Kings In ConflictErwin W. Lutzer | July 20, 1997
Selected highlights from this sermon
Are you more like David or Saul? If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us are like Saul. We cling to our lives and our possessions believing that they’re ours instead of realizing that everything is God’s.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us that while Saul used his jealousy, rage, and manipulation to try and hold on to his kingdom, David humbly waited and trusted that God’s promises would come to pass.
All of us, I am sure, are involved on one level or another, in human conflict. Maybe there are some people in your life who would like to see you dead, and if not dead, at least crippled, doing all that they possibly can to undermine you, make life difficult, to get you out of the way. That can happen in families. That can happen in your business where there is always conflict. There’s always some kind of conflict among all of the co-workers. It’s possible in neighborhoods. It’s even possible in churches. And you and I possibly know of instances in which it has been true in churches in a very, very nasty way. A very nasty way.
Today we’re going to talk about conflict, actually conflict among kings, and we’re going to see how David and Saul were in conflict, and what God was doing in David’s life, and what God was trying to do in Saul’s life in the midst of the conflict.
Gene Edwards, in his very interesting little book entitled, “The Tale of Three Kings,” points out that the major difference between David and Saul is that David knew that it was God who owned the kingdom, and Saul believed the kingdom was his. And what a difference that’s going to make. And if you are here today and you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to 1 Samuel (the book of 1 Samuel), chapter 18, though we will be covering some other passages as well, but I want you to listen very carefully, particularly because of the lessons that God wants to teach us about conflict.
I’d like to make three contrasts between Saul and David in 1 Samuel, chapter 18, and in the surrounding passages and incidents that are recorded in this text. First of all, I want you to notice that the difference is between jealousy and humility. Notice what you find in chapter 18. Jonathan, by the way, who was the son of Saul (verse 3), makes a covenant with David because he loved him as himself, and stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David.
This is a parenthesis, but I want you to know today that if you have a terrible father, it does not mean that you have to end up like your dad. Isn’t that good news? Jonathan is as different from his dad as light is from darkness. Here’s a man who is willing to give up his succession to the throne to his friend, David, strips himself of his robe, gives it to David, and says, “Let’s be friends, and I’m not interested in the kingship.”
Verse 6: “And it happened as they were coming when David returned from killing the Philistine, that the women came out of the cities of Israel, singing and dancing to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments. And as the women sang as they played, they said, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” And Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him. And he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have except the kingdom, and Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on. And it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house while David was playing the harp. And as usual, a spear was in Saul’s hand, and Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall.’ But David escaped from his presence twice, and Saul was afraid of David.” Jealousy versus humility.
Now, maybe it was unwise for the women to sing their song. “David has slain his tens of thousands, and Saul only his thousands,” but the fact is that Saul had been already disqualified by God. If you notice in chapter 15, verse 26, the text tells us that because of disobedience, Samuel, the prophet, says to Saul (this is chapter 15, verse 26), “I will not return with you for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe and it tore. And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel away from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you.”
God says, “Saul, I’m done with you,” but Saul would not quit. He was fired but he wouldn’t turn in his keys, and he wouldn’t clean out his desk. What he said is, “Fired or not, I’m going to hang on to the kingdom.” And as a result of that, he could not rejoice over David’s success. He didn’t say, “Isn’t it wonderful that this young man was able to slay the giant, and has such military might and power.” All that he longed for is David’s demise. He feared David. He felt like anyone who has some underling under him in business, and you know what this is about, and that young man does so well that he makes the leader, the man who is in charge, look bad. And all that that man who is at the top of the pile can think of is to say, “How can I get rid of him?” Jealousy versus humility. And I want you to know today that jealousy has ruined marriages. It disrupts jobs. It creates problems in churches, and David was willing to submit to God in humility. He was willing to say, “God, the kingdom is yours. Give it to me whenever it seems good to You.”
Now, we need to keep in mind the sequence. This is a series of messages, and if you missed the first two, you know that David was already now anointed by God. He knew that he was the next king, but he goes back and he herds the sheep, and he goes in and out of Saul’s palace because Saul enjoyed the fact that David was able to play the harp. And they got along well at the beginning. And as a result of that what David is saying is, “God, I can wait until You give me the kingdom.”
