Sermon Discussion Questions:
1. Who in your life is a picture of good authority?
2. What happens to people in positions of authority when they do not see that their power comes from God? What happens when they succeed, and what happens when they fail?
3. What authority do you have in life? Think of your role in the family, workplace, or as a member of the church. What does it look like for you to use authority well?
4. What enabled David to be generous? See 1 Samuel 30:23. How does that help you be more generous?
5. How are we like the 200 men who are left behind at the Brook? How is David like Jesus? See 1 Sam 30:21-25
Why is our culture so individualistic? You could answer that question many ways. You could point to the role that Protestantism has historically played in the West to emphasize the individual’s relationship to God. You could point to the rise in education, giving the individual more choices and therefore more autonomy. You could look at the explosion of new technologies over the last 80 years, both in how it has isolated people from one another and in how it has given them more time and freedom to do as they please.
Strangely, though, this rise in individualism hasn’t come at the expense of an emphasis on “community,” at least not in word. People are certainly more isolated today, but everyone speaks positively of the idea of community.
“Individualism…is not rooted in being anti-community. Everyone loves the idea of community. Rather, it roots in being anti-authority: I will gladly hang out with you, so long as you don’t tell me what I have to be or what I have to do,” (Jonathan Leeman, Don’t Fire Your Church Members, vii).
We are highly skeptical towards authority today. It feels like all we hear of is how people in authority abuse it—from the husband, to the father, to the boss, to the pastor, to the politician. Authority can be a dangerous thing. But authority can also be a life-giving thing. Consider the last words of David spoken at the end of his life:
“The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, 4 he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth,” (2 Sam 23:3-4).
In many ways the story of 1 Samuel is a story of two men with two different views on the purpose of authority.
Because we are looking at such a large section of Scripture I will summarize the first couple of chapters since they provide the setting of the real drama of the story, and then we will read chapter thirty together.
In chapter twenty-seven, David is convinced that if he remains in Israel, he will die at the hands of Saul, so he and his troop of six hundred men go into exile into the land of Philistines. David brokers a deal with Achish, the king of Philistines, and is given the city of Ziklag. From there, David misleads Achish by making it sound like he is attacking Israelites—he tells him he is attacking the “southern regions of Judah” (“Negeb” in Hebrew means “south”), when in reality David is attacking the enemies of Israel who are just much more south. David remains there for a year and four months.
Eventually though, Achish tells David that he must march out with the rest of the Philistine army in fighting against Israel itself. David coyly responds: Alright, I’ll show what I’m capable of. But the other lords of the Philistines know very well what David is capable of: killing tens of thousands of Philistines! They are certain that if David and his soldiers go out to battle, David will turn on them and slay them all. And, we can’t be certain, but that is exactly what I think David was planning on doing. David was convinced he could not hurt Saul since he was the Lord’s anointed—and David mourns Saul when he does eventually die (2 Sam 2). And David strongly protests being sent away from the battle. Nevertheless, he acquiesces and begins the three-day journey with his soldiers back to Ziklag. This is where we pick our story up in chapter thirty:
Good Authority Relies on God
“Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire 2 and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. 3 And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. 5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God,” (1 Sam 30:1-6)
David’s men are angry. Of course, they are angry and grieved “until they have no more strength to weep” because their city has been destroyed and their families have all been taken by the Amalekites. But David’s men do what all grieving people do in the moment of tragedy: they look for someone to blame. They turn on David, perhaps angry that David has led them into the land of the Philistines, angry that he marched them away from Ziklag for a battle they didn’t even fight in, angry that they weren’t here to defend their wives and children. And they become so angry with him that they plan on stoning him to death because they are all “bitter in soul.” David hears them, David sees their faces, sees them pick up stones. Mutiny is brewing right before him. So, what does David do? “David strengthened himself in the LORD his God,” (1 Sam 30:6).
What does it mean to “strengthen yourself in the Lord”? We know enough about David’s spirituality from his psalms that we can take a good guess.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
- Ps 23
To strengthen yourself in the Lord is to remember that your strength comes from the Lord, not yourself. David reminds himself of this, and we can safely assume prays for the Lord’s help.
