1 Samuel 31:11-13. (BETHSHAN, JABESH-GILEAD.)
1. Unexpected. Who would have thought that the city which was so faithless and cowardly as to say to Nahash, "Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee," could have furnished such an instance of devotion? The noblest qualities sometimes appear in association with the meanest, and where men expect to find no good thing. Let us not despise our nature, nor think that at its worst it is wholly incapable of generous acts.
2. Long cherished. It was many years previously that Jabesh had been saved by Saul; but its grateful feeling had not (as is sometimes the case) grown cold with the lapse of time. When a philosopher was asked, "what doth soonest grow cold?" he replied, "Thanks."
3. Spontaneous. No special appeal was made to them; but perceiving that they could do something to testify their gratitude to their benefactor by rescuing his remains from the indignity to which they were subjected, "all the valiant men arose" of their own accord, "and went all night" (a distance of ten miles, across the Jordan) and accomplished it. Gratitude loses its proper character and ceases to be gratitude when it requires to be solicited and urged.
4. Disinterested. Saul and his sons were dead, and no reward for their daring effort might be expected. It was performed in somewhat of the same spirit as that with which Saul himself formerly acted; what was best in his life was remembered and admired by them (as it was by David, 2 Samuel 1:23), and it served to stir them to similar excellence. Disinterested conduct begets its like.
"Good deeds immortal are - they cannot die;
5. Heroic and self-sacrificing; exhibited practically and at the risk of life, and displaying great energy and valour. "The pillars of fire of genuine human heroism are the noble lights of history, which make us feel at ease while sojourning among spectres, and horrors, and graves" (Lange).
6. Complete. It did not stop short of doing its best. "They took their bones, and buried them under the tamarisk at Jabesh, and fasted seven days" (ver. 13; 2 Samuel 21:14). They could do no more; and what they did was done tenderly, mournfully, reverently, and in fulfilment of a sacred custom and religious duty. Exhortation: -
1. Endeavour so to live that when you are gone you may be remembered with gratitude, and leave behind the recollection of good deeds which may incite others to the like.
2. Fail not to render gratitude to every one who has conferred a benefit upon you in the best way you can; be thankful, especially to God, for all his benefits towards you. "Nothing more detestable, does the earth produce than an ungrateful man" (Ausonius).
3. Seek above all things to obtain in life and death the honour that comes from God. "This Book began with Samuel's birth, and now ends with Saul's burial, the comparing of which together will teach us to prefer the honour which comes from God before any honours of which this world pretends to dispose" (M. Henry). - D.
I. He "encouraged himself in THE LORD HIS GOD" — THAT IS WHAT HE IS SAID TO HAVE DONE.
David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.I. DAVID'S DISTRESS.
1. David was greatly distressed, for he had been acting without consulting his God. Perhaps some of you are in distress in the same way: you have chosen your own path, and now you are caught in the tangled bushes which tear your flesh. You have carved for yourselves, and you have cut your own fingers; you have obtained your heart's desire, and while the meat is yet in your mouth a curse has come with it. You say you "did it for the best;" ay, but it has turned out to be for the worst.
2. Worse than this, if worse can be, David had also followed policy instead of truth. The Oriental mind was, and probably still is, given to lying. Easterns do not think it wrong to tell an untruth; many do it habitually. Just as an upright merchant in this country would not be suspected of a falsehood, so you would not in the olden time have suspected the average Oriental of ever speaking the truth if he could help it, because he felt that everybody else would deceive him, and so he must practise great cunning. The golden rule in David's day was, "Do others, for others will certainly do you."
3. Yet was his distress the more severe on another account, for David had sided with the enemies of the Lord's people.
4. Picture the position of David, in the centre of his band. He has been driven away by the Philistine lords with words of contempt; his men have been sneered at — "What do these Hebrews here? Is not this David? What do these Hebrews here?" is the sarcastic question of the world. "How comes a professing Christian to be acting as we do?"
5. At the back of this came bereavement. His wives were gone.
II. DAVID'S ENCOURAGEMENT: "And David encouraged himself." That is well, Davids He did not at first attempt to encourage anybody else; but he encouraged himself. Some of the best talks in the world are those which a man has with himself. He who speaks to everybody except himself is a great fool. I think I hear David say, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God; for I will yet praise him." David encouraged himself. But he encouraged himself "in the Lord his God," namely, in Jehovah. That is the surest way of encouraging yourself. David might have drawn, if he had pleased, a measure of encouragement from those valiant men who joined him just about this particular time; for it happened, according to 1 Chronicles 12:19-20, that many united with his band at that hour. If you are in trouble, and your trouble is mixed with sin, if you have afflicted yourselves by your backslidings and perversities, nevertheless I pray you look nowhere else for help but to the God whom you have offended. When He lilts his arm, as it were, to execute vengeance, lay hold upon it and He will spare you. Does he not, Himself say, "Let him lay hold on My strength?" I remember old Master Quarles has a strange picture of one trying to strike another with a flail, and how does the other escape? Why, he runs in and keeps close, and so he is not struck. It is the very thing to do. Close in with God. Cling to Him by faith: hold fast by Him in hope. Say, "Though He slay me, yet will I terror in Him." Resolve, "I will not let Thee go." Let us try to conceive of the way in which David would encourage Himself in the Lord his God.
