First Reading 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Gospel Reading Mark 6:1-13
Sermon: “David: Walking A Very Messy Road”
When David parted from his best friend Johnathan at the end of last week’s reading, he began a years long journey that would eventually lead him to be king over all of Israel and to set up his capital in Jerusalem as you heard in our Old Testament reading today. But to simply jump to that point in his story is to jump over much that made David, David. The intervening years were a crucible in which God shaped and formed him into a man destined to lead the nation, that God chose for his own. Much like Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, it was neither a direct path, nor safe, nor easy. In fact it was full of deadly danger, multiple betrayals, and many temptations. Yet God was with David through it all.
We don’t have time in this short period for me to even briefly tell the full story. It is told in 1st Samuel chapters 21 – 31. It is a fascinating read that I encourage you to experience for yourself. Instead, let me give you the overall arc of that decade or so and tell of 4 periods of time to help you see how God was at work through those very messy and difficult years. David went through 4 periods: the first was running and gathering of supporters, next came a period as a hunted outlaw in the wilderness, The third was the strangest of all – he spent a time as a supposed ally of the Philistines, Finally there were a few years as king over Judah only with his base in Hebron. Only then, after all of that, did he become king over Israel.
Let’s begin with that first messy period, immediately after David tearfully left Johnathan after being told that Saul would not listen to reason where David was concerned and was determined to kill him. He is on the run with only the clothes on his back. He goes to the High Priest, Ahimelech. Who is living with a large number of priests at a city called Nob, which is NE of Jerusalem. As David converses with the Priest, he lies like a rug! He claims to be on official business, Talks the priest into giving him the sacred bread just removed from the table in the tabernacle and also into giving him Goliath’s sword. The priest does these things in innocence, thinking that David is caring out one of the king’s urgent missions as he had many times in the past. Unfortunately, one of Saul’s servants, Doeg the Edomite is also there and will eventually betray the Preist with tragic consequences.
David next runs to the one place, he is sure Saul will not look – he goes to Achish, the king of the Philistine city of Gath. Now this was not very wise, because he is quickly recognized as the one who killed Goliath and so many other of the Philistines. David has to pretend to be insane to escape. He next goes to a cave near Adullam which lies on the western side of the hill country west of his hometown of Bethlehem. It is here that God begins to gather men to David – a rag tag group of discontents, those hopelessly in debt or in trouble. 400 of them in fact. Over the years they would become a fierce group of fighters. God also sent Gad the Prophet to be with David and advise him. One other important person came to David here because of Saul’s horrible vengeance on the priest at Nob when he found out from Doeg that he had helped David. It was Abiathar, a son of the High Priest Ahimelek. He was one of the few survivors when Saul ordered the whole town and the 85 Priests who lived there slain. Importantly, he also brought the high Priest’s Ephod with him, which contained the Urim and Thuminum with which he was able to inquire concerning the will of God for David. God was truly with David, insuring that he was properly advised and guided even under tragic circumstances.
With all the gathering, there was also one important dispersal – David’s parent and brothers had also come to him there. David takes his parents to the king Moab for safety. If that sounds strange, remember that David’s great grandmother Ruth was a Moabite, and that they were both enemies of Saul.
David would spend the next years in the wilderness around the Western shore of the Dead Sea. He lived there as an outlaw and gradually built up a rival, rebel army of 600 men, yet strangely one that was never allowed to fight Saul as long as he lived. He was frequently on the move as the people there would give him away to Saul, even though he helped them. Each time he received word, Saul would come to hunt him.
Twice, David was sorely tempted to take matters into his own hands. Twice Saul was within David’s reach and twice David refused to take vengeance against the King. The first time Saul came into a large cave that had been hollowed out as a Sheep pen, where David and his men just happened to be hiding. David quietly slipped up to him and cut off a corner of his robe without Saul knowing it. After Saul left David came out and told Saul: (1 Samuel 24:8-13 NIV)… “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.  He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’?  This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’  See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life.  May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.  As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds, ‘ so my hand will not touch you.”
