Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 1:1-16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/8/2015 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 1:1-16
“Your Blood is on Your Own Head”
When opportunity knocks. There are several variations to that quote, that basically tell us that we need to be ready when an opportunity presents itself, so that we can take advantage of that opportunity. I don’t know the origin of those various quotes, but there is certainly a degree of wisdom in such a quote. I think even of the biblical quote that says to make the most of every opportunity, which is from Colossians 4:5, regarding how we interact with unbelievers. And yet there is a way that the idea of “when opportunity knocks” can be used in a bad way by the world. There is a way in which it becomes worldly wisdom in a way that a Christian should not affirm. It’s when it becomes “opportunism.” Opportunism is defined by dictionary.com as “the policy or practice, as in politics, business, or one’s personal affairs, of adapting actions, decisions, etc., to expediency or effectiveness regardless of the sacrifice of ethical principles” (emphasis mine). Regardless of the sacrifice of ethical principles. That’s the problem when worldly wisdom takes opportunity in an opportunistic way. In the spirit of the end justifies the means, the world takes ahold of the opportunity and does what it can to exploit it for their own personal gain. In the spirit of pragmatism, it takes advantage of the situation for advancement, while disregarding morality in the process.
When the world does this, it can justify so much. Isn’t that what a “little white lie” is? Isn’t that why people usually practice false flattery? Or maybe people gossip or slander someone here and there to the right person, because it will allow them to get ahead at someone else’s expense. Maybe they cheat on their taxes a little. Maybe they pay workers under the table. So often the world justifies various measures that help them to get ahead, even though they are technically wrong. Often they might be seen as small little things, like the little while lie. Other times they might be larger evils. But either way, this opportunism is wrong. It’s immoral. It’s wicked. But it’s so common in the world.
As Christians we know that the world can misunderstand us on this. They often can assume we are just as opportunistic as they are. Sadly, sometimes, they are right, and when we find that to be true, may we repent of such. But we know that we ought not to have opportunity at any cost be our guide. We know God’s word must be our guide. And sometimes the world misunderstands us on this when we don’t buy into their same opportunistic thinking. We see this here. This Amalekite seemed to buy into such opportunistic thinking. He seems to think that David would think in a similar way. But he was wrong. And this passage then gets us to think about this topic then today.
Let’s begin first by observing this Amalekite’s opportunistic efforts. Here we see an Amalekite come to David to report to him that Saul and his son Jonathan had been killed. Here, of course, we are reminded of last chapter. As I mentioned, the books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book. So we should not read this chapter like it is somehow distinct and separated from the last chapter of 1 Samuel. Rather, we should read this chapter in light of last chapter. And when we do that, something is very clear. The report that this Amalekite is similar but different than what the narrator tells us of King Saul’s death in the previous chapter. The interpretation seems simple about why there are differences. This Amalekite is lying about the details to make himself look better to David.
And so we notice many similarities between the two accounts. The overall details are the same. Both stories recount this big battle between the Philistines and the Israelites. Both recount how ultimately it resulted not only in Saul’s death, but also Jonathan’s death. Both recount how Saul got very badly injured in battle and wanted someone to provide a sort of mercy killing of him. But here’s where the story lines differ a little. First, last chapter showed that Saul asked his armorbearer to kill him, not this Amalekite. His armorbearer refused to do that, because he was afraid to do that. Second, Saul’s stated reason for wanting to die, wasn’t because he thought it was such a mortal wound that he couldn’t recover, but because he was afraid if he was captured he would be abused by the Philistines. Third, Saul ended up taking his own life when his armorbearer refused; in other words this Amalekite did not give a mercy killing to Saul.
