Study in 2 Samuel
By Todd Stiles
Bible Text: 2 Samuel 1
Preached on: Sunday, September 10, 2017
First Family Church
317 SE Magazine Road
Ankeny, IA 50021
It’s so good to see you this morning. My name is Todd and I’m one of the pastors here. I do most of the preaching and teaching. So welcome to you and to all of our guests today. I appreciate Travis, our youth pastor, celebrating baptisms with many of those and with a few more at 10:30 as well.
Today we begin season 2 of our series “The Kings and the King.” Last semester we spent a number of weeks in 1 Samuel and today we begin oh, a 13, 12, 14 week march through 2 Samuel and we will be in episode 1 today. We’ll be seeing a good bit about the issue of pride and Saul’s death and David’s lament. However as you notice, sometimes on shows that you binge on, before each show they will have this thing that says “Previously on The Kings and the King.” You have kind of heard that, right? I thought before we dive in today to episode 1 of season 2, let’s just take a moment to kind of catch the “Previously on.” Can we do that? Here is some background on 1 Samuel, here is an overview of 2 Samuel. This will kind of give you a sense of where we’ve been and where we’re going and then we’ll dive right into episode 1, chapter 1, okay?
The book of 2 Samuel. Check out the video on 1 Samuel where we were introduced to the books 3 main characters: Samuel, Saul and David. And then also to the book’s literary design which first introduced Samuel and then traced the rise and fall of King Saul in contrast to the rise of King David.
2 Samuel tells the story of David as Israel’s king and in two movements: there is a season of success and blessing followed by a huge moral failure and then its sad consequences. Then the book ends with this well-crafted conclusion that reflects back on the good and the bad in David’s life, generating hope for a future king to come from his line.
So 2 Samuel picks up after Saul’s death and David surprises everyone by composing this long poem where he laments the death of the very man who tried to murder him. So once again, the author, he is presenting David’s humility and compassion. He’s a man who grieves the death even of his own enemies.
After this, David experiences a season of success and God’s blessing. All of the Israelite tribes come to David and they ask him to unify all the tribes as their king. So the first thing David does as king is to go to the city of Jerusalem, he conquers it and he establishes it as Israel’s capital city which he renames as Zion. From there, David goes on and he wins many battles and expands Israel’s territory.
Now, after making Jerusalem the political capital of Israel, he wants to make it their religious capital as well and so he has the ark of the covenant moved into the city. Then in 2 Samuel 7, he tells God now that Israel has a permanent home, he thinks that God’s presence should also get a permanent house so he asks if he can build a temple for the God of Israel. But God says to David, “Thank you for that thought but actually, I’m going to build you a house, a dynasty.” Now, 2 Samuel 7, this is a key chapter for understanding the storyline of the whole Bible because God here makes a promise to David that from his royal line will come a future king who is going to build God’s temple here on earth and set up an eternal kingdom, and it is this messianic promise to David that gets picked up and developed more in the book of Psalms and also in the books of the prophets, and it’s this king that gets connected to God’s promise to Abraham.
The future messianic kingdom will be how God brings his blessing to all of the nations and it is right here in the midst of all this divine blessing that things go horribly wrong. David makes a fatal mistake, not fatal for him but for a man named Uriah, one of David’s prized soldiers. So from his rooftop, David sees Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, bathing. David finds her, he sleeps with her and gets her pregnant, and then he tries to cover the whole thing up by having Uriah assassinated and then marry her. It’s just horrible. So when David is confronted by the prophet Nathan about all of this, he immediately owns up to what he has done. He is broken. He repents. He asks God to forgive him and God does forgive him but God doesn’t erase the consequences of David’s decision. So as a result of this horrible choice, David’s family, his kingdom, it all falls apart and it makes this section a tragic story, much like Saul’s downfall.
So David’s sons end up repeating his own mistakes but in even more tragic ways. So Amnon sexually abuses his sister, Tamar, and then their brother, Absalom, finds out about all of this and has Amnon assassinated. And then Absalom goes and he hatches this secret plan to oust his father David from power and he launches this full-scale rebellion. So for a second time, David is forced to flee from his own home and go and hide in the wilderness except this time he is not an innocent man. The rebellion ends when David’s son is murdered and it breaks David’s heart and so, once again, he laments over the very man who tried to kill him. David’s last days find him back on his throne but as a broken man, wounded by the sad consequences of his sin.
The book concludes with a well-crafted epilogue. With stories that are out of chronological order but they have this really cool symmetrical literally design, so the outer stories come from earlier in David’s reign and they compare the failures of Saul and then of David and how each of them hurt other people through their bad decisions. The next inner stories are about David and his band of mighty men who went about fighting the Philistines, and what’s interesting is that both sections have a story of David’s weakness in battle. So in contrast to the victorious David of chapter 9, here we see a vulnerable David who is dependent on others for help.
