Scripture Reference: 1 Samuel 21, Psalms 34, Matthew 12
Conflict With DoubtDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | August 3, 1997
Selected highlights from this sermon
In a fit of despair, disappointment, and panic, David made a lot of bad decisions. He started with one lie that spun out of control. Yet after giving up his dignity by faking insanity, he finally prayed.
When we fail to trust God and fail to seek His counsel, sin tightens its grip on us. But we can be sure that if we repent and turn to God, His grace will be poured out on us and He will help us through our difficult times.
Conflict with doubt. Have you ever noticed how easy it is for us to slide into despair? And when we are in despair, it’s very easy for us to make a mistake, a wrong decision in a panic, and we end up doing all kinds of things that we never dreamed we would do. It happens all the time.
Here’s a man who is in debt, as many people are. You know what it’s like to get those notices from credit card companies. So what he does is begin to gamble, and he begins to gamble on small sports and small amounts, but that begins to increase, and the more he gambles, the more money he loses. And the more he loses, the greater he must gamble to try to make up what he loses. And of course, he makes a promise that all that he wants is his money back, and then he’ll quit. Tell me the old, old story. And pretty soon he’s in a web of deceit and all kinds, even of crimes. Yep. And when he’s arrested everybody is shocked and he is too. He can’t believe he’d have done such a thing, and it began with one of those small steps in a moment of despair when there was no faith, but manipulation to get himself out of the mess.
Or here’s a young woman who perhaps has decided that time seems to be passing her by. Opportunities for marriage seem to be limited, and she begins to date a man, which in her heart she knows she should not do. But after all, times are hard (there’s been a crop failure), what does she do? She goes against her better judgment, and pretty soon she’s involved in a relationship much more deeply than she ever dreamed, and all kinds of problem in her life begin to snowball. It’s an old story. But you know it happened to David too.
One of the things about the Bible is that it is very honest regarding its characters. In fact, sometimes when we preach on David, we like to sanitize him. We like to make sure that he comes out the way we would like to see him and not the way he was. But in the Old Testament, David is painted very realistically. We do not have a man that we can always look up to. In fact, there are lessons that we have to learn from his life because of his failures, and because of his backslidings. And that’s the kind of message I’m going to preach to you today in this fourth message in the series on the life of David.
So take your Bibles, if you would please, and turn to 1 Samuel, chapter 21. And I need to remind you that there is so much in his life that we are leaving out. It would be wonderful if we had time to look at his friendship with Jonathan, for example. And here was Jonathan who was a son of King Saul, theoretically next in line to be king, and yet being willing to give all that up for a friendship with David, and being willing to stand against his father in defense of David. It is truly one of the most beautiful examples of friendship in all the Bible.
Now, if you were here last time, you know that we emphasized the difference that there was between Saul and David regarding their understanding of the kingdom. David knew that the kingdom belonged to God, and that’s why he would not kill Saul, though he had two opportunities to do so. If the kingdom is God’s, He can give it to whomsoever He wishes. And what we need to do is to wait until God’s will becomes plain. Even though David was anointed, he did not usurp Saul’s authority.
Saul, meanwhile, thought that the kingdom was his. He hung onto that kingdom. And because he believed that the kingdom was his, he was willing to kill David to make sure that he would keep the kingdom, and even more than that, Saul tried to kill his own son, Jonathan, when he began to see that Jonathan became a friend of David’s.
You have to understand that the struggle was not just political. It as also a family struggle because David had married Michal, Saul’s daughter, and therefore, he was being hunted and hounded by his father-in-law, Saul, who six times tried to pin him against the wall and tried to kill him. And David discovers that it’s one thing to take care of Goliath. That’s very easy. All that he needed to do is to get that sling and put a stone in the sling and Goliath fell.
But God very wisely and interestingly substituted Saul for Goliath, and Saul would not go away. We’re talking about ten long years of being hunted like a partridge hunting a mouse in the desert. And that’s why David began to get weary of it. He was hungry. He looked at his environment and he began to see that there was no hope that he would ever be united with his family. It didn’t look like it.
