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Sunday, March 09, 2014

[Matt's Messages] "How the Mighty Have Fallen!"

“How the Mighty Have Fallen!”
A Heart for the Heart of God: The Message of 1 Samuel
1 Samuel 31:1-2 Samuel 1:27
March 9, 2014

Today is, finally, our last message in our series on 1 Samuel which we’ve been calling, “A heart for the Heart of God.”

And, strangely enough, it’s the first message in our next sermon series which will be on (surprise, surprise) 2 Samuel!  And I don’t know yet what we’re going to call that series.

I’ve been wondering whether we’d stop after 1 Samuel or continue right on, but studying for this week’s message decided it for me.

As I was studying chapter 31, it became really clear to me that you have to read 2 Samuel 1 with 1 Samuel 31. They just go together. So, we’re going to do both under this title, borrowed from David himself, “How the Mighty Have Fallen!”

Today, the cliffhangers are over.

You may or may not remember where we have been in this story (it’s been a few weeks), but the narrator has been jumping back and forth between the two anointed kings of Israel: Saul and David.

And last time, we saw what happened to David. He got out of his bind. He did not have to fight alongside Achish against King Saul. His family and his men’s families were all kidnapped but then all rescued.
So, David’s cliffhangers ended with deliverance, salvation. He was chased but not caught once again.

But the fate of the other anointed king is still hanging out there on the cliff.

When we last saw King Saul, he was slinking away at night from the medium at Endor who had called up dead Samuel who had promised that tomorrow Saul himself would die.

And now, the author of this book tells us what happened the very next day. Chapter 31, verse 1.

“Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. Saul said to his armor-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.’ But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.”

How the mighty have fallen.

Here’s how the cliffhanger ended for Saul–badly.

Everybody died.

I don’t think that verse 6 means that all of Saul’s men died (v.7 makes that clear). But probably his entire elite guard did.

Achish and company were triumphant.

Saul and his men lost the battle and lost their lives.

This is a chapter of death.

And the greatest tragedy is the death of Jonathan, isn’t it?

Everything we’ve seen about Jonathan was good, and now he’s gone.

And, of course, so is Saul. He finally died. Hit by at least one arrow, he knew that he was done for, so he asked his attendant to kill him.

His attendant, taking a page from David’s book, is too afraid to lay a hand on God’s anointed, so Saul takes his own life. V.7

“When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them. The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa.

They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. [Yeah! Our gods have won. Dagon has won again!]

They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan. [2 Chronicles 10:10 says that it was also the temple of Dagon.]”

What a shame! What a shame to the name of YHWH that His own anointed king was killed, stripped, beheaded, and nailed to the wall in Dagon’s temple.

But think about this–this was God’s doing.

It wasn’t Dagon that prevailed here, no matter what the Philistines said.

This was the LORD keeping His promises and His threats.

I’ve got three applications of our passage for today, and this is the first one:

#1. BELIEVE WHAT GOD SAYS.

Saul never seemed to believe what God said.

He was half-hearted when he was at his best and no-hearted most of the time.

We’ve seen again and again that David takes God seriously.

David was a man after God’s own heart.

He had a heart for the heart of God which meant that he believed what God told him and therefore obeyed what God commanded.

But Saul never seemed to get that.

The prophet Samuel would tell Saul what God had said, but then Saul would just decide to go and do things his own way.

But this is what God said would happen if he did.

Isn’t it?

Over and over again we’ve seen God promise this disaster to Saul.  The last time was when the prophet Samuel dropped back in from the dead to say, “The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors–to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines” (1 Samuel 28:17-19).

Believe what God says.

Because He means it.

God carries out His threats.

And God is faithful to keep His promises.

Even if, for a short time, He gets a bad name!  The LORD is willing to let it look like Dagon and the Ashtoreths can beat Him [!] while He carries out His promises.

And that’s saying a lot.

Do you need to be reminded today to believe what God says?
Satan has been trying, since beginning, to undermine our confidence in God’s Word.

The serpent said to Eve, “Has God really said...” that?

And today, he says, “Can you really trust the Word of God?  Is it really something you can bank on?  Maybe you ought to hedge your bets a little. Spread your faith around.”

What promises (and what threats) from God’s word do you need to trust in again today?

Believe what God says, because He means it and He always keeps His promises–even His threats.

Now, this is a sad chapter, but there is a sweet moment at the very end. V.11

“When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them.  Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.”

Does Jabesh Gilead ring any bells for you?