The center of the epilogue has two poems that act like memoirs and David reflects back on his life and he remembers times when God graciously rescued him from danger and he sees these as moments where God was faithful to his covenant promise to him and to his family. Both poems conclude by looking back on to the hope of God’s promise of a future king who will build that eternal kingdom.
Now these poems and then God’s promise, also connect back to Hannah’s poem that opened the book and so these key passages from the beginning, now the middle, and the end of the book, bring the books themes altogether. Despite Saul and David’s evil, God remained at work moving forward his redemptive purposes, and God opposed to David and Saul’s arrogance but he exulted David when he humbled himself. So the future hope of this book reaches far beyond David himself. It looks to the future, to the messianic king who will one day bring God’s kingdom and blessing to all the nations and that is what the book of Samuel is all about.
That’s helpful, isn’t it? I think when you see that, you can see why the title “The Kings and the King” is so apropos and relevant. 1 Samuel deals with Saul and 2 Samuel David, and all of that points to the real king we are waiting on, Jesus Christ.
The question is, then, how do we transition from 1 Samuel and Saul to 2 Samuel and David? What’s the transition tool by which we make that jump? And believe it or not, it is chapter 1 of 2 Samuel and it is David’s mourning over Saul. And of course within his mourning there is this song that he writes, this poem, and within that poem there is this refrain mentioned three times and it is where we get our title for this week’s message: how the mighty have fallen. We will get there eventually, don’t worry, but this is where we are today. We are transitioning from Saul to David and we do that via this report of Saul’s death and David’s mourning because of it.
So take your Bibles, you’re there, 2 Samuel 1. I think the chapter breaks down in two simple ways: we have first of all in the first 16 verses, the news of his death; and then the last 10 or 11 verses, the sorrow from his death. Now before we peek into these sections, I want to remind you this is no small matter in the life of David, all right? So while you are in your seat hearing all about the overview and you are thinking about the chronological nature of it and the history of it, remember we’re going to look into a chapter in which the man who mourns Saul’s death – listen very carefully, church – and the man who actually leads the nation in mourning Saul’s death is actually the one who is the hunted one. His arch enemy actually died but David didn’t seek vindication, he didn’t try to take some proud parade that he lasted and outlasted Saul. He takes the high road of humility and actually leads the nation and himself in mourning for the one who actually tried to kill him. I think in chapter 1 if you were to just kind of back off and look at it, you see in this a real mark of David’s character. Does he have his downfalls later and before? Yes, but here when he could have plunged a knife into Saul’s life in some sense, he instead in great character pauses and leads himself and others in mourning for theor king.
Let’s look into that for a little bit, can we? In the first 16 verses, we hear about how David discovered the news of Saul’s death. A young man comes to him from the battlefield. David is still in Ziklag, which is in the southern part of the territory. He had been there several days, of course, you recall from 1 Samuel. David asks this gentleman three question: where do you come from, how did it go, and how do you know Saul and his son Jonathan are dead? He’s kind of inquiring, you know, is this true and how do we know and what are the facts you have to support your claim? Here’s the man’s story. The young man who told him said in verse 6, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear, and behold, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me,” speaking of Saul, “and called to me. And I answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.'” Now that’s intriguing because the Amalekites were the first people that Saul refused to destroy totally. It was God’s command, do you recall? It was his first act of what you might could say visible massive disobedience, and now at the very end here is an Amalekite trying to take advantage of Saul’s death. It’s kind of ironic.
He said, “‘I am an Amalekite.’ And he said to me, ‘Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.” So here is this enemy combatant, this Amalekite apparently from the battlefield saying, “David, here’s how it went down, bro. Saul was just about on his last breath. He called to me. I saw him and went over there and I killed him. Here’s the proof of it.”
Now if you’re like me you’re thinking, “Hm, that’s interesting,” because that’s not the report we have in the last chapter of the previous book. I thought Saul killed himself. He asked his armor bearer to kill him and the armor bearer said he couldn’t do that so Saul fell on his own sword. Okay, so what do we have here? Is this guy lying or is he just giving us more detail about what happened? Well, why don’t we put that question to you guys? Let’s have a poll this morning, can we? Why are you laughing, right? Let’s ask you: is this Amalekite lying, that’s A; or is he actually telling the truth and providing more detail? I’d like to know what you think. Now in the future when we have polls, we’ll actually have you take your phones out and you’ll take the poll on your phone and we’ll be able to see the results in real time. We’ll just kind of calculate them on the spot but we don’t have that quite yet today. That comes out next week on our new app. So let’s just take it live in the audience, can we? If you say, “Todd, I think,” and by the way, you have to vote. You can’t take the November clause here and say, “I’m not voting for anybody,” right? Who would say, “I think the Amalekite was lying”? Raise your hand, would you? Okay. The first service was kind of split, by the way, just so you all know. How many of you would say, “Todd, I think he was telling the truth but providing a lot more detail about it”? Raise your hand. Okay. How many of you would say, “I just really don’t know. I’m not voting.” Anybody want to say that? Okay, good no problem. That’s an honest response to this. It’s not on the board but it works. Here’s the answer, are you ready? It’s A.
