Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 20 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/5/2015 in Novato, CA.
Audio not available.
1 Samuel 23:14-29
“I Shall be Next to You”
Despair and fear. When evil seems to be closing in on you, you can be tempted to despair or fear. Certainly this was a temptation for David as he continued to flee from King Saul. At this point, he has been constantly on the run, and he’s not really been able to find a safe haven yet. He had found some measure of security for a short while among the Moabites, but God sent him back to Judah. Then after saving the town of Keilah, he might have thought he could find some ongoing refuge there, but when Saul threatened the town, they were ready to hand him over. And so he’s back on the run again. Verse 14 speaks of how Saul daily pursued David. Verse 15 tells us that he’s again in a wilderness, this time in the forest around the area of Ziph. You know, I’m sure it got tiring for David to always be on the run, camping out in the wilderness, knowing that if you ever rest or relax too long it might prove fatal. And so he’s having to be always on the guard, and the evil of Saul just seems relentless. Surely the emotions of despair and fear threatened David.
Well, we can also be tempted to despair and fear when we look around at the world we live in. As Christians, we want to see the church growing and advancing. We want to see more and more converts to Christ. We want to see it having an effect on the world around us. And yet, in our day, more and more it seems the opposite is happening. Our day appears to be one where paganism is on the rise, right here in our own country; and especially right here in our own county. In the name of tolerance and social progress, the world seems to be pushing the church backwards in terms of its mission. Evil seems to be getting great victories, while the visible church in so many ways seems so beaten down and afflicted. We can be tempted to despair and fear. I know this is the case because of so many conversations I’ve had with Christians about the state of Christ’s church and the state of the world today. Not always, but often, the emotion of despair seems to particularly be present.
Well, this passage deals with the temptation for David to despair or fear, and I hope we too can be blessed in this area as we consider it. We have a great God who is mighty to save. May we find the encouragement that this passage offers us today. So then, we’ll study this passage by reviewing its three main scenes. The first scene is Jonathan going to meet David. Let’s begin there.
This scene begins in verse 16. Jonathan, the son of Saul, and apart from God’s providence would otherwise be heir to the throne, he takes the initiative to go to David. This obviously highlights the continued relationship and trust and friendship between Jonathan and David. King Saul has not been able to find David, so as to kill him. But Jonathan, when he wants to go to David, has no problem going and meeting with him. This shows there must have been some ongoing fostering of their relationship and friendship, even with David on the run like he has been. And surely their relationship is one where Jonathan realizes that David needs him as this point. Verse 16 tells us why Jonathan goes to David. Jonathan goes to him to strengthen his hand in God. That basically means he went to encourage David.
Of course we see what he says to encourage David in verse 17. Jonathan tells David, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” What an amazing thing for Jonathan to say. It is meant to encourage David that everyone knows the inevitable. Everyone knows that God has selected David to be the next king. Jonathan knows it. Jonathan says that even King Saul knows it. So David should know it. And thus David should be encouraged. Jonathan’s point here is that if we all know God’s will is that you will be the next king, then that means Saul’s plans surely won’t come to pass. Thus David should not despair or fear.
Two things to notice here. First, when Jonathan says that even Saul knows that David will be the next king, I immediately ask a question. If this is the case, why does Saul keep on trying to nonetheless kill David? Well, as soon as I ask this question, I am immediately reminded of another similar question I’ve asked many times. That question is this: Hasn’t Satan read the Bible? Doesn’t Satan know how all this is going to end? Why does Satan still defy the Lord and his people? Why does he still try to afflict us who have been marked by God as his elect? And yet for Satan, he nonetheless, in either hope against hope or just his evil stubbornness and hatred will not give up trying to stop the inevitable. And the same is here with Saul. And so this should encourage us then. As much as Saul will not ultimately prevail against David, neither will Satan against God. Because if it’s God’s will, no enemy of God will be able to thwart God’s will.
The second thing to notice here is that Jonathan himself joyfully submits to God’s will that he will not be the next king. Saul won’t do that, but Jonathan does. Notice how Jonathan expresses this. He says to David, “You will be king, and I will be next to you.” I love that. Jonathan has this notion that he’ll still be in the picture, right there, alongside David. David will be the king, but Jonathan will be right there with him. Jonathan seems excited about this. He seems eager for it all to come to pass. Jonathan knows it will be exciting, and believes he’ll be in a top position in David’s kingdom, right alongside King David himself. And yet Jonathan is content to be number two. For Jonathan to be so excited about this, is for Jonathan to joyfully step aside from the position of king which normally would have passed to him upon in succession after his father Saul. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is so much like what we see of John the Baptist in the New Testament. Remember how in John 3, though John had started ministry first, and had gained a large following, John was fine to step aside once Jesus began his ministry. John the Baptist said of himself and Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That’s like what Jonathan does here. He steps aside from pursuing the throne because he knows it’s God’s will to have David reign next. Jonathan is content to be able to instead stand alongside David.
