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Bible Search
From the Sheep Pen to the Palace
The End of the Beginning
I Samuel 31 - II Samuel 1
 
In 1943, the world was concentrated on what was happening in World War II.  Allied forces were slowly squeezing the Germans out of North Africa. From the east Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery’s British forces sent Rommel’s Nazi tanks reeling in retreat across the Libyan desert.
 
From the west a little-known American general named Eisenhower rallied his men after the humiliation at Kasserine Pass. From Egypt the British moved west; from Casablanca and Algiers the Americans moved east.
 
Eventually they squeezed the Germans into Tunisia and in a series of fierce battles in May 1943, thousand of Germans were killed or captured while others fled to Sicily and Italy. It was the first great Allied victory of World War II.
 
Six months earlier, Winston Churchill had spoken to England about what the attack on North Africa meant. He knew that it was only the first step in a long battle that must eventually include an invasion of Europe and the total destruction of the Third Reich. These were his words: “This is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
 
That is something of what I feel as I come to the end of this series on the early years of the life of David.  
 
We've spent thirteen weeks following David as he makes his way from the sheep pens of Bethlehem to the palace of Israel. Today we will witness history through the pages of God's Word as David finally receives the crown.
 
But that is not the end of the story.  It's not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning. When first we met David, he was a shepherd on the hills outside Bethlehem. As we leave him, he is ready to become king of Israel.
 
In between we have watched his slow rise from obscurity to prominence. Along the way we have tried to identify the principles God built into his life and the lessons David needed to learn so that we can apply to them to our own journey. 
 
After all, we too are on our way to a throne.  We are the sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And wonder of wonders, He has promised that when He finally assumes the throne of this world, we will share in his royalty and sit on thrones of our own.
 
There is still some time to go and lessons to learn before that comes to pass, but for now, in the life of David, we have come to the end of the beginning.
 
So far, from the early years of David’s life, here are some of the principles we have learned about
 
- Grace
 
Through the selection of David to be King, we discover that God chooses those whom the world often overlooks to do his will.
- Providence
 
God is able to find us no matter where we are and he is able to put us in the place where we can be most effective for him.
 
- Faith
 
Even though it may look impossible, our giants can be defeated when we use what God has given us and do battle in the name of the Lord.
 
- Submission
 
The safest and best response we can ever give to any situation, even when others turn against us is to do what we know is right and trust God with the results.
 
- Friendship
 
God reveals his will by using good friends to protect us in times of trouble.
 
- Deceit
 
Whenever we try to justify a lie on the basis of expediency, someone is going to have to pay the price.
 
- Omniscience
 
God is always with us, even in the wilderness and He works through difficult circumstances to teach us to trust him.
 
 
- Mercy
 
We honor the Lord when we refuse to attack those who have attacked us.
 
- Revenge
 
When we leave revenge with the Lord, he handles it better than we do.
 
- Loving Our Enemies
 
Love finds a way and takes a risk on behalf of those who will never say thanks.
 
- Compromise
 
When we sow the seeds of compromise, we can expect to reap a harvest of destruction.
 
- Restoration
 
God welcomes his wayward children home whenever they turn to him with deep repentance and a new desire to serve him wholeheartedly.
 
David’s final lesson comes from one of the saddest moments of his life as he learns that Saul and Jonathan are dead. As we study his response, we have the privilege of seeing he has not only returned physically, but he has returned to his faith.
 
The story revolves around
 
 
 
 
1.  Saul's Suicide
 
the tragic suicide of King Saul.  It is recorded in I Samuel 31.  When last we met David, he was returning to Ziklag to rebuild the city after it had been burned by the Amalekites.
 
That whole episode was one of the lowest points of his entire life as he learned from experience how bitter is the fruit of compromise. Now he returns with his men and begins the process of rebuilding. They never finish the job because on the third day word comes that Saul is dead. That means the time has come for David to return to Israel. The throne at last is empty.
 