Now you may hopefully ask yourself, “How do you know that, Todd? Is it just your opinion of the text?” That’s a very good question. And no, I don’t bring my opinion of the text to the platform here. Here’s why I want to take a minute and teach you what the point of the Chronicles are. This series we are in called “The Kings and the King,” it really is a series through Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, but if we were to actually spend two semesters in the Chronicles, you’d find that most of our messages would be repeated ones because most of Chronicles just reviews what happened in the Samuels and Kings. Did you know that?
So if you go to 1 Chronicles 10, you’ll find that there chronicled in the historical accounts of Israel is the account of Saul’s death and it actually mirrors 1 Samuel 31 which is that Saul did kill himself by falling on his own sword. This man was simply lying in order to probably gain favor with David, to try to get an in to the new kingdom, try to find some way to leverage some things he had stumbled across, apparently, some items. His goal was just to make a name for himself and to prevent him from being killed. For some reason, he finds himself in Israel’s camp when he is really part of the enemy, so he’s like, “I can’t afford to be on the wrong side of this.” But as you will read in chapter 1, he actually was on the wrong side of it. David in some way knew he was lying and showed loyalty to the king by having this enemy combatant executed. You’ll find that in chapter 1, of course, verses 11 through 16. You may struggle with that, but as David shows us, I think what he’s doing was he is protecting the nation. He is honoring the king and he’s not trying to usurp authority too early.
So just as a narrative fact here, this man was lying. David realizes it and he has the enemy executed. I think one of the reasons is so that he can make good on what he wishes for in the lament. He does not want the bad news of their defeat spreading. He doesn’t want the enemies to know and rejoice. And so here this guy is, an enemy who would spread the bad news, and so he eliminates that possibility as well. What you find overall in this first section about the news of his death is this: I think David honors God by being loyal to the king. He’s not trying to usurp the king’s position too early. He’s not suddenly trying to make himself the king or take the throne. He’s simply pausing to grieve and to honor the Lord by taking care of enemies and to bring the nation to the point of grieving. It’s an interesting section of Scripture, for sure, and in this way, though, David I think honors the Lord and out of that flows this lament, his response to the news of Saul and Jonathan’s death. It’s where I want to spend most of my time this morning.
You’ll notice in these 10 or 11 verses that it is divided by three refrains. Do you see them in your Bible? Look at verse 19. Do you see the phrase “how the mighty have fallen”? Do you see that? Then look down in verse 25, “how the mighty have fallen.” Notice again in verse 27, “how the mighty have fallen.” Three times this phrase forms kind of the basis for this lamentation, this consolation.
Now, some commentators and scholars have wondered how does this divide David’s poem or David’s song? It’s also called, by the way, the song of the bow. As you’ll see in verse 17, it’s recorded in an historical book. It was meant to be taught to all of Judah as a reminder of what happened. So how does this poem, this funeral dirge, we’ll call it, how does it fit this refrain? I don’t know that the refrains are perfectly placed in some sense that we can understand, I think there are a number of views on that. Some see them as supporting just two views, one toward Saul, one towards Jonathan. Some see them as simply a repeated refrain that talks about Saul only. I see it in this way: I think the first refrain in verse 19 speaks to all of Israel mentioned in 20 and 21; I think the second time it is mentioned in verse 25, that refrain “how the mighty have fallen,” speaks to Saul specifically, 22 through 25a; then I believe in 26 and 27, he is referring to Jonathan. So I think the three refrains speak to the three characters in view: Israel, Saul and Jonathan.
Let’s read through it and I’ll show you what I mean. Verse 17, here’s the news, excuse me, David’s response, kind of his lamentation over Saul’s death. He says he, “lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar.” By the way, that’s an historical book. It’s mentioned in the book of Joshua as well. It’s one place that the Israelites would record significant events. In that same book, though it is lost now, in that same book is the recording of when the sun stood still and Israel fought for multiple hours like it was day, even though the sun should have set. So this is an historical book. It held several key events and it held this one as well.
Here is this lamentation, David writes, “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!” He is speaking there of their king. That’s what he means by glory. High places refers to Mount Gilboa.
He says next about Israel, he says, “Do not tell it in Gath, don’t publish it in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.” In other words, we don’t want there to be a reproach on Israel. This bad news does not need to be spread.