Well, in that case, however, we see here that Jonathan is not a prophet. Jonathan will never get a chance to fulfill this vision. Jonathan will get killed in battle before David takes the throne. He won’t be able to serve David in his kingdom. And yet Jonathan had the right idea here. And in talking to David here, he provides great encouragement to him. Surely this is just what David needed. And then look at how their meeting ends. Verse 18, they make another covenant! Likely this is more of a covenant renewal than some completely new covenant from scratch. We’ve been seeing repeated covenant making between these two, and they all seem in general to be very similar in substance. So, surely this is essentially a covenant renewal ceremony for them. But I just love how important to these two it is to establish their relationship in covenant. I love it, because I know how important it has been for God to establish his relationship with us in covenant. There is something particularly wonderful about David receiving such encouragement from Jonathan through even the formality and solemnity of a covenant. And that too is how God provides such encouragement to us; I draw your attention for example to how we will partake of the Lord’s supper next week, which is a covenant renewal ceremony. And frankly, every time we gather here, we are being renewed in our covenant with our God.
And so David needed encouragement, and so will we. And Jonathan comes and encourages David, and he encourages him in the truth; in what is God’s will. And that’s where this encouragement is so helpful, because it is in the truth. If you’ve ever had someone try to cheer you up and they give you some warm platitudes, but without any real assurance that is based on truth, then that encouragement doesn’t really help. Encouragement doesn’t encourage you if what is said is not true! It’s really just false encouragement or maybe wishful thinking at best. But when someone encourages us with truth that addresses our situation in a good way, that really does encourage us; because it’s true! Well, I hope you can see the application then for us. Again, this is what God does for us each week. He’s giving us truth as we gather that speaks to the challenging things that are before us. Can we really despair at the evil of this world, when we know what the future ultimately holds?
Okay, let’s turn now to the second scene in our passage for today. This second scene is the Ziphites informing Saul that David is among them. This begins in verse 19. As David is hiding out in the wilderness surrounding the town of Ziph, the Ziphites decide to inform Saul about this. Ziph, by the way, is a town in the territory of Judah. So, in other words, even though the Ziphites and David are of the same tribe, they decide to rat on his whereabouts to King Saul. We see that Saul is very thankful for this. He then asks for their further help in verses 22 and 23, that they would further scout things out and confirm his location, then Saul will come down and take him. And notice how Saul describes their help. In verse 21 he tells them, “Blessed are you of the LORD.” In other words, he praised their actions, and makes it sound like a godly thing that they are helping him. This is a very different perspective than how Jonathan sees things, as we just saw. And whether Saul is just telling them this, or maybe even has so deceived himself that he actually believes it, obviously Saul is wrong. The Ziphites were helping the wrong person here.
We actually see David comment on this in Psalm 54. That psalm is noted as being written by David in light of this incident. David says this in verse 3 of that psalm. “For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves.” So, we see how David assessed what these Ziphites were doing. Saul says they were doing a godly thing. David disagrees. And we know that David was the one in the right here, and the inspired Psalm helps us to see things rightly. The warning that comes here, is similar to last week’s sermon. We need to be on guard against ungodly allegiances. But the idea that we see here is that sometimes you can put allegiance in someone who acts like they are a follower of God, when they are not. Again, I think of Satan as one who masquerades as an angel of light. Saul too tries to present himself as a godly king. But it was false. The Ziphites had the wrong allegiance. Like David’s psalm says, they needed to set God before themselves. When you’ve got someone looking for your allegiance talking like a Christian, you need God’s light to really examine them.
We need God before us, through his Word and Spirit, to us see properly in examining leaders and possible alliances.
But the bottom line is that sometimes people who think they should support us as Christians don’t, and instead ally with our enemies. This happened with David. And as we turn now to look at the third scene of this passage, we see the danger and threat that came from that. As we head now into verses 24-29 we see that Saul has arrived on the scene in a climactic chase of David. If this was a movie, you’d probably hear some music in the background that brings out the action and suspense. What’s going on here is that presumably Saul has received further intel from the Ziphites and has honed in on David. Saul ends up catching up to David at this one mountain and according to verse 26 begins to encircle him at this mountain. In other words, David’s basically become surrounded, and Saul’s forces are closing in to trap him. It sounds like there will be no way of escape for David if they do. And yet in again what I’m sure would be a classic climactic ending to a movie, Saul’s men get a message at the last moment that the Philistines are attacking elsewhere. In other words, this threat of the Philistines becomes so imminent, that Saul and his men have no choice but to abandon going after David and immediately respond to this Philistine threat. They leave and David is able to escape. This was such a memorable moment, that the place becomes known as the Rock of Escape, verse 28.