And so obviously this Amalekite was closely involved in observing these details of Saul’s death, and told the truth for the most part. But the Amalekite paints the story in such a way as to present himself as this rather heroic figure who helped fill Saul’s dying request, and he now comes to David with this news. The reason why he changed the story was obvious. This Amalekite was hoping to take this opportunity in order to advance his own standing in Israel. And to clarify, it appears that this Amalekite is someone who had presumably come to live among the land of Israel, as he says in verse 13 that he is the son of a sojourner. In other words, he’s a sort of immigrant to Israel that is now looking to advance his place among Israel by ingratiating himself to David who he evidently knows now stands in the right place to become the next king. And so this Amalekite brings Saul’s royal crown and his royal armband to David, verse 10. He bows in honor to David, verse 2. Notice that the man came with clothes torn and dust on his head, to make him look like a loyal subject of the kingdom, one who now wants to support David as the clear choice as the next king. In fact by bringing him the crown, you could imagine he’s giving David himself an opportunity to seize the throne more easily. And so this man is looking to take advantage of this opportunity so that he could be rewarded in some way. And though this is the obvious interpretation from this passage, let me give one final confirmation to you. It’s in 2 Samuel 4:10. David there speaks of this man, saying “When someone told me, saying, ‘Look, Saul is dead,’ thinking to have brought good news, I arrested him and had him executed in Ziklag — the one who thought I would give him a reward for his news.”
And so this is how the world can act. It can be opportunistic. This outsider to God’s people who had come to live among God’s people made a mistake. He thought David would have liked what he did. Surely he assumed David would have shared with him in this opportunity, that David too would want to seize the opportunity to more speedily get himself to the throne. How foolish the outside world can sometimes be in trying to understand the saints. I remember Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 who thought he could purchase the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Apostle Peter. Or an even more egregious offer: when Satan offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would but worship him. But of course our Lord rejected that opportunity. The end does not justify the means. Nor is an opportunity for advancement to be taken simply because it is practical or easy, if it violates God’s law.
And so let’s go now to our second point. Next, we see that David, a man after God’s own heart, responds in a way that surely surprised the man. And we see here again the difference between Saul and David. Saul, repeatedly showed himself as opportunistic and pragmatic. Most recently, we saw that Saul was willing to commit the evil of suicide, lest he be captured by the enemies. This is the same Saul that kept trying to kill innocent David for the pragmatic reason that he saw David as a future threat to his kingdom, despite the fact that David had never done anything to warrant that. But surely from Saul’s perspective it was opportunistic and pragmatic for Saul to kill David when he could. Other such examples from Saul’s life could be pointed to as well. Saul and this Amalekite shared this in common. Notice that for both of them, their opportunistic tendencies were ultimately fueled by selfishness. It was for their own self-interests that they acted opportunistically.
But not David. David’s first concern is to fear the LORD. He wanted to obey God. David knew that he must act righteously before God. Neither was his most immediate concern for himself or for his advancement. Rather, look at verses 11-12, how David immediately mourns and grieves. And all his men follow suit. They weep and mourn until evening, tearing their clothes, and fasting, etc. They mourn for Saul and Jonathan, and they mourn for all of Israel, as so many had died, and this great loss had happened. And so David shows great concern for the kingdom’s well being. This was a horrible loss to Israel. They suffered this huge defeat, and lost so many people, not to mention the king and even national hero Jonathan. What a terribly sad day for Israel. And so that’s David’s initial reaction. It’s not to immediately start thinking of how he can use this opportunity to finally gain the throne. It’s rather to be full of sorrow for what has happened to the kingdom.
I’ll give you an example from Star Trek. As you watch the original series from Star Trek, you see this happen many times. There are times when Captain Kirk is put in harm’s way, and he orders his men to leave him behind for now and just get his ship to safety. Kirk says that he’s not important, just “protect my ship”. Of course, what Captain Kirk is saying that his own life is not as important as protecting all the many lives of the people on the ship. He’s willing to sacrifice himself and put aside his own interests for the good of the whole. Well, that’s very much David here. His initial response to Saul’s death shows that he’s more concerned about the nation’s wellbeing that about his own personal future and advancement.