“7 And David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 And David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” (1 Sam 30:7-8)
David immediately summons the priest, Abiathar, who has an ephod with him. Inside the ephod are two stones, the Urim and Thummim, which were ways that God’s people could have decisions denied or affirmed by Yahweh in the Old Testament. David asks God whether he should pursue the bands of Amalekites, and God tells him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue,” (1 Sam 30:8).
It is amazing to me that David seeks the Lord here. If I came home and found my wife and children had been kidnapped, and I had six hundred soldiers under my command, I would not stop to pray about whether I should pursue. I would just act. But David is wholly dependent on God.
If those in authority do not rely on God they will slowly begin to think that the outcome is up to them, depends entirely on them. Which will make them arrogant and cocky when they are on top, and irrationally depressed and angry and erratic when they fail. These are the pitfalls that your elders here at Quinault want to avoid when they think about how they use authority.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain,” (Ps 127:1). What a good framework for understanding where our strength comes from! The rest of that psalm, believe it or not, goes on to talk about children! “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord…”
Parents in this room: do you depend on God in your parenting? When you are overwhelmed and tapped out and totally confused, do you strengthen yourself in the Lord? Parenting is hard. Talking with your teenager about dating, planning for college, potty-training your toddler—all of it is hard.
Work hard to use your authority as a parent in such a way that shows your children that you tap into God for your peace, resolve, and joy.
Good Authority Preserves Life
“9 So David set out, and the six hundred men who were with him, and they came to the brook Besor, where those who were left behind stayed. 10 But David pursued, he and four hundred men. Two hundred stayed behind, who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor,” (1 Sam 30:9-10).
David’s men ride towards the country of the Amalekites, but they had already been travelling for three days when they arrived at Ziklag. They have anywhere from 30-50 miles to travel, likely on foot, carrying all of their gear. By the time they reach the Brook of Besor, one third of David’s men are just too exhausted to cross the river. And they must be exceptionally exhausted if they are giving up the rescue of their family. But David graciously allows them to stay. He doesn’t harangue them or force them at the point of a sword to cross the river.
“11 They found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. And they gave him bread and he ate. They gave him water to drink, 12 and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” He said, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. 14 We had made a raid against the Negeb of the Cherethites and against that which belongs to Judah and against the Negeb of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire.” 15 And David said to him, “Will you take me down to this band?” And he said, “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will take you down to this band.” (1 Sam 30:11-15).
Now, perhaps David’s men suspect that this Egyptian slave belonged to the Amalekites, and that’s why they bring him to David, but notice three things:
- We have all of the food and water given to the Egyptian slave enumerated in strange detail: bread, water, a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins. The author could have just said that they gave him food and water. In fact, the author didn’t even need to tell us that the Egyptian was starving. What’s important is that this man is the key to David discovering the Amalekites, that is what moves the story along.
- David doesn’t find out that he is a servant of the Amalekites till after he gives him sustenance.
- David asks, doesn’t demand, the servant to take him to the Amalekites.
Why did the author feel the need to tell us all of these details? Because it underlines how David generously uses his authority to preserve life. Here is a man who has experienced the worst kind of abuses of authority—a slave left for dead because he was slowing his master down. David leaves men behind, but because he wants to preserve their life! And here he takes from his own stores of food to preserve the life of an abandoned slave. And remember, this is the Bronze Age. There is no Geneva Convention, there is no international tribunal on war crimes or human rights. David’s generosity seems like common decency to us, like a “no-duh” thing. But that wouldn’t have been obvious in David’s day. David has simply buried himself enough into the heart of God that he cares about the things that God cares about.
16 And when he had taken him down, behold, they were spread abroad over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing, because of all the great spoil they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. 17 And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. 18 David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all.” (1 Sam 30:16-19).
The point of this story isn’t to underline how perfect David is. He obviously isn’t, since we are told right away that he has “two wives,” violating God’s monogamous design of marriage. The point, though, is that David is a good picture of authority being used to preserve life. Even as David fights the Amalekites. This is a good picture of what godly authority would look like when applied to governing authorities. God has given the sword to the state to punish evil, and reward good behavior.