I hope you don’t miss the obvious here. Why did the Philistines attack at just this moment? Was it just coincidence? Of course not. This was God saving the day! So do you see the story here? Three scenes that develop this story of David being pursued by Saul, but God saving David. We start in verse 14 hearing of how in general Saul was seeking David while he fled in the wilderness, but God was continually delivering David. This passage then becomes a specific example of this. But I love how this story begins in that first scene with Jonathan encouraging David. Because surely that’s exactly what David needed during this difficult time in his life. And this story then shows exactly what Jonathan told David: God would preserve David; Saul would not succeed in taking his life.
So then, as we conclude this message, let us again draw our attention forward in time to the coming of Jesus Christ and begin to contrast this passage with Jesus Christ. David, as a type of Christ, receives divine preservation so he can establish his kingdom. Jesus, on the other hand, as the actual Christ, gives up his life, allowing himself to be captured and killed, but again, so as to establish his kingdom. Why the difference? Why did Jesus have to die? We know the answer. It was for the atonement of sin; our sin. It was for Jesus to redeem a rebellious people unto himself! It’s so that as Jesus comes into his kingdom and glory, that we could be “next to him”, in the way Jonathan spoke of with him and David.
In other words, as we relate ourselves to this passage, we should find a lot of connection here with Jonathan. It’s easy to just relate ourselves with David. But really in the larger story, the role that we play in relationship to the ultimate King and Christ is so much like Jonathan here. We must decrease, Jesus must increase. It’s about Jesus. He’s the king we follow. But what joy it is that we indeed actually get to stand with King Jesus in the glory of his kingdom. And it’s again all possible because he did freely give up his life at the cross. And yet if Satan thought killing Jesus would give him victory, he was so wrong. Praise God for the way he has saved us through the cross. We repent and believe in Jesus, and are saved, and now stand with him in his kingship and glory.
So as we live for Christ in this world, what should we expect? Should we expect that though troubles threaten God will save us at the eleventh hour like he does here with David? Or should we expect that we may indeed need to experience persecution, maybe even be killed, for our faith, like Jesus? Well, either might be the case at times for us, though at this point we should certainly expect at least some degree of persecution; maybe not death, but surely persecution. But the challenge is that to see how in both situations, we should not despair or fear. If God brings us help in this life so the enemies don’t succeed in their persecutions of us, then praise the LORD. But if God should allow such persecutions of the enemy to affect us, at least for now, then we know that it’s our privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ. And we know that such sufferings are not in vain. In other words, our perspective as Christians must be that even when outwardly things seem bleak, we need not despair for we know that God is in control and has a perfect plan. We can trust this.
And so then we know that if we share in Christ’s sufferings for now, that this too is within God’s sovereignty and he can and will surely save us through it. So that we can be “next to” Jesus for eternity. Think about it this way. Jonathan was not a prophet and so he was wrong about his future standing next to David. Death got in the way of Jonathan’s plan to be able to stand with David when David became king. But for us, death will not be able to get in the way for us. In fact, should we die at the hand of persecution, it will only speed up this victory for us. And so this is the perspective then. This is why we need not despair. If the enemies of Christ persecute us to death, we win. If they don’t and we are able to keep on witnessing here for Christ a little longer, then again we win. There’s no real reason to despair, because there is no real way to lose. That’s the truth!
And let me give you some more truth along these lines. 2 Peter 2:4-9 “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) — then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.”
So then, be ENCOURAGED. Have your hand strengthened today in Christ. And be renewed in that covenant today that you have with God in Jesus Christ. We need this covenant renewal and encouragement each week as we take refuge in the wilderness of this world as we await the coming of Christ’s kingdom in glory. And it’s in this weekly encouragement where we hear again the truth that dispels fear and despair.
And so a final related application in this is this. Jonathan’s friendship with David particularly enabled him to understand David’s heart and situation and know he needed to be encouraged. Let us be reminded of those godly friendship that not only do we need from others, but others need from us. Let us look to develop such friendship among our church family so we can encourage and be encouraged.
So then dear friends in Christ, be encouraged amidst the troubles you face for Christ in this life. Victory is the LORD’s! Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.