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First Reading = 2 Samuel 5:17-25
17When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up in search of David; but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. 18Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the valley of Rephaim. 19David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” The Lord said to David, “Go up; for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” 20So David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. He said, “The Lord has burst forth against my enemies before me, like a bursting flood.” Therefore that place is called Baal-perazim. 21The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them away. 22Once again the Philistines came up, and were spread out in the valley of Rephaim. 23When David inquired of the Lord, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come upon them opposite the balsam trees. 24When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then be on the alert; for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” 25David did just as the Lord had commanded him; and he struck down the Philistines from Geba all the way to Gezer.
We are continuing our series looking at the Gospel According to King David. In this series, we’re trying to see how the Old Testament King David demonstrates, receives, and desperately needs the grace of God – just like Jesus’ disciples. Last week we saw that David continually turned to God in prayer. He lived a life of prayer. We were encouraged to spend more time in conversation with Jesus this past week. Thank you to those who sent me your prayer triggers!
This week we are seeing how David prepared for his many battles. If you noticed, I’m bouncing around between 1 and 2 Samuel for our readings. David’s story can mostly be divided between 1 Samuel, where he is a boy and young adult while Saul is king, and then 2 Samuel is where David becomes king himself. Our first text was about a battle from his time as king, and our main text today is about a battle from his time as a young adult before he became king.
In fact, during this time, David was fleeing Saul, who was trying to kill him. David had a number of men who were loyal to him and followed him into his exile. And so we tune in to see how David behaves while he’s chased, harried, and threatened. That usually doesn’t bring out the best in people, but let’s see what David does.
Main Reading = 1 Samuel 23:1-14
23Now they told David, “The Philistines are fighting against Keilah, and are robbing the threshing floors.” 2David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” The Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” 3But David’s men said to him, “Look, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” 4Then David inquired of the Lord again. The Lord answered him, “Yes, go down to Keilah; for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” 5So David and his men went to Keilah, fought with the Philistines, brought away their livestock, and dealt them a heavy defeat. Thus David rescued the inhabitants of Keilah. 6When Abiathar son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, he came down with an ephod in his hand.
7Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand; for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” 8Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. 9When David learned that Saul was plotting evil against him, he said to the priest Abiathar, “Bring the ephod here.” 10David said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, your servant has heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. 11And now, will Saul come down as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, I beseech you, tell your servant.” The Lord said, “He will come down.” 12Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” The Lord said, “They will surrender you.” 13Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, set out and left Keilah; they wandered wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition.
14David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but the Lord did not give him into his hand.
Going in the Right Direction
Thomas Huxley was in Dublin, Ireland, and he was running late. He had to get across town quickly or he would miss his train. So he flagged down a taxi and hopped in. He shouted to the driver, “Hurry, I’m almost late! Drive fast!” The driver nodded, and the taxi shot out like a cannonball. Relieved, Huxley closed his eyes and actually nodded off to sleep. When he awoke, he realized they were headed in the wrong direction. He cried out to the driver, “Don’t you know where you’re going?!?” “No, sir. You never told me where to go. But I am driving very fast just like you said!”
How fast are you moving right now? Some people I know are having to move even faster than ever during this time. Some people I know are grudgingly moving very slowly, unable to do their normal routine during this time. Some people I know are relishing the doldrums of inactivity! How fast are you moving right now?
And whether you are watching the snails pass you by or you are moving but you are stuck in a low gear or you are blazing faster than any space-bound rocket, do you know where you’re going? If we are ever to take two steps forward, even if it means taking one step back, we must first know which way is forward and which way is back. Do you know where you’re going?
David has a fascinating understanding of where he’s going. In our text today, his ragtag “army” of 600 men had just narrowly escaped Saul’s much larger force. And they knew that Saul meant business, because when Saul heard that some priests had given David some food he killed them and their families. The priest in our text, Abiathar, was one of the few survivors of that massacre, and now he was on the run with David.
So, let’s try to imagine this. If you were on the run, if you were in hiding, if you were, to quote the musical Hamilton, “outgunned, out-manned, outnumbered, out-planned,” would you go pick a new fight with a new enemy? That is not a wise strategy! It seems like a dangerous distraction from their top objective: survive long enough to make David king over Israel.
But when David heard that that age-old enemy, the Philistines, were once again raiding a city of Israel, our text says, he “inquired of the Lord.” I don’t think that translation carries quite the right tone. It really implies he begged God for guidance. He didn’t ask politely for a few hot tips and maybe some stock picks, he begged God for guidance. And he did that, he begged God for guidance, because David knew where he was going. His destination wasn’t just the kingship of Israel. David’s true destination was wherever God was leading. David’s goal didn’t define his direction. God defined David’s direction.
And so he begged God for guidance. “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” Listen to the specificity of those words. “Shall I…?” Not, “Help me attack these Philistines.” “Shall I…?” Interesting and very specific choice of words.
Then he asks, “shall I go and attack…?” You see, Keilah was a walled city. He could have gone and defended. But instead he asked if he should go and attack. Interesting and very specific choice of words.
Then he asks, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” Not “all the Philistines.” Not “some Philistines.” “These Philistines.” Interesting and very specific choice of words.