“You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fields of offerings! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.” He’s almost in some sense some commentators say, like passing a curse upon this section of the land. Like, “You know the worst thing happened there. May nothing good ever come from that place again.” It’s a poetic way to express his deep sorrow and grief for Israel, both geographically as well as culturally. Others should not hear of this. This land where it happened, may it never have rain or dew. His sadness is coming forth in this way for Israel.
But he moves from Israel to Saul. He next begins to kind of lay out his accomplishments. Look at verse 22, “From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty.” He’s speaking here of his military accomplishments, the times they were very victorious.
How they work together in verse 23, “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions. You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.” So verse 22 talks about the victories and the spoil, verse 24, here is the result of those. Israel benefited from that.
Then verse 25, again, “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!” Then in verse 26, he gets even more personal so you can kind of see this lamentation going from the large group, Israel, to then Saul, and then even more personal to Jonathan, his best friend. Look what he says. “Jonathan lies slain on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.” And then here is the refrain again. Could you read it with me? “How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!”
Now, when you read this part about Jonathan you may think, “Wow, that’s an incredible compliment to pay.” It is but if you consider David’s life, you’ll know that most of David’s friends were always trying to work an angle. In fact, consider David’s wives. Many of them were there as a result of something he accomplished or as a prize or something that he wanted and he got it in a wicked way. Jonathan was one of David’s only friends who never seemed to love him with a hook. He wasn’t trying to work an angle. In fact, when he speaks of how much Jonathan loved him, this kind of covenant love, he’s not speaking here that this love was homosexual. Some liberal scholars will tell you that. They will read this verse and they claim that, “Well, this proves that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship.” That’s not true at all. In fact, nowhere in the text does it say that. He simply says that Jonathan loved him in a way that was better than all the women. In other words, this covenant, no angle, no hook kind of love. I think it’s an appropriate response to what we read in 1 Samuel, that Jonathan actually was instrumental in saving David’s life from Jonathan’s dad. It’s quite amazing. A deep love from one man to another that is not erotic or homosexual or unbiblical, but it is nonetheless deep. And David here acknowledges that and says, “You loved me with covenant, unconditional, extraordinary love.”
So in these few verses we see David’s depth of sorrow. We see his grief over the loss of the one who hunted him, the king, as well as the one who loved him, his friend Jonathan. Can I just say in pausing for a moment that grief has a place in life. You know, often in our schedules in and our culture, it’s hard to stop and take time, isn’t it? And sometimes we even grieve on the run, like drive-through funerals. It’s hard to make people take time to reflect and remember people that were important, that were instrumental in their life. Do you know what David did here? David not only paused himself but he brought the nations, I should say the tribes in the nation, to a standstill to remember one that technically David probably had in some ways a human right to say, “I don’t want to remember Saul. I want to be done with his memory.” But his character and God brought him to the place where he knew that the validity and the value of pausing for grief. That’s not the point of this message, I just want to just give you that little freebie there. Don’t ever be in such a hurry that you can’t pause for the place in life that grief needs to have, all right?
But I think this lamentation is far more than a consolation. Does it work that way for the children of Israel, to hear the phrase “how the mighty have fallen,” do they remember Saul and they read the book of Jashar, are they brought to historical memories about how good this king was at times and yet how difficult it was? Sure they are but does it console them. I’m sure it does but something deeper is at play here and I think it’s found in this simple refrain, “how the mighty have fallen.”
Can I break it apart for you? When you take the words “how the mighty have fallen” in the original language, you find the following. First of all, let’s take the primary subject, “mighty.” It speaks of a valiant warrior. It’s not just a mighty warrior as in a foot soldier, it speaks of someone of nobility. We would save the general or you could use this vernacular, the top of the line, the top dog. In other words, the one that should never have fallen, the one that should seem almost unapproachable, unfallable, if that’s a word. In other words, who has fallen? The mighty. The noble. The valiant. The warrior. The king. The general. This is a word used to really describe someone of position, of power. This is an enthronement kind of word. So when the Hebrews would read this and say it, they weren’t just thinking about, you know, maybe the troop, the foot soldiers, they were thinking, “Wow, our general, our king, the main one, the guy at the top of the pyramid.”
When you see the word “fallen,” it means “to be deserted; to have reached a lowest point.” It doesn’t mean to trip or to stumble, it means to have had a catastrophic ending. Which is why the word “how” is more than just like, it’s not an actual question like, “Hey, how did the mighty fall? How did this happen?” It’s actually an exclamation. You could even insert the word “alas.” That’s kind of an old English word but, “Alas, how has the one on the very top come to the place of the very bottom!” Does that make sense, guys? Are you tracking the emotion of this thrice repeated refrain? What it is, is a poetic way to describe the sadness and surprise of the reversal of situations. The mightiest shouldn’t be the fallen. How does this happen? What a surprise. What a sadness that the mightiest is now at the bottom. What’s going on?