Listen to this very carefully. The best leaders God has are not those who qualify for the position and who want to lead. Most of the time, the best leaders are those who are conscripted by God. He chooses them and He leads them, and they don’t desire it, but God squeezes them into a position of leadership, and they know that they are there as a result of God’s grace, not because of any right that is in their mind and heart. Well, you see the contrast, don’t you? Humility versus jealousy.
Let’s go on to a second contrast, and that is manipulation versus trust. Now, I pick up the text in verse 11: “And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, ‘I will pin David to the wall,’ but David escaped from his presence twice.” Saul, by the way is very interesting. If you ever want to do a doctrinal dissertation on human nature, Saul would be a wonderful one to choose, a wonderful one, because you see, when a man believes that the kingdom is his and he begins to see it threatened, one of the first things he does is he throws spears. He’s a spear thrower. In fact, Saul was a mad spear thrower, and what he does is he is willing to do anything, including murder, to retain the kingdom. God says, “Saul, I’m finished with you,” but Saul will have none of it. He hangs on until later on he dies and commits suicide, and an Amalekite finishes him off. So the first thing he does is he throws spears.
And then what he does is he tries to set traps for David. Now, we don’t have time to read the entire text, but if you notice in verse 17, Saul said, “I have a daughter named Merab. Why don’t you have her? But I want you to fight against the Philistines first.” So Saul said, “What I couldn’t do with my spear I want the Philistines to be able to do.” And then when that didn’t work he said, “Michal is another daughter of mine who loves you, and you can have her if you are willing to kill 200 Philistines.” So David goes and kills the Philistines, and Saul is absolutely shocked because he believes surely that in the process of doing that he would be brought to death. But David is triumphant. What a story. What a story.
Try as he will, Saul can’t get rid of David. And what he does is he tries to control all the events. He tries to manipulate. He tries to make sure that a situation will come out according to his liking. You’ve met people like that. Some of you live with somebody like that, somebody who intimidates, manipulates, cajoles, uses emotions to control.
You know, the Bible says that Saul repented five times. We don’t have time to go through those episodes of repentance, but it is interesting. One time Saul says, “I have played the fool. I have erred exceedingly.” That sounds good. But it’s like an alcoholic who says, “Really, this is terrible. I’m finished. Give me another chance and I’ll be different.” Or it’s like the sex addict who says the very same thing, and in the process of saying that, though they aren’t willing to admit it, if you dig beneath the surface, what you discover is that even their repentance is another form of manipulation.
You know what Saul wasn’t willing to do? He wasn’t willing to fall helplessly in the presence of God and say, “Oh God, extinguish this flame of anger and resentment and jealousy, and do so through Your Word and through prayer, and let me not go till my heart is pure.” He wasn’t willing to do that. So you’ll notice that the difference is David had trust.
Now I want you to listen carefully. You have been up till now, but doubly now. Friends, Romans, countrymen, please lend me your ears. Notice this, that when David fled...and that’s a good thing to do when somebody is throwing a spear at you. It’s okay to leave, to dodge so that the spear hits the wall. But David fled, he did not take other people with him. Now, later on, some people joined him in the cave of Adullam, but he didn’t begin a campaign. He didn’t say to himself, “You throw another spear at me and I’m going to throw two at you.” What he did is he fled, and he fled alone.
Why did David flee alone? Why didn’t he get a group of people on his side? Why didn’t he do as what happens in most church splits where somebody says, “I can’t trust the leadership so what I’m going to do is I’m going to begin my own, and I’m going to go recruiting, and I’m going to use the telephone, and I’m going to get some letters together, and we’re going to pull out and start our own church?” Why didn’t David do that?
Hear me carefully when I say it’s because he understood something that is forgotten in today’s world. The kingdom is God’s kingdom, and God can give it to whomsoever He wills, and He can raise up leadership, and He can bring leadership down, and you had better watch when you begin to take the kingdom under your own shirt and say, “It’s mine.” Take care. Take care.
Twelve long years David was hunted in the caves of Judea, running away from Saul. And David was willing to do that even though he backslid, as we’ll notice. David had many faults. David grew discouraged, eventually even joining, if you can believe this, the army of the Philistines. But at this moment David was at his best, really.And did you notice how God took care of Goliath? Boom! One shot with his sling, and Goliath is gone. But Saul. God is not going to take care of Saul. God is going to let David live with Saul, even though Saul is a mad king. David is going to live with it for twelve long years, and in a moment we’re going to tell you why David had to live with it twelve long years.
