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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What are we doing in Ziklag? (part 1)

Text: I Samuel 27-30

What happens when we are discouraged? The simplest answer is that we become easy targets for the forces of darkness. When things aren't coming together for us, or we start to feel that we've misunderstood God's promises, we start to make mistakes. Out of frustration, we start to shoot from the hip; we may even start acting out in anger. We disengage our brains and stop using the common sense that God gave us. We take our eyes off the prize, away from the goal. We want to move away from the pain, maybe take some time off from the struggle. Maybe we should go visit our old friends, visit some of the habits we have put away...

David gives us a good example of what not to do when we are worried, discouraged or discontented with God's slowness. And, anyone who has spent time looking into David’s life, knows that even though he was a man after God’s heart, he was still a man. The story is told in I Samuel 27-30, which is not a place where many people spend a great deal of time, but one which is perfectly relevant to our discussion.

The story begins this way: “But David thought to himself, ‘One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand’” (I Samuel 27:1). In those few words we have an x-ray of a discouraged soul. So, what happened to David in his state of discouragement?

  • First, discouragement destroyed his perspective.
It all begins when David starts to think about his situation. For nearly ten years he’s been running from Saul. Ten years is a big chunk out of a man’s life. Maybe he was tired on this particular day. No one could blame him for feeling a little down. We’ve all been in the same place. But this time his mind leaps from one negative thought to another until at last he reaches the expected hopeless conclusion: “One of these days Saul is going to get me. I don’t know where or when or how but I can’t run like this forever. It may not come for a year or it may happen tomorrow but I am positive that it’s going to happen.” The future looks depressing because he has decided to focus on the negative instead of the positive.

We can make excuses and even understand his thinking except for two key facts:
  1. First, God had promised that David would be the next king. This wasn’t just a dream he had, or a hope for the future. No, it was a rock-solid promise that David could count on. Meaning that Saul would never get the opportunity kill him no matter how awful the circumstances might appear.
  2. Second, David had just overcome a series of three remarkable spiritual victories. He had spared Saul’s life once in the cave at En Gedi (I Samuel 24). Then he had spared Nabal’s life when Abigail interceded (I Samuel 25). Then he had very recently spared Saul’s life again when he crept into the camp and found Saul sleeping (I Samuel 26). Perhaps it isn’t surprising that discouragement came hard on the heels of such remarkable victories. It is often this way for the children of God. We could almost say that when things are going well, watch out because you are being set up to be blindsided by temptation of some kind.
In any case, David chooses to focus on what might happen instead of what has happened, and on his own resources instead of God’s promises. As a result, he completely loses his perspective on life. He loses sight of the promise.

  • Second, it led him to a reckless decision.
If you remember the story of David slaying the Philistine giant, Goliath, you would have to say that the decision to go live with the Philistines was impulsive. You can also say it was just plain dumb. Again, David thought he had good reasons. The most important reason was that if he went to live with the Philistines, Saul quit chasing him. The other reason is a bit more subtle. Again, you may recall this isn’t the first time David has lived with Goliath’s people. He did it before, back in chapter 21, when he lied to Ahimelech to get bread for his men. That episode ended in humiliation with David drooling into his beard to make Achish think he had gone crazy. So now David turns around and makes the same foolish decision all over again.

There is a great warning for all of us in this. One act of spiritual compromise, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, makes it easier to compromise the next time. Even a tiny step in the wrong direction sets us up to take the next step sooner or later.

  • Third, it forced him into a position of compromise.
God’s word had been crystal clear: The children of Israel were not to mix with the surrounding nations. Over and over this warning was given and every time somebody tried it, disaster resulted. David knew all that well, and he did it anyway. I’m sure if you had asked David as he led his band toward Gath, “Are you abandoning God?” he would have said no. He probably would have been insulted by the very question. “Me, desert God? Are you kidding? I believe everything I always believed.” “But David, these are not God’s people.” “It makes no difference. I’m going to go live there for a while until the pressure lets up. It’s no big deal. I can have my quiet time with God in Gath just as easily as I can in Israel.”

We always have a ready excuse when we are on our way to compromise. It all seems perfectly logical at the time. Some of us are doing it right now. We are involved in shady deals, compromising relationships, and business arrangements that we know aren’t quite right. We’re going along with some things that would embarrass us if anyone else knew. We’re still in church on Sunday morning or Saturday night, still singing the songs of Zion, but in our hearts, we know we’ve taken the low road, the crooked path, the wide gate. Discouragement does that. It leads us slowly downward until we end up doing things we would never dreamed we would do. What starts as a fleeting thought becomes a plan, a plan becomes a commitment, and eventually a commitment becomes a lifestyle.

As we read on, we find things rapidly go from bad to worse for David. His compromise involved innocent people in his wrong decision. First Samuel 27:2 says that “David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish son of Maoch king of Gath.” Each man brought his family with him. So that means there were at least 600 men, 600 women, and who knows how many children involved in this; all now living with the enemy because of David’s choice.

The same thing happens to us. Whenever we begin to compromise, we take other people along with us. Naturally, we don’t think about it at the time, but soon enough we discover that our impulsiveness has hurt a lot of innocent people.


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