And so in a panic, he began to do some desperate things. And today all that we’re going to do is to paint two pictures of David. Two pictures. One picture is David in panic, and as we shall see, another one is David in prayer. And then we shall give the lessons that are explosive and life-changing for us today.
First of all, David in panic. First Samuel, chapter 21! Your Bibles are open. He comes to Nob, which is north of Jerusalem, to Ahimelech the priest. And he comes trembling to meet David, and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” And the first thing that David does now, as he begins to slide into unbelief and spiritual darkness is: number one David tells a lie. He tells a lie.
David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter; and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’” All lies! He was not sent by the king. He did not have other men with him. He was not on special assignment. All of that was made up because of the pressure of the situation. And he said to the priest, “Would you give me some of the bread that has been consecrated?” It was bread that was replaced. It was the bread on the table of showbread within the sanctuary. It was like the bread that we have at communion, special bread, consecrated bread. And what happens is the priest gives him five loaves of bread, and David takes it, and at last he has something to eat.
Now let me ask you a question. Did David do what was right? In the twelfth chapter of Matthew, Jesus Christ’s disciples are going through the fields, you remember, and they are eating grains of corn, and the Pharisees say, “You’re not supposed to thrash on the Sabbath Day.” And Jesus said, “Wait a moment. Do you remember David when he was hungry? He went into the temple, and he went into the tabernacle area, and it is there that he took five loaves of bread from the table of showbread.” And Jesus was approvingly speaking of David’s actions. Of course, what Jesus was referring to is the fact that the bread itself, though it was sanctified, it was much more important to use that bread to save a life than it would be to keep it from David. And so He’s saying, “David did not sin by eating the bread.” But I don’t believe that Jesus Christ approved of the lie that David told within that context. Christ would not approve of that.
You see, it was not the bread that David ate that is the problem. That was okay. It was the lie that he told, and the way in which, in a panic, he did what was wrong. And as a result, it did not help him at all. As a matter of fact, this began to lead to other kinds of sins.
Now, if you have read the book, The Day America Told the Truth, you know that America seldom tells the truth. You know that lying is simply a part of the human race. Time Magazine had an article about speech and lying, and it pointed out that most people lie every day. I hope that’s not true of you and me but most people lie every day. People lie on applications because they need to get the job. People lie when they are discovered, when they steal something and they are being exposed; when they are involved in an immoral relationship. They lie, lie, lie, lie to cover their sins, and God hates lying. It says that the liars are outside of the kingdom, and the liars are outside of the city of Jerusalem.
David told a lie, but it doesn’t stop there. Secondly, he believes a lie. He believes it. Now, I might say that when all this was going on and the discussion was happening between David and the priest, that someone was listening other than God. It says in verse 7, “Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord; and his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds.” Some people think that he was really the head of Saul’s Secret Service. And in a few moments we’re going to discover that the fact that this man overheard the conversation had an incredible negative consequence when he told Saul about this. But just hang onto that for a moment.
David has told a lie. Now he begins to believe one. “He says to the priest (verse 8), ‘Now is there not a spear or a sword on hand? For I brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s matter was urgent.’ Then the priest said, ‘Well, the sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you would take it for yourself, take it. For there is no other except it here.’ And David said, ‘There is none like it; give it to me.’”
Now, you have to understand that after David killed the giant, they took the sword of the giant and they put it there in the temple area as a kind of a museum piece to remind people of the greatness of the victory that God had accomplished. And now David asks for Goliath’s sword. Maybe that wasn’t so wrong but a man who had lied is now going to depend upon a weapon to keep him from King Saul, and it seems to me that David is far away from 1 Samuel 17, where he said to Goliath, “I come to you in the name of the Lord God of hosts whose armies you have defied.”
Now David’s going to depend upon the sword. He depended upon a lie and now he depends upon a sword.