Are you with me? Jealousy versus humility. Manipulation versus trust. And thirdly an evil spirit. An evil spirit versus the Holy Spirit.
Are you troubled by verse 10? “Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hands, as usual (that is, David was playing, I guess as usual); and a spear was in Saul’s hand.” That probably also was usual. But are you troubled by this text? Does it bother you that an evil spirit from God would do this? If you’ve got good theology it should not only trouble you, but it should be the very thing that you could believe. May I ask humbly how it could be otherwise? How could it be otherwise? Obviously, all demons have the limitations of creaturehood. They are created. They cannot act independently. They wreak havoc upon the earth, but only as God allows that havoc to be wreaked upon the earth. God allows it, and if God does not allow it, why indeed it does not happen. When Satan comes to Job, and God and Satan have a discussion about him, God tells Satan exactly what he can do with Job and what he can’t do with Job. Why? Because the evil one, moment by moment, can only do what God allows. So I suspect, based on another passage of Scripture, that God had one of His angels perhaps, or He Himself said to a group of evil spirits, “Which one of you would like to harass King Saul?” And there were a lot of volunteers, and so a volunteer was chosen, and so it was an evil spirit from the Lord troubling him. Why?
Why this emotional harassment? Why the paranoia? Why the schizophrenia? It is because Saul was disobedient, and God was using the devil to discipline someone who was this disobedient. Now, not all schizophrenia is demonic, but I believe that much of it is. Not all of it. You see, what God was saying is, “Saul, you aren’t going to repent, are you? You’re not going to submit the kingdom to me. You think it’s yours. It’s mine, but you are unwilling to admit it, so you want to be jealous? (chuckles) Alright! You want to be jealous, I’ll make you insanely jealous.” And therefore the duplicity. You want to live in sin? Fine, I’ll let you live in sin. In fact, I’ll let you live in so much sin that...just like the children of Israel, that I told you about a couple of weeks ago, who wanted to eat manna and they got tired of it and they said, “We don’t like the manna,” and God says, “You want meat, don’t you?” and they said, “Do we ever want meat,” and God says, “I’ll give it to you until it comes out of your nostrils.”
Always remember this. The price of dabbling with sin is bondage to it. (chuckles) And God says, “Saul, there’s some work to do in your heart here, and I’m going to use an evil spirit to harass you.” What was God after? God was after Saul’s submission. God was after Saul saying, “Game up! You own the kingdom. Do as seems good in your sight. You have the right to take it from me, and you have the right to give it to David because it is yours.”
Did Saul say that? Not on your life. No. Don’t ever underestimate the suffering that people are willing to endure in order to keep their precious little kingdom that they will not give up to God no matter what.
Will we see Saul in heaven? Was he saved under the Old Testament sense of the word? Many people believe not. I think that he might be there because the Holy Spirit of God came upon him. The Spirit of God anointed him. You say, “Well, surely, Pastor Lutzer, this was Old Testament. God would never use the devil like this in the life of a Christian, would He?” Notice the way you ask the question. Would He? Please tell me that the answer is no! (chuckle) Well, the answer is yes. First Corinthians 5. Paul says, “You have somebody in your midst who is living in immorality. As a matter of fact, he’s actually in an incestuous relationship with his mother, and you aren’t dealing with it, and what I’ve decided to do is I’ve decided to deliver the one unto Satan that his spirit may be saved in the day of Jesus Christ, but meanwhile, I will allow him to be harassed by demons until he comes clean, and until you as a church deal with the issue that you’re avoiding.”
And so what does God do to Saul? He lets him stew in his own juice of his making. He allows him to go through this tremendous emotional and psychological distress until Saul becomes suicidal, and he’s trying to do all these things.
Now, where is David in all of this? David understands the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of God. Would you take your Bible for a moment and turn to Psalm 59? Do you know why I’m asking you to turn to Psalm 59? You’ve probably already guessed it. This is one of the psalms written when David was pursued by Saul, and we get a glimpse into David’s heart in Psalm 59. You’ll notice that in your Bible it says, “A Psalm of David when Saul sent men, and they watched the house in order to kill him.”
We read only the first few verses, and a few verses from the end of the chapter,
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
Set me securely on high away from those who rise up against me. Deliver me from those who do iniquity,
And save me from men of bloodshed.
For behold, they have set an ambush for my life;
Fierce men launch an attack against me,
Not for my transgression nor for my sin, O Lord,
For no guilt of mine, they run and set themselves against me.