Of course, we are not surprised by this attitude by David. This Amalekite must have misjudged what David’s response would be here. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Remember, David already had those two opportunities to kill Saul. But David would not. David would not strike the Lord’s anointed back then. And he won’t be pleased with someone who claims to have done it, even in the supposed interest of mercy killing. Righteousness had other demands on David than personal advancement. David’s understanding of righteousness may have surprised people like this Amalekite. But indeed God’s understanding of righteousness is certainly superior than the world’s understanding of it.
Of course, this is the lesson Jesus would later teach. Remember how like in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentioned how unbelieving pagans demonstrate some basic outward morality. For example, he said that even the heathen love those who love them and show kindness to those who are kind to them. But Jesus said that our righteousness must be beyond that; to be the kind that is modeled after God the father who shows love and kindness even to the wicked. That we must turn the other cheek, and go the extra mile, even toward those would take advantage of us. God’s righteousness is something that the world has trouble understanding. It can surprise the world. But it is the kind we see from David here. Even after all that Saul had done to him, he can still lament his death, and seek to avenge his wrongful murder.
Turn with me now to our third point, to consider how this Amalekite is found guilty by David and executed. Here we see David already acting in a kingly fashion, as he considers the Amalekite’s own testimony. David judges him to be guilty of unlawful bloodshed and has him executed. David’s judgment is this in verse 16, “Your blood is on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD’s anointed.'” And so the Amalekite had this opportunistic zeal here, but it all backfired upon himself. He had misjudged David. He had miscalculated the response of the man after God’s own heart.
I draw your attention yet another time to David’s reasoning here. We’ve seen this idea from David in previous chapters. David believed it would be wicked to strike the Lord’s anointed one. I might point out that the emphasis is not in the office of king, but in the anointing of the Lord. In other words, he doesn’t say it’s wrong because he’s the king who is the lawful authority in the land. Surely, that might carry weight ordinarily too. But this is in fact something more than that. God himself, via the prophet Samuel, had anointed Saul. Interestingly, we’ll see starting in next chapter that the remaining son of Saul named Ishbosheth is taken by Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, and Abner pronounces Ishbosheth king. Ordinarily, you could appreciate that this how things work. Ordinarily, the son of the king would be the next to take up the office of king. But David doesn’t show any special respect for Ishbosheth as king. Yes, David will show kindness to Ishbosheth. But there is never any reference like he does here to Ishbosheth being the Lord’s anointed, because, well frankly, he’s not. And so there is a subtle distinction we can make between someone holding the office of the king, and someone being anointed by God. Saul had been anointed by God. That’s a divine supernatural intrusion in history to accomplish that anointing. Again, by way of contrast, we’ll see next chapter that the men of Judah anoint David as king. As wonderful as that it, that is still something different than what happened to David back in 1 Samuel 16, where God anointed David as king through the prophet Samuel.
So there is something particularly special about God having anointed someone. It sets that person apart in such a way that no man ought to strike out at them. We see this further confirmed when we compare this chapter with last chapter. It’s the foil of Saul’s armorbearer. Last chapter we saw that the armorbearer would not, out of fear, strike and kill Saul at his request. In contrast, David asks this Amalekite here in verse 14, “How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed” In a similar way, I think back to the incident in 1 Samuel 22. There, Saul in his wickedness, orders his Israelite servants to kill the priests. But they would not, but Doeg the Edomite would. And so there, an outsider among Israel, was willing to do the unthinkable, and here this Amalekite, an outsider among Israel, was willing to do the unthinkable and kill Saul, the Lord’s anointed.
All this comes back to our general point today. This Amalekites opportunistic scheming failed him. The irony is that he was put to death for a crime he didn’t actually commit, and yet he was the one who confessed to that crime. And as we reflect on how badly it ended up for this Amalekite we surely think of the substantive issue here. There is something special about the Lord’s anointed. He is to be honored, and was supposed to do great things in Israel. When we consider David’s lament next week for Saul, we’ll think a little bit about how Saul as the Lord’s anointed should have done far greater things than he did for Israel. And yet the substantive point here is that the anointing of the Lord of someone is a serious thing. Thus, it is a great evil to strike the Lord’s anointed one.