So this forms really the constant chorus in David’s sorrow which is why I say to you this is more than consolation, this is a warning. And what’s the warning, Todd? Here’s the warning: that pride plays no favorites. The mighty shouldn’t be at the bottom, right? That’s a reversal that’s surprising and sad. The guy at the top shouldn’t end up as the guy at the bottom. How does this happen? What’s going on? And behind the consolation is this warning to Judah throughout history: pride plays no favorites. It cripples and it ripples without regard to position, power or past.
You see, pride crippled Saul: his insecurity, his jealousy, his rage, his anger, his inability to deal with other successes. All of that combined to make Saul extremely insecure, disobedient, manipulative. It crippled his kingship ultimately causing him to fall. But watch this: it also rippled to his sons. All of Saul’s sons on the battlefield that day that were with him, were killed. So Saul’s pride cost him and it cost his family which is why we say pride cripples and it ripples. And it doesn’t matter your position, Saul was king; it doesn’t matter how much power you have, you can make laws, rescind laws, Saul could do both of those; it doesn’t matter your past, where Saul came from. Pride plays no favorites. This is what I think is behind even the consolation is this warning taken from Saul’s life that pride plays no favorites.
As I was thinking about this, then it hit me, if the king of Israel can fall, then a member at First Family Church can fall. A citizen of Ankeny. If pride can ruin the top man in a nation, it can ruin someone in Des Moines, Altoona, Huxley, Polk City, West Des Moines. You see, geography is not an issue for pride, position is not an issue for pride. It plays no favorites. It can take out a pastor. It can take out a pastor’s wife. It can take out an elder or deacon, a deacon’s son, an elder’s daughter. It can take out an usher, a greeter, a Lighthouse leader, a charter member, a new guest, a children’s worker, a youth leader, a technician or a musician. Pride plays no favorites. It can destroy someone saved three decades or three hours; somebody with degrees and a high school dropout; a businessman or a woman, the unemployed; the married, those who are single; the rich and the poor. Pride plays no favorites and if it ruined the king of Israel, it can ruin you.
So do you see in this lamentation far more than a consolation? Do you see a sobering warning that if pride takes root, it leads in one direction, downward until the ultimate end that they fall to destruction. This should not surprise us. God told us this several times in his word in addition to the narrative of Saul in 1 Samuel. Are you with me? Here are four of those verses in which this narrative is spelled out in principle form.
Here it is in Proverbs 16:18. You probably would know this verse. Read it with me, would you? “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” The verse does not say pride goes before success. It doesn’t say a haughty spirit is the last step before you finally make it. It says pride and a haughty spirit are the last steps before destruction. That’s a warning to us.
Proverbs 29:23, read this verse with me. “One’s pride will bring him low but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” The word “pride” here does not bring you to the top, pride brings you where? To the place of lowness. How the mighty have fallen. So Solomon, David’s son, is repeating what he watched and knew about and heard about in previous regimes to his father’s.
Here’s how the New Testament would describe these very same principles and this narrative. 1 Corinthians 10:12, read with me, would you? “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The minute you think, “Man, I’ve got this,” you kind of do the old chest puffed out, “I’m ready to go,” is actually the last thing you think before you step off the edge of the cliff. This verse in 1 Corinthians 10 comes on the heels of four illustrations from Israel’s past in which they knew what God said and rebelled against it and were proud in their own minds and sinned four times and God judged them. Israel who should have known better, thought they were standing, yet they fell. That’s why he says to us, “If you think you’re standing, take heed. You can fall too.” Pride plays no favorites.
Then lastly, James 4:6, read this with me, would you, church? “But he gives more grace,” therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And we’re going to say more about these verses a little later as we wrap things up. But I hope you’ve seen something, that in this opening narrative, in this transition from 1 Samuel to 2 Samuel, in the transition from Saul to David, yes, it is an issue of mourning and lamentation, David is grieving, appropriately bringing the nation to grief, but underneath all of it is this recognition that we are grieving because a man refused to deal with his pride. How the mighty have fallen. But it’s not just Saul, anyone who refuses to deal with their pride will find the same refrain about their life as well.
You say, “Todd, how do we watch out for pride? This is a sobering story. Those are sobering principles. How do we watch out for pride, the pride that plays no favorites, the pride that ripples and cripples?” Well, I thought about that question as well. How can we make sure that we’re not following Saul’s trajectory downward, we are not in line with this digression, unwilling to admit and refusing to see our blind spots, and we are just really becoming rooted and grounded in pride until it destroys us in the very end? How can we make sure we are not the mighty who have fallen, so to speak? There are probably a lot of the answers to that question. Here’s what I’ve done today, I just went back through Saul’s life and I wanted to find out for myself what are some diagnostic questions to ask ourselves to see are we headed toward Saul’s end or are we really tapping into humility? Is pride more characteristic of our life or is humility really what we are known for?