Now notice what happens next is quite terrifying to us who have such an image of David as being above reproach except, of course, for the incident with Bathsheba. Normally people know only that about David’s failures. But notice it says in verse 10, “Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath.” He told a lie, he believed a lie. Now he’s going to live a lie.
David, what in the world are you doing in Philistine territory? What are you doing at the headquarters of where Goliath used to hang out? He goes to Achish king of Gath, and the servants of Achish. They recognize him as David and they say, “Isn’t this the one about whom people danced saying, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands?’ And David took these words to heart and greatly feared Achish king of Gath. So he disguised his sanity before them, and acted insanely in their presence, in their hands, and scribbled on the door (or the gate rather), and let his saliva run down into his beard. Then Achish said to his servants, ‘Behold, you see the man behaving like a madman. Why do you bring him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this one to act this way in my presence? Shall this one come to my house?’”
You see, you have to understand is David was playing on the fact that the ancients sometimes did not deal with madmen in honor of the gods. They believed that such a person was perhaps under the control of some deranged god, and they didn’t want to have anything to do with him, so Achish said, “Don’t bring him to me. Just let him scrawl on the gate, and let him spit on his beard.”
But you and I look at this and we say, “David, how could this be? Anointed of the Lord, king in waiting, the one who gave us so many of the Psalms! David, what are you doing with that wild look in your face, with that disheveled appearance, and with the spit running onto your beard? David, why are you scrawling on those walls? Surely a man of God should not be doing this.”
Listen to me carefully. David lost his integrity. And when he lost his integrity, he lost his dignity. He lost his dignity.
Wasn’t it Sir Walter Scott who said, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive?”
Well, after this David goes into the cave of Adullam, and many people have somewhat facetiously suggested that the cave of Adullam reminds them of some independent churches. (chuckles) You’ll notice it says in verse 2, “And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.”
Thankfully, by the way, this is not true of The Moody Church and most churches. It’s just that there are some times when there are those who are discontented who gather elsewhere. And David then stayed there in the stronghold (of Engedi) in the cave of Adullam. And there he was.
I want you to know that when he was acting out, and when he was having this experience, David wrote three psalms. He wrote three psalms—Psalm 34, which we shall look at in a moment, Psalm 52, when he received the terrible news that Ahimelech, who had helped him, and 85, a total of priests, were wiped out by Saul. Do you remember I told you Doeg was there waiting in the wings, and he overheard this conversation between David and the priest? And later on Saul becomes angry, and he says, “Nobody’s on my side. Where is everybody when I need them? Why don’t people cooperate with me in my attempt to destroy David?” and he went on and on. And Doeg, who was a politician who cared not for truth or integrity, told Saul what he overheard, and Saul becomes angry. This is chapter 22, verse 17, “And the king said to the guards who were attending him, ‘Turn around and put the priests of the Lord to death, because their hand also is with David and because they knew that he was fleeing and they did not reveal it to me.” But the servants of the king were not willing to put forth their hands to attack the priests of the Lord. And the king said to Doeg (the one who had squealed on David), “Turn around and attack the priests.” And that day he killed 85 men.
And now notice David’s grief. Abiathar is the only one who escapes and comes and tells David while David is in the cave. Verse 21: “Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. Then David said to Abiathar, ‘I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father’s household.’” David, of course, did not do the killing, but he felt a sense of responsibility because of what had happened.
David, in panic. We painted the picture for you. Doing all the wrong things, turning in all the wrong directions. But now let us look very briefly at David in prayer. Turn to Psalm 34. It’s very important for you to keep tab of the psalms that were written in context. I mentioned Psalm 52, Psalm 142, which was written when David was in the cave. And you’ll notice in Psalm 34, it says in the superscription of the psalm, “A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed.”
I want you to notice that a person who loves God is crying to God even when he is going through times of distress. Even when he’s doing some things wrong, he still desires the approval of God. He’s still crying up to God, and I believe that this is the prayer that David prayed after he left and he went to the cave of Adullam.
Once he was there in the cave and he began to reflect upon what he had done, and he knew he had done wrong, notice David begins by saying,
“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together."