1 Samuel 31:1
 
That verse does not mean the men of Israel were cowards. What it means is that they were vastly outnumbered, fighting against superior numbers and superior weaponry. Evidently the main battle took place on the plain of Jezreel with Saul and his key officers stationed on the lower slopes of Gilboa. That was good strategy as long as the battle stayed fairly even. Once it turned against Israel and the men fled up the mountainside, there was no way of escape, and a slaughter ensued.
 
verse 2
 
Slowly the battle turns and the men of Israel are in full retreat up the slopes. Saul is there shouting instructions and fighting alongside his sons. The Philistines attack, attack, attack, each time coming closer. At length they close in on the king.
Saul watches as his sons fall at his feet one by one. He fights on alone.
 
verse 3
 
That little detail about Saul being severely wounded is important because what is about to happen will make Saul look very bad.
In fact, Saul is remembered more for what happens next than for anything else he ever did.
 
verse 4
 
In order to fully understand this, one point needs to be made. The Philistines were a bloodthirsty bunch. If they do find Saul alive, they will subject him to unspeakable torture before he dies. Saul’s fears are fully justified.
 
verses 5-6
 
It is a scene reminiscent of the Alamo, brave men fighting for their country, vastly outnumbered, going down to death in a blaze of glory. The comparison is apt because that’s indeed how David views the matter-Saul and his men died the death of heroes defending their homeland.
 
Having said that, the fact must be faced that Saul committed suicide. There is no other way to say it. Yes, it was in wartime, and yes, it was in view of possible atrocities, but it is still suicide.
 
And that raises a critical question: Is suicide a sin?
 
 
The answer is yes. In all the pages of the Bible, there are only four or five cases to consider-Saul being the most prominent in the Old Testament and Judas the most prominent in the New Testament.
 
If you ask why suicide is wrong, the answer is that life itself is a gift of God and no one has the right to destroy that which God has given as a gift. It is true that there is no verse which says, “Thou shalt not commit suicide” for the simple reason that the Hebrews didn’t need a verse like that.
They understood that every man was made in the image of God. Suicide was covered under the general commandment-"You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Suicide is self-murder and thus a transgression of the Sixth Commandment.
 
For Saul, his suicide was the logical end of a long process of self-destruction. That, of course, is the saddest fact about Saul. You could hardly find in all the Bible a man who started with as many natural advantages.
 
Chosen by God to be Israel’s first king, he was a tremendous physical specimen, a great leader of men, a mighty warrior, and enormously popular with the people. We know that in the beginning God’s spirit rested upon him.
 
Saul is a case study of the principle that a good beginning does not guarantee a good end. It isn’t enough to have great potential. It isn’t enough to show great promise. It’s what you do with your potential and what happens after the good beginning that makes the difference.
 
The story of Saul is a tragedy precisely because he had so much going for him. As the poet said, “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, it might have been.” Indeed, Saul might have been a great king had he ever determined to do the will of God.
 
But instead he was headstrong, impulsive, suspicious, and given to fits of uncontrollable anger. Eventually his dark side grew until it shut out the light. Envy rotted his bones. In the end, he is a pathetic, sad figure.
 
And in that sense, his suicide was simply the final stop on a long journey to destruction. Ponder the corpse of Saul lying on Gilboa’s slopes. It is a silent warning to all of us.
 
The book of 2 Samuel opens with
 
2. David’s Grief
 
2 Samuel 1
 
While Saul’s suicide is well known, what is not so well known is how David received the news.. To this day, people who know nothing else about Saul know that he killed himself but they know nothing about David's response to the news.
 
Now keep in mind, this battle is the one David and his men were supposed to be fighting in.  He was lying about attacking Israelites when he was actually attacking Philistines.  And he is so convincing to the King that he is called up to fight the Israelites in a major battle.  But some of the leaders don't trust him and end him home. 
So David narrowly missed being in this very battle.  He goes back to Ziklag while they went to battle against Saul, which results in Saul being killed on Mount Gilboa.
 
Three days later a man comes running into the village with his clothes torn and dust on his head. He has come, he says, with news from the battlefield. The news is that Israel has been defeated and Saul and Jonathan are dead. Here is his story:
 
verses 6-10
 
The most important thing for you to know is that this man is a liar. He didn’t kill Saul. That much is certain. We already know how Saul died. He committed suicide.
 
So why, then, would a man make up a story like this? The answer is simple: He made it up because he thought David would be glad to hear that Saul was dead. After all, that’s how most of us would react if we heard that our worst enemy had suddenly died.
 
What happened is this: The Amalekite was near the battlefield and saw Saul and his men die. The Philistines didn’t come back until the next day. It was during that interim period that he found Saul’s body, took the crown and band, and brought it to David-no doubt hoping for some kind of reward. As I say, it made sense on a human level to expect David to rejoice.
 