So I went back through 1 Samuel in the past couple of weeks, especially key moments in Saul’s life, and just wrote down seven questions that I want to ask you. I’ll do these somewhat quickly. I would love to take seven weeks to talk about each question, that would be a lot of fun, or I should say seven weeks about seven questions, but that’s not the point of today. I just want to mention these briefly and I think you should write these down. You might want to take a picture of the screen. Some of these will be quite painful for us. Men and women here in this room, you’ll need to be honest. And if you’re thinking, “Well, Todd, I don’t need these questions. This is a waste of my time.” You’re probably the one who needs these questions, all right? If right now you’re thinking that this is a waste of my time, I don’t need to deal with this whole pride thing, that may be the very sign that you have a pride issue.
Now a word about these questions before I get into them. Each of them work on a spectrum. In fact, I took this test this week. There are a couple of them, I’m just being very transparent with you here, I’m a part of the body as well as its pastor, one of its pastors, but I took this test. These questions come right out of the Scriptures and the situations there, and there are a couple of them in which I know these are the avenues that I struggle in. A couple of them, I’ve got to really watch them because it’s on a spectrum. So do I have a ton of red in that area? Maybe not but I know that I have some red. So I’ve got to just really stay humble in that area under God’s grace, repenting, because that’s where the devil is going to work with me. So the questions, each have a spectrum so if you’re like, “That’s not me. That’s not me. That’s not me.” I think you’re lying because all of us at some point are going to say, “Yeah, I’ve got some issues with that.” It may not be a ton. Maybe it is a ton. I’ll leave that up to you and the Lord but just beware the questions work on a spectrum but together they work as a thermometer. Are you with me? So individually it’s a spectrum, together it’s a thermometer, and if you find that, you know, I’ve got yeses on multiple questions, like 3, 4, 5, and you find that the red line is climbing and the fever of pride in your life is really hot, listen, don’t walk out of here thinking, “It won’t affect me. I’m the exception.” Actually you’re not because pride plays no favorites. It actually got the king of Israel.
So can we just walk through these questions as a way to diagnose is pride in our life? By the way, the answer to that question is yes. The question is to what extent. Are you with me? To what extent is pride in my life? How hot am I with its fever? Am I willing to deal with it? Here they are, question 1. These are all from Saul’s life and so I’ve given you chapters to kind of reference the situation. Could we find more questions, could we find more material? Sure. These are seven, though, that I felt exemplifies Saul’s life. They are not my opinion. I don’t want to bring my opinion to the platform. These are just scriptural situations that kind of show us Saul’s digression and questions that come from it.
First of all: do I overemphasize the externals and am I consumed with the opinion of others? This is the one that I checked to some degree, yes, I have some red in this area. I’m not consumed with others’ opinions but I do struggle with that and I have to always watch that. I have to keep that at bay in my life. The issue of externals, I just have to wrestle with that every single day. This is where pride would make its entrance. How about you? This is really Saul’s beginning point, by the way. Remember, he was hiding in the baggage, afraid to be seen. He was head and shoulders above other people and they had to kind of drag him out. He went from this guy who seemed to have a sense of humility about him, it may have been actually insecurity, I don’t know, to where suddenly all Saul could think about was his own image and how he looked in front of people, to where when he actually was asked to repent by Samuel, he said in essence, “I’ll repent if you go back and tell the people that I have repented.” He really didn’t repent, he wanted to be seen as repenting. Saul was consistently and dreadfully always concerned with image and the opinion of others. That’s question 1.
Question 2: am I unwilling to admit I was wrong? In fact, could you say this word with me: wrong. Say that. That’s pretty good. Sometimes it doesn’t flow out very well, does it? If you find and this just may be some practical shoe leather way to test this, if you have not apologized in six months, it’s probably not because you didn’t need to, it’s probably because you simply don’t want to. I would say in six months you have probably got some area you could have said, “You know, I am sorry about that.” Maybe you could use a year. I don’t have a biblical verse for that time frame but I’m simply saying look at your life, ask yourself, “How long has it been since I honestly apologized for something?” And if you find, “Well, I don’t like to do that very much,” this is an area where probably pride has kind of set itself in and take root. How willing am I to admit I was wrong?
Question 3: am I unwilling to accept help and instead do I isolate myself in jealousy? You know, Saul was rarely willing to accept help or advice and I think because he didn’t want to accept help and advice, he kept kind of surrounding himself only with his opinion. He found himself very isolated so suddenly that made him very jealous of those on the outside of his own inferiority. You’ll find this happens progressively and destructively. We don’t want help, we say no to folks who have our best interest in mind, and then suddenly they go from being a friend that we just say no to, to we think that they are the enemy. And suddenly we reject them, we distance ourselves from them, we don’t want to talk to them, we make them the problem, we blame them, and suddenly it’s not just them, it’s everyone else and, “Why is everyone against me?” And we isolate ourselves and we are actually jealous of them, we never admit it, and so we just become fearful, insecure. Question 3: are you unwilling to accept help and do you find yourself isolated in jealousy?