It didn’t really for me. I had to study this deeply to get it.

But Saul rescued the people Jabesh Gilead in chapter 11 of this book.

It was the high point at the very start of his kingship.

And it’s fitting that those he rescued when he was at his best showed up to rescue his body and bury him when he was at his worst.

Okay. Now, how do you feel?

Are you pleased that Saul is finally dead?

Relieved for David?

Maybe ready to do a little happy dance on Saul’s grave?

We can’t stop in the first book of Samuel, we’ve got to turn the page and see what David felt and did when he found out about Saul and Jonathan.

2 Samuel chapter 1.

“After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.”

You see where we are? Back to David. Back to the joy he felt at finding his family and defeating the enemies of Israel, the Amalekites.

Back to Ziklag for a 2 day party! And then, verse 2.

“On the third day a man arrived from Saul's camp, with his clothes torn and with dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor.

‘Where have you come from?’ David asked him. He answered, ‘I have escaped from the Israelite camp.’  ‘What happened?’ David asked. ‘Tell me.’ He said, ‘The men fled from the battle. Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.’

Then David said to the young man who brought him the report, ‘How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?’ ‘I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,’ the young man said, ‘and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and riders almost upon him.

When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, 'What can I do?'‘He asked me, 'Who are you?' ‘'An Amalekite,' I answered. ‘Then he said to me, 'Stand over me and kill me! I am in the throes of death, but I'm still alive.'

‘So I stood over him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my lord.’”

Now, we’ll talk about this guy’s story in a second, but just think for a moment what your reaction would be to this news.

And then think, how would a person who has a heart for the heart of God respond to this news?  And look at verse 11.

“Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.”

Not just for Jonathan!

Not just for the army.

Not even just for their fellows Israelites.

But for Saul, too.

Wow. What respect. What honor. What loyalty. For God’s anointed.

“They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.”

Now, a word about this guy’s story. I think it has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

He’s an Amalekite who just so happens to be around when Saul is dying and instead of dragging him off, he finishes him off and strips the body of his crown and royal arm band and just so happens to bring it all the way to David.

Sounds like somebody angling for a government job to me.

“Give me a reward!”

And we know, because the biblical narrator told us in chapter 31, how Saul really died. This guy’s lying.

Opportunistic lies.

But David doesn’t know what we know. He believes him.

And this guy doesn’t know David. He doesn’t know how David feels and how David thinks.

He expected a warm welcome, but he gets something else entirely. V.13

“David said to the young man who brought him the report, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite,’ he answered. David asked him, ‘Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD's anointed?’ Then David called one of his men and said, ‘Go, strike him down!’ So he struck him down, and he died.”

Here’s application point #2 this morning.

#2. DON’T CUT CORNERS.

Do you remember we learned about that in the last two months?

David had more than one opportunity to lift his hand against the LORD’s anointed.  And one time, he even cut the corner of Saul’s robe and then immediately regretted it.

Remember?

And we learned that sometimes it’s very tempting to not go the long way around in God’s will, but to short cut across God’s will and cut the corner.

To get impatient with God’s way and decide to just do it ours.

We said things like yelling at our kids, or taking cheapshots at our spouses, or sleeping with our boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage, or escaping into drunkeness, drug use, or pornography are all examples of cutting the corners of God’s will.

For this guy, it was actually lying to get to try to please David and get rewarded.

Instead of doing good deeds and hoping to get noticed, he tries to win David over with a fake story, with bringing him a crown, and with claiming to have killed David’s opponent.

But David says, “Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?”

“Why were you not afraid?”

Where was the fear of God?

Why weren’t you concerned about what God thought?

While you were cutting those corners?

Saul’s armor bearer was afraid to kill Saul.

David was afraid to kill Saul!

“Why were you not afraid?”  You should have been. V.16

“For David had said to him, ‘Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, 'I killed the LORD's anointed.'’”

“Why weren’t you afraid?”

I think we need to hear that question when we are tempted to do something we know is outside of the LORD’s will.

He’s clearly said it right here, but we think we know better.

Why aren’t we afraid?  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Don’t cut corners.

This is a sad story. 2 Samuel actually begins to pick up after this, but it starts with this  sad, sad story with difficult lessons to learn.

But that’s okay. A lot of the Bible deals with sad stories so that we can know how to deal with our sad stories. Because really life is not always happy, happy, happy.

The rest of chapter 1 of 2 Samuel is a sad song that David wrote because of what happened on Mount Gilboa. Verse 17.