We’ve used this psalm often in worship and probably have forgotten its context.
"O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him, there is no want.
The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing."
Let’s skip to verse 19.
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous;
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all of his bones;
Not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked;
And those who hate the righteous wall be condemned.
The Lord redeems the soul of His servants;
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned."
Praise God! David’s back where he belongs. He’s back in fellowship with God.
I want you to know today that the human heart has only so much capacity. It can be filled with ten percent fear and ninety percent faith. It can be filled with ninety percent faith and ten percent fear, but it has only one hundred percent. It cannot be filled one hundred percent with fear and one hundred percent with faith. And the more faith, the more we look to God, the more we call upon Him, the more we bless Him at all times and let His praise be in our mouth, the way in which we give Him thanks. There will be less fear and less fear as we begin to focus upon God. And David is saying, “Do not fear.” He says in verse 9, “Fear the Lord, you His saints, for to those who fear Him there is no want.”
I think that what David is trying to tell us is that “when I truly feared God, I did not have to fear, I did not have to tell lies, I did not have to depend upon the sword of Goliath, and I most assuredly did not have to feign madness.”
What I’d like to do now is to give you some lessons that we can learn from David’s experience, his experience of panic and his experience of prayer. Listen carefully now.
Number one: even anointed people can fail. Even anointed people can fail if they panic rather than pray. Jesus said, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” And He did imply, I think, that if we do not pray, we will faint. We will do wrong things. And even people who are anointed by God like David can, at a moment of weakness, turn away from the Lord and do very, very despicable kinds of things.
I want you to know today that there is no victory that you experienced last week, there is no victory that you experienced yesterday that will help you with today’s problems, and that will help you be successful and victorious today. Today you and I can fail miserably. It could be done. The history of the church is littered with people who failed, even when they were praying sometimes, because they were not praying sincerely.
About a week or two ago I heard of a young woman who visited her boyfriend in one of these co-ed dormitories that people live in nowadays at our universities. What a nation we have become. But she was a Christian lady and she was supposedly dating a Christian boy, and she thought that if she visited him there all would be well. And she knew that he was pressuring her sexually, but after all, what do you do? We are friends. This is an opportunity. And she went there and then she said these remarkable words. She said, “We prayed together and then we committed immorality together.” It’s possible. It’s possible. Why? When you are in Philistine territory, when you are there in Gad, when you are there in the place of temptation, when you subject yourself, sin always has movement to it.
David tells a lie, believes a lie, lives a lie, and you and I will do the same thing. No matter how small our sin begins, it always increases. It always snowballs. It always becomes sharper. It always becomes more intense and more tempting. Even anointed people can fail miserably if we panic rather than pray.
Secondly, sinning always increases a problem. It does not diminish it. Sin increases a problem. It does not diminish it. You say, “Well, what should David have done?” Now, I know I’m going to be very realistic and idealistic here, and some of you may disagree, but I think David should have walked in, told the priest, “I’m running from Saul. I’m alone. Will you just give me some bread?” Just tell the truth and let God take responsibility for all the pieces, all of the responsibilities that God had upon His shoulder taking care of David anyway. Just punt the ball to the Almighty. Just tell the truth.
You know, years ago I used to teach ethics and morality at Moody Bible Institute, and we used to talk about tight places, and the students used to always ask me this question. Let’s suppose that somebody holds a gun to you and you are holding Christians in your house, and you’re hiding them. And they want to kill those Christians, and now a gun is being held to your head. Would you tell the truth or would you lie? How do you like that for a tough situation?
And I used to always tell the students, “Well, number one, I’ve never had a gun pointed to my head, although having living in Chicago for as long as I have that actually should have happened last July statistically. But then secondly, I say this. There are other options. You could choose not to say anything. But let’s suppose that you actually did tell the truth? Let’s just suppose that you said, “Well, yeah, I am hiding some Christians here, and in order to save my life I want to tell you what you do. You go up the stairs, and then you go into the closet and the closet to your right has four people, but if you come out of the hallway and then go into the other room, the closet has another three. (chuckles)
Now, let me ask you this question. What would God in heaven be doing at that moment? Would he be saying, “Oh, I can’t believe it, I can’t believe this? I intended to have my servants live longer and now look at that, Lutzer went ahead and told the truth. Now what am I going to do?”