Question 4: am I unwilling to share credit or give praise? And this is usually the result of question 3. We find this in Saul because he refused help, was unwilling to really acknowledge that he needed help, and those who wanted to give it, then he was very slow to ever say anyone was successful whether it was David or Jonathan. He was always trying to find a way to make sure his name was the first name. It’s insecurity. It’s pride. Do you find that in your life, you are unwilling to share credit or give praise? Is a compliment just as hard for you as an apology?
Question 5: do I make excuses for disobedience? And if right now you are making an excuse for this question, go figure, okay? Saul, this is probably the one that is most visible in Saul’s life. If you read these chapters here, you’ll find that no matter who it was offering to help or providing insight, maybe checking his blind spots, there was always a reason Saul wasn’t wrong. It was somebody else’s fault. The situation didn’t turn out right. It’s not me, I promise. And somebody is going to say, “Hey Saul, just own it, dude. Just own it.” It was always someone else. If you find that you are always making excuses for disobedience, yeah, there is a pride issue taking root in your life.
Question 6: am I unwilling to genuinely repent and say I’m sorry? Now, you may think this sounds similar to a previous question. Here’s the difference, however: there are those that I have counseled and they will acknowledge with a nod that things aren’t what they should be. They will be like this in my office, kind of… I’ll explain the situation as I know it, as I have heard it, and I’ll just kind of repeat it back to them and they’ll be like, “Yeah…” Then I’ll say, “So how do you respond to that?” They’re like, “Well, that’s tough.” Do you know what I can’t get out of them? These words: I’m sorry. I’ve sat with couples and I’ve watched the husband and the wife just share the pain from years of difficulties and all I’m after in that first meeting is just one of them to say, “I’m really sorry we are here. Like, this pain, I’m sorry.” And what I get is rehearsal of the story from both perspectives and never like, “I’m sorry.”
You see, I think those words are good for us to say. “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I repent.” And here’s why they are good for us, listen very carefully: when there is deep pain, when there is sin, when pride takes its toll in certain ways on us, you can’t undo what it has done. Would you admit that? Though we want to at times, right? I’ve said things to my wife, I’ve had moments with some of you that I wish I could undo. I can’t. You won’t forget them. I won’t forget them. She doesn’t forget them. She has said things to me. I’ve had times with my kids where I’m like, “Man, I wish I could just erase that.” But the truth is you can’t, correct? Can someone nod with me here? You can’t but here is what repentance and genuine sorrow does: it helps that person reconcile with the fact that I’ll never forget, I can’t undo it, but I know you are genuinely sorry and suddenly the grace overwhelms the sorrow of that moment and it just is kind of a way that healing takes place. And if you never say I’m sorry, if you never express the pain in your heart for what happened that can’t be undone, it lingers and it stays and it stays on the surface and it hurts and it’s always an open wound. I think the words “I’m sorry and I repent, I don’t ever want to do that again, forgive me,” they help the open wound turn into a scab and they help the scab turn to a scar. And yes, is the scar always seen? Yes, but scars always tell a story and sometimes the stories are what bring healing to other people. I don’t want to walk around with open wounds, do you? But I’m okay with some scars. Like, “Yeah, that was a bad moment. That was a terrible sin but God’s grace was sufficient, powerful.”
So I think the words “I’m sorry,” I think genuine repentance expressed is very helpful. Saul never once said in a genuine fashion, “I’m sorry.” Now you’ll find in the text of 1 Samuel several times he did say, “I’m sorry.” Did you know that? So maybe you’ll say, “Todd, how does that work?” Well, at times you find that he was either worried about his own image or he wanted to work a plan so that he could get his way. Like at the very end when he told David, “You know, David, you’re right. You cut off a piece of my robe. It shows you could have killed me. Why don’t you come back over here and let’s make this thing right?” He was trying to trick David into coming back to his side so he could kill him. So even in Saul’s apparent sorrowful statements, he’s actually trying to work an angle. There’s not a single time in Saul’s life you find him genuinely repentant, apologetic.
Question 7: do I manipulate circumstances and situations for my own benefit? This is what I would consider to be the most egregious display of pride in Saul’s life.