 
 
But if you think David was happy to hear of Saul’s death, just ask the Amalekite. Of course, you’ll have to dig him up to ask him because that’s where he ended up after David had him killed.
 
verses 13-16
 
David made a commitment a long time ago that he was going to support God’s program in the world. He was God’s man and that meant he would show respect for those whom God had placed over him. That’s why he refused to kill Saul when he had the chance.
 
So when this Amalekite comes with the story that he killed Saul, David says to one of his men, “Waste him.” And that was the end of that. They killed the Amalekite on the spot.
 
Lest you think David is simply responding in anger, read on. The last half of II Samuel 1 is called the Song of the Bow. It is a poem David composed on hearing of the death of Saul and Jonathan.
 
He wrote it and then ordered that the men of Judah learn it by heart. It is a funeral dirge. We would call it a eulogy. If you want an insight into David’s heart, read these verses, and notice, in particular how he reverences and honors King Saul.  Three times you will hear him use the phrase, "How the mighty are fallen”
 
verses 19, 25 and 27
 
But I want to point out another phrase he uses at the beginning of the poem. Notice
 
verse 20
 
“Tell it not in Gath … lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice.”
 
Gath was the Philistine capital. David’s main concern is the tragic death of Saul not become an occasion for the enemies of God to rejoice. Therefore, he says, keep it quiet.
 
That is a good word for today. It is unfortunate that complicating the tragedies in which many find themselves and deepening the pain that people are going through is the large numbers of Christians who seem to delight in spreading the news.
 
“Did you hear that Jack and Sandy are getting a divorce?” “Did you know their daughter got pregnant at college?” “He lost his job because he couldn’t get along with his boss.” “I think she’s started drinking again.” And on and on and on it goes. How quick we are to spread bad news!
 
If only we could learn to use our time and energy and words to spread the Good News.  But somehow, they doesn't seem to be nearly as interesting or appealing as it is to gossip and spread the bad news. 
 
And I want to tell you, when we do that, it not only reveals what kind of person you really are, it does great harm to the cause of Christ and the testimony of the Church.  You are just giving the lost world another reason to laugh at the Christian faith.  And you need to "tell it not in Gath". 
 
Listen:  You don’t have to share every piece of bad news you hear. So what if it’s true?
Why not keep it to yourself?  Better yet, pray for those involved.  But other than that, you need to keep your mouth shut about the weaknesses and sins and shortcoming and tragedies of others.
 
Unless you've got some biblical reason to do so, and unless you are telling the news to the right people at the right time in order to bring about justice and to promote healing or to protect the innocent, why not just keep it to yourself? Not everything needs to be broadcast. And even if it’s true, you don’t have to share it with all your friends.
 
Notice what David does.  And remember, Saul chased him for ten years trying to kill him. He hunted David like an animal and certainly would have killed him if he had had the opportunity.
 
Now he is dead. Many of us would say, “Good riddance. Let me tell you what that bum was really like.” But David doesn’t do that.
 
In fact, he doesn’t say a word about what Saul had done to him. Not a word. It is as if the memory has been erased from his mind.
 
Instead, he brings to mind all the good things he remembers about Saul and Jonathan.  We would expect him to say nice things about Jonathan, but notice in particular what he says about Saul: 
 
First, he talks about
 
- his courage in battle
 
verse 22
 
Then he talks about
 
- what a good dad he was
 
Third, he mentions
 
- his successes as king
 
verse 24
 
Did you notice what David didn't say?  He didn't mention anything about his mental illness.  He didn't talk about his jealousy and envy and pursuit of David.  He didn't bring up any of the things that  brought Saul to a disgraceful end. He loved Saul too much to bring it up and it didn't matter now anyway. So only talks about all the good things that Saul did while he was alive.
 
He reminds me of the preacher who was asked to preach the funeral of this man.  He and his brother were known as scoundrels and cheats, but the surviving brother offered the preacher $1,000 if he would call his brother a saint. 
 
The funeral time came and the preacher said, "Everyone here knows this man for who he was and what he did.  He was a liar and cheat.  He was a scoundrel and crook.  But compared to his brother, he was a saint."
 
So what principle do we see at work in the way David handles this situation?  It is the principle of honoring those whom God has used in your life even when they have turned against you. In this case that meant honoring a man whose major goal in life had been to kill David.
And yet the principle stands: From Saul, and through Saul, and because of Saul, God had been working in David’s life. Saul had been God’s instrument to prepare David for the throne. If David was a diamond in the rough, then Saul was God’s chisel to remove the rough edges and expose the beauty within.
 