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. - 1 Peter 2:13-14
Punishing evil and praising good. This looks like police officers catching criminals and couples getting a first-time home-buyer grant; the national guard catching drug smugglers and helping respond to hurricanes; social workers removing children from sexually abusive homes and child-tax credits from the IRS. The role of the government is to punish evil and reward good behavior. Which means that to the degree that we can use our authority as citizens to vote policies and candidates into place that will preserve life, we should.
Good Authority Generously Gives
“20 David also captured all the flocks and herds, and the people drove the livestock before him, and said, “This is David’s spoil.”
21 Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them. 22 Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.” 23 But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. 24 Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” 25 And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.
26 When David came to Ziklag, he sent part of the spoil to his friends, the elders of Judah, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the LORD.” 27 It was for those in Bethel, in Ramoth of the Negeb, in Jattir, 28 in Aroer, in Siphmoth, in Eshtemoa, 29 in Racal, in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, in the cities of the Kenites, 30 in Hormah, in Bor-ashan, in Athach, 31 in Hebron, for all the places where David and his men had roamed.” (1 Sam 30:20-30)
The beginning and end of this section emphasize David’s amazing generosity. He has earned a large amount of spoil from defeating the Amalekites and his people already identify it as “David’s spoil.” But, by the end of the chapter, David sends portions of his spoil to at least thirteen different cities (likely more, since we don’t know how many cities are “of the Jerahmeelites” and “of the Kenites”).
But it is the center section that is most surprising. When the 400 men return to the 200 who stayed behind and tell them that they can have their wives and children, but nothing else, it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? They didn’t risk their lives, they didn’t fight, they didn’t earn it, so why should they get a share? It is hard to hear this story and not think of Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. The owner of vineyard agrees to pay a day’s wage (denarius) to a group that starts at sunrise. There are three other groups of workers who join in: one that starts at 9 AM, another at 3 PM, and finally one at 5 PM. At the end of the day, the owner of the vineyard gathers everyone, starting with those who worked last, and pays them all the same. The workers who started at sunrise are (understandably) frustrated. When they receive their money, they grumble:
“‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matt 20:12-16).
It's hard to read that story and not feel like you would be frustrated if you were on the sunrise crew who bore the burden of the day in the scorching heat. This isn’t necessarily a model for how to run a business, Jesus told this parable to humble Jews who felt superior to all other kinds of people. But let’s focus on the overlap between this parable and David: both reveal the priority of generosity. God is the owner of the vineyard who is free to generously give however He pleases. And David sees that God is the one who has generously provided for David and the 400 men their victory. He explicitly states that God is the one who has given them both the spoil and the victory in battle, and therefore assumes that it is preposterous not to share with those who remained behind with the baggage. And, in fact, this becomes a statue in perpetuity in Israel that when it comes to the division of the spoils of war, the share will be equal between those who fight and those who remain with the baggage.
Why? Because, to return to our first point, all victory depends on the Lord. It doesn’t ultimately depend on our skill or ability, but the Lord. If you are confident that what you have is given to you generously, you give generously. Which means if we lack generosity, it is because we think we have earned our place.
“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7)
And consider how this would affect the culture of the army of Israel. If you aren’t going out to fight for money, then why fight? Similarly, to return to Jesus’ parable, if you only work an hour and are paid the same as the one who works all day, why work?
A similar question may be posed towards the whole of the Christian life. If our salvation is a gift that is freely given to those who trust, why do anything at all?
Think of the exhausted men standing there as the wicked and worthless fellows accuse them of being unworthy. Think of the shame they would feel. They know they don’t deserve anything. But then what would enter their mind and hearts as the see David stand up for them as their advocate and argue for why they should have a share of what they didn’t earn.
That’s godly authority.
That’s what we see in Jesus. Jesus knows that His authority flows out of His strength in the Father; He builds His ministry on His connection with the Father. Jesus uses His authority to preserve life through His healings, casting out of demons, opposing wicked leaders. And Jesus uses His authority to generously give—not just by risking his life, but by giving His life up. So that now, when the Accuser comes to shame you to explain why you have no right to have any share in the riches of Heaven, there is an advocate who stands up for you to defend your case.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)
So, out of Love for our King, we now follow His path, we obey Him.
How do you use authority?