And allow me just a moment to expand on this. I think you find it initially in the situation with Goliath, you might could find it before that but I think for sure as he is struggling to deal with Goliath which, by the way, dealing with Goliath was Saul’s responsibility but he didn’t deal with it, neither did his armies and his men over 40 days, and this shepherd boy shows up that wasn’t even of military age and he offers to help and Saul says, “Yeah, I’ll let you do it.” He even offers his daughter to someone who could handle Goliath. Now, I admit to you in that culture the king would offer his daughter at times as a prize for someone who had helped the situation. I agree with that but if you read the context, Saul’s motive wasn’t really pure or nationalistic. In some ways, Saul is looking for a way to make sure that he is seen as the king who took care of things and in one sense when I read that text, I’m seeing Saul just like, “Man, I’ll even offer my daughter if someone would help me here.” It’s kind of a last ditch effort.
So he’s going to give up his daughters if someone could help save his neck. At the end, he’s making laws that the medium should not be consulted within Israel but what does he do next? He goes and actually breaks the very laws he set up. He’s thinking, “Well, it doesn’t matter what I said. If I can do it for my own benefit, I will actually adjust situations, I’ll manipulate people just to get my way,” because the most important thing in Saul’s life was to get my way. So suddenly Saul is now visibly displaying all of his pride. There is no more like subtle hiddenness. There is not a blind spot, it’s an open sore. And the next step after the witch at Endor is 1 Samuel 31 and the fallenness of the mighty.
So while we could develop more questions, we could read more books, we could hear other sermons on pride, I just wanted to bring to you seven diagnostic questions that I think would help us to determine how deeply is pride embedded in our life, to what degree is it getting a hold of my neck with this following question: am I willing to deal with it? Because I hope you’re wondering now, what is the remedy to pride? It’s the very thing Saul would never do. He would never humble himself.
Now, I need to talk to you about what that phrase means as we close. Listen very carefully: humility is the antidote to pride. I think all of you would agree with that. We know that from Scripture, James 4:6, 1 Corinthians 10:12, even many verses in Proverbs, humility is the antidote to pride but here’s what I think is so ironic about humility. Listen very carefully because you’ll misinterpret what I’m saying. It’s one of those traits, it’s one of those fruits and I can’t explain how this works theologically very well so I am going to take a stab at it though, that we actually do to ourselves. It doesn’t mean it is not empowered by God’s Spirit or that we manufacture it, but in Scripture you never, and I think I’m correct in this, feel free to double check me, you never find a command to be humble as if it’s something that is done to you by someone else. In fact, when you find the ideas of God humbling someone, it’s always in judgment. Prior to that and apart from that, God always says, “Humble yourself.” It’s this reflexive intensive kind of usage of the verb. Humble yourself. It’s like there is something we should do. We should take the knee, bow the head. Now, can God do that to us? Yes. James 4:6 says he opposes the proud. God puts a 24/7 full court press on pride but when he does that, it’s to bring you to your knees in judgment. He would rather you humble yourself. Are you with me?
And so while I think this is very intriguing in the Scriptures and I find it very attractive to study what it means, I can’t explain it thoroughly except to say this: it’s one of those traits and I think the only trait in which God says to us, “Do this to yourself.” Why does God say humble ourselves? Because grace flows after humility. Did you know that? Look at this verse. God opposes the proud but he does what? Say it with me, gives… So does God give grace before we are humble? In one sense based on this verse you could say no. There is a certain position that is required for God’s grace to flow. It’s the position of humility. If it’s not humility, then what flows? Judgment. Destruction. The fallenness of the mighty. But when we take a knee, when we bend, when we bow the head, then suddenly grace can flow. So I’m just here to exhort you this morning in light of this narrative and the principles around it and these questions from Saul’s life, please humble yourself so that grace can flow for the pathway forward because I have no doubt, if you address your pride issues to whatever degree they are in your life, to whatever extent they are there, if you address them, you’ve got some tough things ahead of you. You’ve got some repentance ahead of you, some apologies, some restitution, maybe some restoration. You’ve got some life adjustments. I agree with all that. I’ve got those too, right? To whatever degree we are involved in this thing called pride, we’ve got to make some adjustments. That’s tough. Swallowing that, saying that, admitting that and changing that, those are hard roads but did you know that God’s grace is enough for that road? But you’ll never know the grace for that road until you take a knee and bow the head and humble yourself. Grace flows to the humble.
That’s why this warning is so pertinent today, pride plays no favorites, so take the posture of humility and let the grace of God overwhelm you as you move forward in a meek and lowly lifestyle. That’s the call to us today, not to end like Saul but instead – watch this – to model Jesus who humbled himself. Did you see that? Very reflexive intensive. How did he humble himself? By being obedient to the cross. Prior to this moment, what did he say to the Father, “Is there any way this cup could pass from me?” He knew there wasn’t and so he humbled himself, he goes to the cross and now what flows from the cross to cover all of our sin? The grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. So if you want the grace of God, it starts by being humbled at the cross just like our Lord.