And God responds to those interesting and very specific words with an affirmative reply. But David’s men don’t like it one bit. They are incredulous! “We are already afraid and on the run! Why should we take on the Philistines, too?!?” So David begs God for guidance again.
Getting It Wrong
Let’s stop there for a second. David is willing to listen to his men. David is willing to entertain the thought that he might have heard God incorrectly. He might have misinterpreted the signs. Have you ever done that? Have you ever gone in the wrong direction?
I heard an interview recently with Payal Kadakia, the co-founder of ClassPass which just reached a billion dollar valuation earlier this year. Basically they provide access to classes at boutique fitness studios around the country all in one place. And Payal told the early journey of what eventually became ClassPass. She told her boss that she was quitting to start this new company. And her boss loved the idea and gave her a $10,000 check to help her start it – while she was quitting his company! When she told her idea to her long-time friend, he asked if he could quit his job and help her launch it. They were connected with a tech startup incubator in New York City, and they emerged from that experience with a finished product and a half million dollars of funding. They were getting rave reviews from all over the tech world.
And then they finally launched the site! And as you might suspect from such a sure-fire, can’t-miss, well-funded startup…they had literally zero sales. They even tried giving fitness classes away, and no one took them up on the offer. They had clearly built a product that people in technology loved, but people who actually wanted to take fitness classes hated. They had totally missed their market despite all the good vibes! After six or seven total re-imaginings of their company, they finally found the right combo. But it took Payal admitting that several years’ worth of work and a half million dollars had been wasted heading in the wrong direction.
How do you know when you’re headed in the wrong direction? How do you know when you’ve sought God’s guidance, you thought you received that guidance, and yet you somehow heard incorrectly? David is aware that it’s possible that he got this one wrong. So he begs God for guidance again. And God confirms his earlier guidance.
This should be a great encouragement to all of us. God is generally fine if we ask him, “Are you sure, God?” I’ve taken it a step further a few times in my life. When I’m pretty sure I’m going where God is leading but it seems crazy, I actually pray, “God derail this if I’ve got it wrong!” And sometimes he has done exactly that. Other times I heard correctly even though it seemed crazy. If you’re in doubt, feel free to copy David and ask God, “Are you sure, God?”
David’s willingness to consider he was wrong actually saved his life here, too. Surely the residents of Keilah would appreciate being saved, right? Surely they would be loyal to David, their deliverer, right? Wrong! David thought to ask God if they would turn him over to Saul, and God warned him to leave. How do you check with God to see if you’ve gotten something wrong?
Getting Into Alignment
So to recap, David continually sought God’s guidance – in fact, he begged for God’s guidance. He lived a life of seeking God’s guidance. He didn’t assume he was on the right track. He checked in with God continually to see if he was on God’s right track. David was willing to double-check that he was right. David was willing to change course when God said he was wrong. David was willing to attack when God said attack, and run away when God said run away, and be sneaky when God said to be sneaky. David tried to stay in alignment with God. That didn’t keep him in alignment with God at all times. He messed up – big time. But even then he radically changed his direction when he was confronted with how out of alignment he was with God.
Being out of alignment with God is like the tires on your car being a little out of alignment. We have a Chevy Volt, and it is what I could call mostly electric. It has a gas motor as a supplement, but usually you drive it on battery power. And electric cars – even mostly electric cars – need much less mechanical maintenance. I can go a long time between visits to the mechanic for maintenance.
But that also means that my tires don’t get rotated like I do during an oil change. We have totally wrecked the tires on the Volt just by having them be slightly out of alignment and never rotating them. The car still goes where you want it to go. But it’s chewing the tires away.
When we’re out of alignment with God, we might still go where we want to go. But we’re chewing up our soul along the way. When we’re out of alignment with God, we’re burning the rubber of our souls.
So how do we get back into alignment? Well, how do you make sure a picture or mirror is hanging straight on your wall? You might eyeball it by stepping back a few steps to look. You might get a level to check it more precisely. And if it’s off, what do you do? You adjust it!
Aligning our souls with God is a process of checking and adjustment. Am I thinking more or less like Jesus over the last week? Am I feeling Godly emotions or human emotions over the last week? Is my internal monologue more or less like Jesus over the last week? Are my spoken words more or less like Jesus over the last week? Are my temptations subsiding or growing over the last week? Are my actions more or less like Jesus over the last week? Those are the check-ins. Questions like those are how you level your soul.
And then the scary questions: God, what do you want me to do about it? God, how do you need to adjust my thoughts, my emotions, my words, my temptations, my actions?
I encourage you to try to adjust your Godly alignment this week. Check in with God to see if you are trending more or less like Jesus on the inside and outside. And ask God to help you make the adjustments you need to get back into closer alignment.
Sisters and brothers, David continually checked his soul’s alignment with God. He double-checked to ensure he had heard God correctly. He double-checked to ask God where he was going in the wrong direction. He shifted his behavior when he needed an adjustment. Will you do the hard work of checking and adjusting your Godly alignment? Or are you content to just let your picture be crooked in God’s house? Amen.