I want to be very clear about this. We never put God in a difficult situation when we tell the truth. Just tell the truth. And then you punt the ball to God and let Him take care of the consequences.
Some of you need to go to your employers tomorrow because you have been dishonest. You have been dishonest. Just tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may, and be right with God no matter what. God hates lying. He really does. And sin always increases a problem. It never diminishes it. You lie once. The worst possible thing that can ever happen to you is that you get by with it because then you lie again. You develop confidence in your ability to be deceitful.
Number one, even anointed people can panic. Excuse me. They can fail if they panic rather than pray.
Number two, sin always increases a problem. It never diminishes it.
And then, thirdly, where failure abounds, grace abounds much more. Where failure abounds grace abounds much more. There in the cave of Adullam, David cried to God. He was cleansed, and he was forgiven. And later on, as David was going along, he came out of the cave and he went to Engedi where there were all kinds of springs and where he was able to be refreshed, because God doesn’t always leave us in the cave. He may lead us there, but we are not left in the cave. But God will surprise us with some refreshment and some encouragement. And that happened to David too.
But I want you to know that because David sinned this once and went into the Philistine territory, this is not the last time that he did it. Later on, in a more shocking story, we’ll discover that David actually joined a Philistine army and fought against Israel. Why? Because, as I mentioned, when you begin to tolerate sin, sin will always take you further than you intended to go, keep you longer than you intended to stay, and make you pay more than you intended to pay. It’s always that way. And once you begin a series of backslidings, it is easy to backslide in the very area again where you backslid once. But I urge you today to come clean with God. Those of you who are in the fringes of the church, those of you who feel distant, those of you who once knew the warmth of the Father’s love, but all kinds of things accumulated and you have been in the city of Gath, you’ve been in Gath, come back home. Come back home. Come to God. He is willing to forgive us. He is willing to cleanse us.
The Apostle Paul says, “I have a conscience void of offense before men and before God,” and that should be our desire too. And then, when we are willing to come to Christ, He forgives us, and some of you need to do that as believers. You need to come home to the Father’s warmth and love. And then there are others of you who perhaps do not know the Father at all. You’ve never received Christ. An of course, David lived before Jesus Christ came, but even when David prayed, he was forgiven because Christ would come, because upon Christ was put our iniquities, and it is because He died for sinners that we can believe and we can trust and we can be saved. And you can be saved.
Remember Stuart Hamblen? Many of you are too young to remember who he was. He was a wire tapper I believe, or if not a wire tapper (I may have that wrong...I know that he was a singer who had a great deal of sin in his life and hardened. And he was converted in a Billy Graham Crusade way back in 1949 when Billy rose to fame in Los Angeles. But I’ll never forget years ago, and this was many years ago, hearing Stuart Hamblen sing:
It is no secret what God can do.
What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.
With arms wide open He will pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.
God restored David back to fellowship. He can restore you back to fellowship. Deal with whatever is on your conscience, the thing that keeps hindering you from full freedom and joy in Christ, and just take care of it and let God take care of the consequences.Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for Your Word, and we thank You for even the negative lessons of David, the things that he teaches us. We thank You that he was human, but we also thank You that where failure abounds, Your grace abounds. We thank You that he came back to the Lord and could write such a lovely psalm, such a lovely prayer.
Father, there are people today who could write some very beautiful music and some very beautiful poetry if only they’d come back to the Lord and to know once again Your warmth and Your joy in their hearts. Bring them to that, oh Father.
And for those of us who know You and love You, we pray that we might always walk in integrity. Help us not to lose our integrity nor our dignity. And we ask today that Your people shall be encouraged and lifted up because of Your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.