Arouse Thyself to help me.
Notice how the psalm ends.
But as for me, I shall sing of Thy strength;
Yes, I shall shout joyfully of Thy lovingkindness in the morning
For Thou has been my stronghold,
(What a beautiful figure of speech. Imagine running into a stronghold with all these spears being thrown at you.)
And a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to Thee;
For God is my stronghold,
the God who shows me lovingkindness.
That was David.
Jealousy versus humility. Manipulation versus trust. The evil spirit versus the Holy Spirit.
Who was this man Saul? Who was he? This is a series of messages on the life of David, but we have to comment on Saul because he intersects with David at this point for a 12-year period. Who was this man, Saul? Well, we know that he had an excellent lineage. He had charisma. The Bible says that he was taller than all of the other ones who were there. He unified the nation. Saul was not that bad a king really. He got worse when the paranoia hit, but up until that time you know that he unified the nation. He fought some battles and he won. He was a prophet in the midst of all of this. Are you surprised that in chapter 19 (and your Bibles are open to chapter 18), so notice chapter 19, verse 23 it says, “Saul proceeded to Ramah, and the Spirit of God came upon him so that he went along prophesying continually until he came to Naioth in Ramah.” The Holy Spirit is upon him. A man of good lineage, a good leader, charismatic in personality, anointed by God, and a prophet.
Have you ever wondered why it is that God sometimes anoints unqualified people whose lives are so mixed in terms of their character? Why would God choose a Saul? Well, as Gene Edwards point outs in his lovely little book on this whole topic, he says, “The reason that God does it is that God is always exposing human nature, and therefore He will sometimes allow people in positions of responsibility.” And you know this at your workplace...you know that sometimes some of the least qualified people get the job. You also know that sometimes when people get the job, they change, and instead of being your friend, they now become your enemy because what they want to do is to advance their kingdom which they believe belongs to them, and no one can take it from them. Don’t you dare touch their kingdom. And sometimes even in Christian circles God exalts those who are really in character disqualified because God wants to reveal to everyone the deceitfulness and the depth of human depravity and human sin.
Let me help all of us put this in some kind of a perspective, and hopefully to change our lives forever because we’ve heard God’s Word. That is always the intention. Whenever a Sunday school teacher stands up to teach, or a preacher stands to preach, his intention should be through the Spirit of God and the Word of God, to change people’s lives forever. We can’t do it but God can.
What do we know about people who are spear throwers? And you’ve met them. What do we know about them? Number one, they always believe the kingdom is theirs. “The kingdom is mine,” and therefore they will manipulate, they will cajole, they will intimidate, they will hang on, they will undermine others. They will set traps for people. They will delight in other people’s weaknesses. They will exploit other people’s failures. They will magnify their own successes, however small they may be. They become very, very big. Why? Because in their hearts they say, “This kingdom is mine.”
There’s a second characteristic of people who are those who believe that the kingdom is theirs, and that is they will preach one thing and they will do another. As I say, Saul is a gold mine of psychological insight. But one of the things he does is he makes a law throughout the land, and it was a good law, that all the witches should be put out of the land. In fact, in Old Testament times, the witches are to be put to death, so what Saul said is, “I want to obey the Word of the Lord and I don’t want any of you ever going to a witch.” And lo and behold, when he’s really in trouble, and God isn’t answering him, because God knows that the guy is just playing games, what does he do? He ends up going to the witch of Endor.
It is the law of the grand exception. You don’t do it, but I’m the leader and I can. Those kinds of people believe, you see, that the kingdom is theirs. They are the spear throwers, however nice they might be on the outside.
Thirdly, that kind of a person would rather destroy the kingdom than give it up and leave it. You’ve seen this so often, haven’t you? “If I can’t have it my way, if things aren’t going to go the way in which I want them to go, I will hope and pray and plot that the whole thing will go up in smoke, and fail.”