And just as God had chosen David to be king, he had also chosen Saul to be the instrument to prepare David to be king. 
 
And if you put together the various lessons David has learned, three of them go together.
 
- When David spared Saul’s life in the cave at En Gedi (I Samuel 24), God was teaching him to spare his enemies.
 
- When David snuck into the camp after midnight and took the spear but did not kill Saul (I Samuel 26), God was teaching him to love his enemies.
 
- And now that Saul is dead (II Samuel 1), God is teaching David to honor his enemies. First to spare, then to love, then to honor. Great, Greater, Greatest. This last lesson is the highest point of the spiritual life, and many of us never reach it.
 
When David looks back and weeps for Saul and remembers his good accomplishments, he is not denying the evil he did. Indeed, the record has been written for 3,000 years. But David will have no part in defaming Saul’s memory. Let others draw their own conclusions, but David will speak no evil.
 
What David is doing simply illustrates the words of Paul in I Corinthians 13:5, “Love … keeps no record of wrongs” Love doesn’t keep score: love has a quick eraser.
 
Longtime Baptist pastor, Dr. Lee Roberson, used to tell how he would loan students money for various purposes-tuition, books, family expenses, things like that. He said that whenever a student asked him for money, he would get an I.O.U. from the student and put it in his wallet.
 
Human nature being what it is, after awhile his wallet was stuffed with I.O.U.s from men who borrowed money but didn’t pay it back. Dr. Roberson said eventually every time he looked in his wallet, those I.O.U.s made him mad.
 
Finally he solved the problem by simply taking them all out, tearing them up, and throwing them away. Better, he said, to lose the money than to lose your peace of mind.
 
That’s true. Love does not keep a record of wrongs suffered.
 
Think about it this way:  David ended up with a huge stack of I.O.U.s from Saul. When he died, David tore up those slips of paper and never thought about them again. What was done was done. The past was over and could not be changed. But David would not let the bitterness control his life. He chose to remember Saul’s good points and he chose to forget everything else.
 
And the lesson is, Go and do likewise. Maybe you've got some I.O.U.s that you need to tear up.
Does that mean we are to forgive every debt owed to us.  Maybe, maybe not.  But at the least, it means that some things are more important than other things.
 
And when the wrongs committed against us are beginning to weigh us down and suck all the joy out of life and we are growing bitter and hardened, then it’s time to tear up the I.O. U and choose by God’s grace to let go so we can move on with life. Better to suffer a temporary loss than to be stuck forever, chained to the past by the misdeeds of others.
 
Let me close with some
 
3.God's Lessons
 
The time has come for David to become king. Saul is dead and the throne is his.  All those years of running and hiding and preparing are now over.  He is ready to fulfill God’s call on his life.
 
So what does God want us to learn from his journey?  There are two primary principles that summarize what we’ve learned from the early years of David’s life.
 
First, when God wants to prepare us to do a job for Him, He is never in a hurry.
 
At least ten years-and maybe more-passed between the time God told David he would be king and the time he actually ascended to the throne. The years in between were years of training and preparation. Ten years is a long time to us, but to God a thousand years is as a day.
 
I read a while back that a Texas oilman and his wife visited Oxford University while on a trip to England. The oilman asked the greens keeper how he achieved such beautiful lawns. The greens keeper replied: “We plant a seed. Then we water it and mow it and take care of it for 500 years.” If you want to raise bean sprouts, you can do it in a week. If you want oak trees, it will take a lifetime.
 
So be encouraged. God knows what he’s doing in your life. You probably don’t have the full picture. No matter. He does, and he won’t stop until he’s finished. And nothing you can do will hurry him along.
 
Second, when God wants to prepare us for royalty, his best tool is adversity.
 
We see it in David’s life. No less do we see it in your life and in mine. Unfortunately, most of us never learn to see our problems and challenges as the tool and handiwork of God. 
 
Instead, we get mad or we resist what he's doing.  We try to fix things on our own rather than determining that no matter what happens we will trust and serve the Lord.
 
Listen:  people are going to disappoint you.  You're going to have some tragedies and troubles and heartaches.  You're going to struggle with relationships and issues.  But those are the very things that God will use to refine and remake us to be like Christ. 
 
 
But if nothing else, David’s life reminds us that adversity and spiritual growth often go together. We see in his life what we see in our own lives-God is at work and he is in no hurry. God is at work and his best tool is adversity. It may take awhile and the road may be bumpy, but there’s a crown and a throne for those who persevere.
 
Let's pray.
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