his God had made to him.  And when David trusted in the LORD, he was not put to shame.

And when we cling to the promises that the LORD God has made to us, we too will not be put to shame.  For the LORD God has been faithful to His Word of promise.  Not only did He provide Israel with a new king, one after His own heart, but from the line of King David He gave us the Great King.  That Great King, Jesus Christ, was also about to be killed by His own people and at that time, in the garden of Gethsemane, He was also strengthened by the LORD.  But Jesus went on to die and then to rise again from the dead.  And now He is our Great and Eternal King.  In Him the promises of God are fulfilled and in Him we will find the strength get up when we have fallen down and to look to the future with hope.  And therefore you may look to Him for your help and your salvation.  For He is our strength, he is our shield forever.  Trust in Him, for He the LORD our God fails us never.  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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