My dear friend, I want to ask you something. I have to ask you this. Whose kingdom is it anyway? That’s the question. Why did God want David to endure the pain? And again I refer to Gene Edwards. Why did David endure twelve years of harassment from a spear thrower? I’ll tell you why. God wanted to take all of the Saul out of David’s heart, because, you see, if God just had exalted David and said, “David, you know you’ve won over Goliath, you’re anointed, you’re going to be king,” do you know what he would have been? He would have been King Saul number two. That’s what he would have been because Edwards is absolutely right when he says (and listen to this carefully), “Saul is in your bloodstream, and he is in my bloodstream. He is in the marrow of our bones. He is in our blood cells, yes, but he is in our sinews. He is in every fiber of our being. We are all born Saul’s, and we will hang onto the kingdom until God takes us through enough difficulty and enough hardship and enough failure until we’re willing to give it up finally and be rid of the whole thing, and say, “God, You have the right to give it to whomsoever You will, and I am Your servant.” We either do that or else we die a Saul: paranoid, angry, suspicious, fearful, bitter, and miserable. We do one of the two.
You know, one day people came to John the Baptist and they said, “You know, John, you are drawing crowds. You are popular. Everybody’s heard of John the Baptist. And now there’s somebody else out there whose name is Jesus, and you know, He’s baptizing and everybody’s going to Him.” And the disciples were concerned because they thought, “You know, it’s difficult to see someone and to see his popularity wane. And it’s hard after you’re used to crowds, to see them thin out and to go somewhere else.” And they came to John and they said, “You know, we’re a little bit concerned,” and John said something that I wish would be branded upon the mind and heart of every person.
I believe that if we understood John’s words there would be less psychological difficulty. We would have less conflict. We’d have more peace. People would sleep better. He said these amazing words. Are you ready for them, by the way? I don’t know that I can share them with you until you’re ready for them. Preach, preach? Do you think you’re ready? (chuckles)
He said, “A man can receive nothing except it be given to him from heaven.” Nothing. Nothing. You have an ability? They are God-given abilities. You have opportunities? They are God-given opportunities. You have an income? It is a God-given income, and don’t you ever think it is yours because the kingdom belongs to God. The kingdom belongs to God. And when we understand that, suddenly we become free from all of the anxiety and all of the image building, and all of the jockeying, and all of the need to make ourselves look good. Finally, we lay it all at the cross because we know that the kingdom belongs to God.
You say, “Well, I’m a Saul.” Well, thank you for admitting it. I’m not a poet but I’m going to try it right now. There’s a little bit of Saul in us all. So you’re a Saul. Welcome to the Saul club. In fact, you’ve been a member ever since you were born. It’s just that you haven’t admitted it till now.
What is the answer? Thorough, complete repentance. Not half-hearted. Oh yes, yes, I realize that I should change. Yes, I really should. No. No. Come on. You’ve said that before and nothing’s happened. It’s like Saul. “I’ve played the fool; I have erred exceedingly,” but then goes on living the way he’s living. It is a submission to God that is thorough and that is complete, a finally giving up of all things because the kingdom is God’s.
And secondly, a recognition that we now live pleasing the Father. You don’t have to right all the injustices. Do you see now, by the way, the rebellion of the selfish age? Do you see it, where we have such individualism that if you don’t this, I’ll sue you? You throw one spear and I’m going to take that spear out of the wall and I’m going to pin you to the wall. For the most part godless, selfish rebellion. Not maybe all the time, but for the most part.
The Bible says that when Jesus was reviled, He reviled not again. When He suffered He uttered no threats. What did He do? He didn’t say, “Boy am I ever going to send you a zinger. You threw that spear. Wait till I get...” No. He committed Himself unto Him who judges righteously and said, “God, I’m going to let You take care of it. I belong to You. The cross that I’m going to die on belongs to You. (Luther said, “Even the devil is God’s devil.”) I submit myself to Your will and to Your plan because the whole thing is Yours. It’s God’s!”
Blessed are those... Blessed are those... Free are those... Happy are those who finally give the whole kingdom to God.
Would you join me as we pray?
And Father, we ask in the name of Jesus now that You will do a mighty work in the lives of all who have heard. Some who are listening need to go home. They need to get on their needs and they need to stay there perhaps till tomorrow, until finally the kingdom has been submitted and surrendered. Oh Father, would You work in my heart, and the lives of the staff and the elders, the leadership, all those who participate as members, and our visitors and friends, and would You graciously (would You graciously) remove the Saul that we see so clearly in ourselves? And we ask now in the name of Christ that Your people will be submissive to Your Spirit?
Father, complete the work that You’ve begun well after this meeting is over. May the Spirit of God spill into our lives this afternoon and tomorrow and all the days that we might be free, in Jesus’ name, Amen.