“In the Midst of Your Enemies”

A commentary on I Samuel, by Joel McDurmon, 2013. Reviewed (Part 8) by Andrew McColl, 23/9/2014.

  1. Verses 1–40 of [I Samuel] chapter 20 detail a plan made by David and Jonathan to discern whether or not it would ever again be feasible for David to return to court. David assumed it would not be; Jonathan thought a little better of his father, but agreed with David to make a plan. Remembering (and honouring) his covenant with David more than his father, Jonathan promised, “What­ever you say, I will do for you” (20:4). Jonathan was in for the proverbial rude awakening.

I am not sure why this plan and its execution are drawn out over so many verses. There may be something I am missing, but for now I will simply ab­breviate the story. David planned to be conspicuously absent from a Sabbath dinner with Saul’s elite. Jonathan would provide a plausible alibi, although it was untrue (another example of covenant deceit). David’s absence would provide reason for him to be the subject of discussion, and Jonathan would learn the king’s disposition toward David because of this. Jonathan and David agreed upon a clever way of communicating the results via arrow shots (p.284).

The actions of Jonathan in relation to David do show us what sometimes must be done when authority is being misused. Jonathan in his love for David, has been compelled by Saul’s murderous intent to set aside the normal attitudes of respect, deference and obedience towards his father the king. It simply isn’t practical any more, with Saul behaving the way he is. Furthermore, Jonathan knows he’ll have to come up with imaginative means of deceiving his father, if he is going to be successful in protecting David, the innocent target of Saul’s abuse.

There are of course, many scriptural precedents for what McDurmon classifies as “covenant deceit,” going back to Abraham when he entered Egypt (Gen.12:10-20). Not long before Jonathan is compelled to use deception towards his father, the Lord showed Samuel how to partially deceive Saul, when the Lord had sent Samuel to anoint David (I Sam.16:1-3).

Scriptural precedents notwithstanding, none of this is joyful. None of this is fun. But it all becomes a grim necessity for Jonathan, who doesn’t flee from the dual responsibility of both saving David from being murdered, and his father from bloodguiltiness. Jonathan, out of the fear of the Lord, his love and respect for David, and willingness to forego his own kingly ambitions, accepts this challenge.

This is why truly Christian attitudes must always come before even legitimate ambitions. God’s way for us is not always easy, or simple. He commands us to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of heart regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil.2:3). Jonathan’s willingness to forego his own opportunity, in deference to the one he knew had been anointed by the prophet to be king, and to lovingly protect David from his father, is a shining example to us of just how we should behave, too.

The scripture reminds us to “Let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb.13:13, 14). The way of convenience and comfort, appealing as it may be, isn’t always God’s plan.

  1. Let us recall today what Christ has done for us. As we learn so much about Christian life and society from the great acts of the faithful and wicked alike, let us also remember the foundations of such a faithful family, church, and state. Christ suffered and died in such humiliation that no mere Saul could ever inflict. It was demonic. And yet, Christ emerged from behind that stone having defeated every demon and death itself. And He confirms His covenant with us every time we receive His Word preached and espe­cially when we receive His supper with Him. He forgives us our impossible offenses, and teaches us to forgive others likewise. It is only through Him and His means of grace that we can conform to His Law, and see the many grievances and offenses among us healed, our social relationships repaired, and the wicked and implacable among us destroyed and removed for the so­ciety. Let us embrace His good news of the Kingdom of God, and pray that He advances these promises further today (p.292).

God has seen to it that the scripture has recorded not only Jonathan’s love for David, but how far he would go to protect David from murder. He gave up his ambitions and risked his own life in order to secure David’s future, which is all reminiscent of what Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn.15:13).

Jonathan found the grace to face this crisis. He who had fought the Philistines and won, had now won in his heart the awful dilemma of siding with his father, or David. He chose David. A thousand years before Jesus Christ, Jonathan served Jesus’ ancestor David. He seems to have understood what Jesus later said:

If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26).

  1. …those who quit fighting the Lord’s battles end up fighting against His people. Here we not only have a clear and extreme example of that, but we see an interesting contrast to Saul’s earlier failures. Recall that his crowning failure was with the Amalekites. He refused to obey God by thoroughly eliminating their civilization, including the cattle. Saul saved the cattle, allegedly for sacrifices to God. Here we see him doing just the op­posite. In a murderous bout of self-gratification and autonomous fiat-law, Saul wipes out the entire city of God’s priests, including their families and cattle. He who could not obey God’s Word, asserted his own, and ended up treating God’s people as if they were the worst of God’s enemies, deserving the most extreme of His wrath. Further, Saul, who could not bring himself to destroy the real enemies, had no problem at all destroying every last ves­tige of the priesthood. He could not execute Agag, but Ahimelech was no problem. Thus we see how backwards, and how extremely backwards, sin drives men to act (p.301).

Saul almost from the day he was crowned, had never had much time for God. Fallen men do fallen things. Saul had been anointed by the prophet of Israel, but Israel’s first king has now murdered Israel’s priests, along with women, children and infants (I Sam.22:18-19). This ought to show us how abuses of authority will always take place when men in authority refuse to submit themselves to God’s Word.

The scripture had required every king of Israel to “write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up…” (Deut.17:18-20). Now, Israel’s stubbornness in wanting this king (despite the warnings of her prophet Samuel), was coming back to bite her.

  1. The work of dominion and Christian re­construction of society will inevitably proceed, even when we cannot see it, often where we cannot see it, and usually by people in whom we refuse to see it. Therefore, we should not despair nor compromise, but remain faithful de­spite what we see. God is always busy preserving His kingdom, and preparing the next phase of it. That phase may be dramatic growth, or shelter from dra­matic judgment. That is not our choice. It is our job to be faithful with what He puts in front of us, and to wait upon His lead in faith that He will do what He has said. And we are not to impede or ignore what He is really doing by imposing prejudices regarding whom He chooses to include (p.305).

We do not live in a glorious time for the church, just as Saul’s era in Israel wasn’t a glorious period for Israel. It wasn’t glorious then, and it isn’t glorious now, because the people of God were then as now, generally disobedient to God.

This is awful, hurtful and ought to cause us grief. But there is hope, just as there was hope for Israel then. The people of God must return to the Lord in repentance and faith, putting aside the various idolatries we’ve been clinging to; and God knows, there have been lots of them.

Wholesale change is necessary amongst God’s people, if we are to regain our place of authority in the community and subsequently, the nations of the world.

This cannot be overnight, for the changes have to be deep, real and long-lasting. Lip-stick on a pig still leaves us with that same pig. The scripture tells us that the purpose of God in redeeming and cleansing His church, is that “He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph.5:27).

We have to begin with obedience and faithfulness to God. And it is in this context that the promises of God come into play:

Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you (Joel 2:25, 26).