Saul was conscience struck and replied: 1 (Samuel 24:19-22 NIV) “When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.  I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.  Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family. ”  So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
The second time happened when Saul was again come with his army to hunt David. This time David and a friend were able to walk right into their camp to where Saul was sleeping and take his spear and water jug. Later he climbs a hill across from them and calls to Saul’s commander Abner to complain about the miserable job he’d had done guarding his king! Again Saul repents but wisely, David does not believe him. Instead he begins the strangest of all periods in his life. He goes back to King Achish at Gath, this time as a famous enemy of Saul and offers his and his men’s services. Amazingly, he is accepted and even given the city of Ziklag as a base of operations. He then begins a double life, raiding Israel’s enemies, The Amalekites and others in the Sinai, all the while presenting the spoils of battle as evidence of having been raiding Southern Israel! The Philistine King is so convinced of David’s loyalty that he invited he and his men to go with him as they mount a major offensive against Israel up at Aphek.
Now the rest of the Philistine commanders are not nearly so convinced of David’s intentions (and rightly so). They suspect he will turn on them as battle is joined and they will find an enemy within their ranks. So reluctantly, King Achish sends them back to Ziklag. Two tragedies now occur in rapid succession to end this period of David’s life. First of all, although Achish may have thought that David was raiding Israel, the Amelekites knew better and had taken advantage of David’d absence to raid Ziklag and carry off their wives and children. David and his men give desperate chase and soon catch up since the Amalekites are burdened with so many spoils. They are defeated and the families reunited. David was generous with the spoils, even sending some to the elders of Judah and the areas where he had hidden on the wilderness.
Alas, while this was going on, the Philistines defeated the Israelite army, and Saul and three of his sons, including Johnathan were killed. David mourns for them even though Saul had been such a terrible and dishonest enemy. He then inquires of God what he should do next. He is told to go to Hebron where he is named the King of his native tribe of Judah. He will be here with his family which has grown much larger over the years.
Meanwhile, one of Saul’s sons, Ish-Boseth has survived and Saul’s commander Abner sets him up as king over the northern Tribes. Unlike when Saul was King, these two armies do fight and David becomes stronger and Stronger while Ish-Boseth becomes weaker. This short lived northern kingdom comes to a tragic and treacherous end. Abner, the army commander of the north comes into conflict with Ish-Boseth and attempts to arrange the northern tribes to come over to David. Unfortunately, he is treacherously murdered by Joab, who is David’s commander (he will cause even more trouble later). Shortly thereafter, Ish-Boseth is murdered by two of his own men who attempt to gain favor with David. David of course is not pleased at all and has them executed. With no suitable heirs to Saul and David in a powerful position, The elders of the other tribes eventually come to David as you heard in today’s reading.
David’s path to the throne of Israel was messy indeed. But through it all, he stayed faithful to the leading of God. And though he was far from from perfect, he refused to take revenge, either against those who betrayed him to Saul, nor against Saul himself.
God never promises that those who serve him will have an easy time of it, only that God will always be with us. David certainly did not have it easy, nor did any of Jesus’ disciples and certainly not Paul as we also heard this morning. Remember those key words at the end of the reading from 2 Corinthians where Paul boldly proclaims words that David could easily have written himself: (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV)  … he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul, like his Lord and Savior, suffered many things in his ministry, yet he was lead by God to play a central role in the formation of the early Christian Church.
Israel became great because of the person who God formed David into. We are who we are today because of the work of the Holy Spirit and servants of God such as Paul. Both David and Paul had many joys as well as sorrows. Neither sought out these various difficulties that came their way, but found that God was with them through it all. They could have looked back and said “what a mess! Poor persecuted me!” Instead, they both found great strength in spite of setbacks and persecutions. Both felt himself in the grip of a power not his own and far, far greater than his own. And in that power they found joy and security just as Jesus taught his disciples in our gospel reading.
There is a profound paradox in all these texts, the humility of Paul challenges and inspires us. The vulnerability of those disciples sent out two by two with only the clothes on their backs amazes us as much as the power demonstrated through them. The perseverance of David is a model to follow. We too are here to learn to trust God and to offer ourselves as disciples. How wonderful it is that God uses our weaknesses and even opposition and rejection to draw us closer Jesus and to teach us to rely more fully on the immeasurable grace lavished on us. We go into the world in that strength.