“David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

‘Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen!

‘Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

‘O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, nor fields that yield offerings of grain. For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul–no longer rubbed with oil.

From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.

‘Saul and Jonathan–in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

‘O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

‘How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

‘How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!’”

#3. LEARN TO LAMENT.

I’ve always seen that David knows how to (v.17) take up his lament.

He knows how to grieve. He’s a psalmist. He knows how to write a sad song, and we need sad songs.

But I never noticed until this week that in verse 18, David makes his soldiers (the men of Judah) learn the lament of the bow.

Saul got caught by the archers of the Philistines, so David wrote the lament of the bow.

And he made his men learn it!  That’s significant.

Why did they have to learn David’s sad song?

Well, for one thing, David wanted them to remember how it felt to lose to the Philistines so that they wouldn’t next time.

Kind of like, “Remember the Alamo!” Remember how that felt, we don’t want to do that again.

But that’s not the feel of this passage. That’s not the most important thing.

The most important thing is to express your grief in a godly way.

Someone who has a heart for the heart of God will express his grief in a godly way.

He will know how to lament.

And if he doesn’t know how, he will learn.

As followers of Christ, we need to learn how to lament. How to be sad.

We need to learn how to be sad well.

We’re not always that good at it.

Unfortunately, many Christ-followers have been given the impression that being a Christian means smiling all the time.

But our Savior was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

And our Christians lives are not just full of happiness and felicitousness all day long.

There is a lot of life that just plain stinks–and nothing worse than the death of our loved ones because we’re separated from them for who knows how long.

We need to learn to lament.

Listen again to David’s song of the bow. V.19

“‘Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen!”

It hurts! This is bad! God, you know it.

Your glory lies slain. What an evocative way of talking!

“How the mighty have fallen.” How sad it is.

Sometimes you just have to tell God how sad it really is.

Then he tells Israel to not broadcast it outside of Israel. V.20

“‘Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.”

Man, this hurts. God’s glory is undercut by this. It looks like Dagon has won. I wish they didn’t have to party at God’s expense.

The anointed one has fallen. V.21

“‘O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, nor fields that yield offerings of grain. For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul–no longer rubbed with oil. [No longer anointed with oil.]

From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.”

They gave it their best, even if it wasn’t good enough.

“‘Saul and Jonathan–in life they were loved and gracious [that’s being kind to Saul, but its very true of Jonathan, and they stuck together that day], and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

[Go ahead and cry about it!]

‘O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold. [When he was at his best, he was God’s blessing on Israel. It’s true. Go ahead and weep.]

You know, sometimes people need to be given permission to cry.

Guys, especially.

Guys, you may cry. Don’t be a baby.

But be real men and allow yourself to grieve over what is truly grievous.

‘How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”

In what way? It’s obvious. Jonathan was an amazing friend to David.

He was so incredibly loyal.

Jonathan should have been David’s enemy.  But instead, he chose to be second fiddle to David.  Instead of his rival for the throne, Jonathan made a covenant with David and did not break it even when it meant trouble between him and his dad!

David had not yet met a woman with loyalty like that.

Certainly not his first wife, Michal.

They were like brothers even though they should have naturally been enemies.

Jonathan always strengthened David in the LORD.

And now he was gone.

It’s okay to cry over that. It’s wrong if you don’t.

V.27, “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!’”

We need to learn to recapture the art of lament.

Because life is not happy, happy, happy all the day.

So many of the Psalms are Psalms of lament.

God has given us an entire language of sadness for Christians to take advantage of.

Let’s learn to lament.

Let’s learn to believe what God says, including His threats.
And let’s learn to fear Him and not cut the corners around His will.

And let’s learn to express our grief in godly ways, not pretending that all is well all the time. Because it’s not.

Let’s learn to lament and be like our Savior who was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

***

A Heart for the Heart of God

01. Hannah's Prayers
02. Those Who Honor Me I Will Honor
03. Speak, LORD, for Your Servant Is Listening
04. God In A Box
05. Who Can Stand in the Presence of the LORD, This Holy God?
06. Be Careful What You Ask For
07. "Go and Look for the Donkeys."
08. From Here On
09. Who Knows?
10. How to Grieve the Lord
11. The Lord Looks at the Heart
12. The Battle Is the Lord's
13. May the LORD Be With You
14. The Fugitive
15. Cutting Corners
16. A Tale of Two Fools
17. Do the Right Thing
18. He's Still There
19. Turning Away
20. Find Strength in the LORD Your God

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