Of course, I say that to then direct this conversation yet again to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For we reflect again today on Jesus’ sacrifice in light of today’s passage. Acts 4:25, for example, describes the evil done by those who put Jesus to death, and it refers to Jesus there as being the Lord’s anointed one. Of course, what is interesting, is that Jesus was never anointed with oil in the fashion of Saul and David. And yet we can all recognize that he was the anointed of the Lord when we remember, for example, his baptism, when the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove, and the Lord spoke from heaven saying, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And so if it was a great evil that this Amalekite had killed the Lord’s Anointed of Saul, how much more with what happened to Jesus! It was a great evil when the religious leaders of Israel gathered together with Pilate and Herod to put Jesus to death. He was the Lord’s anointed one.
And I reflect on how opportunistic this was of them. For the religious leaders, for example, they feared losing their authority, and it even says in John 11:49 that it would be expedient for them to have Jesus put to death. Or Pilate, he ordered Jesus’ death ultimately in order to satisfy the crowds. But it was wrong, horribly wrong, for them to gather together against the Lord’s anointed. And so if this Amalekite received capital punishment for claiming to kill Saul, how much more worthy of God’s wrath and punishment are such who put to death the ultimate Anointed One of God?
And yet, can any of us actually sit here and point the finger at the Jewish religious leaders and Pilate and Herod, and think that we too are not culpable? Why did the anointed one, Jesus, allow himself to go to the cross? Because of our sin. There is a sense in which we are all guilty of Jesus’ death, because it was for sin that Jesus went to the cross. And yet this became an opportunity for Jesus. No, not an evil opportunistic way for Jesus to advance at the expense of righteousness. No, it was a way for you and I and for all who are saved in Christ to be forgiven of our sins. Jesus allowed his death as the anointed of the Lord to provide the way of salvation for his chosen ones. He put our interests ahead of his own, to save us. What grace upon grace. What a marvelous reversal. Of course in this, not only was his kingdom advanced and established, but ultimately he too is exalted. Through this radical, surprising kind of righteousness; the kind that turns the other cheek and loves enemies and goes the extra mile. The kind that is selfless love directed toward others. This is what we’ve known in Christ. In his sacrifice, we are saved from the death sentence we otherwise deserve in guilt for the blood of Christ. But this is only true if you have repented of your sins, and turned and put your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
And so if you are an outsider today sitting among the people of God, I urge you to repent of your sins and turn in faith to Christ. Be baptized into his name, and become a part of his kingdom. Be saved by his sacrifice. And for us who do belong to him, rejoice again today at what this means for us. One of the things it means is that we too have an anointing. We mentioned this a few weeks back, referencing 1 John 2. In Christ, the anointed one, we too have an anointing by the Holy Spirit. Let us then remember what this means for us.
One thing it means for us is that God is cultivating in us hearts like his. Let us look then to respond to life’s circumstances in the righteousness that surprises the world. Not in worldly opportunistic actions that seek personal advancement through sin, but in the surprising greater righteousness of the sons of God that seeks the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. May this be true in your personal life, and may it be true in the church.
Oh how the world yet today still struggles to understand us. They come to us in the church with their “wisdom”. They say we could grow and expand if we just made a few opportunistic changes. They say we’ll grow if we embrace the culture’s trend to embrace and accept the homosexual lifestyle as an acceptable way to live. They say we’ll grow if we just are more pragmatic and stop teaching offensive things like that Jesus is the only way, or that the Bible is inerrant, or that sex outside of marriage is wrong. They tell us to stop teaching about hell, that just turns people off. The world sometimes tells us that if we just make these changes we can advance and grow as an organization. But when they tell us this, they show that they still don’t understand us. But let us not give in to the world’s wisdom and their opportunism. Let us stand fast on the Word of God, and surprising righteousness of God which is to be ours as sons of the Most High. Let us pray for the grace from above to indeed stand in these ways, to the glory and praise of God. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.