1. Standing amidst those ruins he would say, "Yet the Lord does love me, and I love Him."
2. Then he went further, and argued, "Hath not the Lord chosen me? Has He not ordained me to be king in Israel? Do you need an interpretation of this parable? Can you not see its application to yourselves?
3. Then he would go over all the past deliverances which he had experienced.
III. DAVID ENQUIRING OF GOD.
1. Observe, that David takes it for granted that his God is going to help him. He only wants to know how it is to he done. "Shall I pursue? shall I overtake?"
2. It is to be remarked, however, that David does not expect that God is going to help him without his doing his best. He enquires, "Shall I pursue? shall I overtake?"
3. David also distrusted his own strength, though quite ready to use what he had; for he said, "Shall I overtake?" Can my men march fast enough to overtake these robbers?"
IV. DAVID'S ANSWER OF PEACE. The Lord heard his supplication. He says, "In my distress I cried unto the Lord and He heard me." Trust in the Lord your God. Believe also in his Son Jesus. Get rid of sham faith, and really believe. Get rid of a professional faith, and trust in the Lord at all times, about everything.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. "In the Lord," observe. The first step towards real comfort in real sorrow is to feel it must come from God, and the next is to raise up our minds to God; to get them above the things which are distressing us.
2. "The Lord," observe again — Jehovah, as the capital letters in our Bibles indicate; the self-existent, everlasting, unchangeable, unlimited, all-sufficient God.
3. But a material point to be noticed here is David's connection with this high Being. It was "the Lord his God," in whom he encouraged himself. It implies clearly an acquaintance with God, some previous intercourse with him, and a connection formed between him and the soul.(1) What he did is opposed to two things — first, to despondency in trouble, to a giving of ourselves up in it to inaction and despair.(2) And this conduct of David is opposed also to a torpid waiting in affliction for comfort. He did not stand still, observe, for God to encourage him, he set about encouraging himself in God.
II. NOW LET US LOOK AT THE DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH DAVID DID WHAT IS HERE ASCRIBED TO HIM. The text itself draws our attention to these. "But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God;" he did so notwithstanding the circumstances in which he was placed.
1. Notwithstanding his great sorrow and distress. We sometimes think that soldiers have not hearts, but we cannot read this chapter and think so. The men on their return to their desolated homes were overwhelmed with grief. The loss of their wives and children completely unmanned them.
2. David encouraged himself in the Lord notwithstanding his sinfulness. We are not told so, but there must have been a voice there which said, "All this is my own doing. It is all the fruit of my own folly and sin. Had I but trusted my God and remained in Judah, or even had I stayed here in Ziklag, this would not have come to pass." He did not simply make an effort to encourage himself, he actually encouraged himself, found encouragement for himself, in the Lord his God. It must have been in some such moment as this that he first felt, if not said, "I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Their in faithfulness has afflicted me."
(C. Bradley, M. A.)
I. THE GRAND ASSURANCE WHICH THIS MAN GRIPPED FAST. It is not by accident, nor if it a mere piece of tautology, that we read "the Lord his God." For, if you will remember, the very keynote of the psalms which are ascribed to David is just that expression, "My God," "My God." So far as the very fragmentary records of Jewish literature go, it would appear as if David was the very first of all the ancient singers to grapple that thought that he stood in a personal, individual relation to God, and God to him. And so it was his God that he laid hold of at that dark hour. Now I am not putting too much into a little word when I insist upon it that the very essence and nerve of what strengthened the king, at that supreme moment of desolation, was the, conviction that welled up in his heart that, in spite of it all, he had a grip of God a hand as his very own, and God had hold of him, I would not go to the length of saying that the living realisation, in heart and mind, of this personal possession of God is the difference between a traditional sad vague profession of religion and a vital possession of religion, but if it is not the difference, it goes a long way towards explaining the difference. The man who contents himself with the generality of a Gospel for the world, and who can say no more than that Jesus Christ died for all, has yet to learn the most intimate sweetness, and the most quickening and transforming power, of that Gospel, and he only learns it when he says, "Who loved me, and gave himself for me."
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF THIS ONE CONVICTION AND ASSURANCE. Here is one of the many eloquent "buts" of the Bible. On the one hand is piled up a black heap of calamities, loss, treachery, and peril; and opposed to them is only that one clause: "But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." God is enough: whatever else may go. The Lord his God was the sufficient portion for this man when he stood a homeless pauper. So for poverty, loss, the blasting of earthly hopes, the crushing of earthly affections, the extremity of danger, and the utmost threatening of death, here is the sufficient remedy — that one mighty assurance: "The Lord is my God." For if He is the strength of my heart he will be my portion forever. He is not poor who has God for his, nor does he wander with a hungry heart who can rest his heart on God's; nor need he fear death who possesses God, and in Him eternal life. You never know the good of the breakwater until the storm is rolling the waves against its outer side. Put a little candle in a room, and you will not see the lightning when it flashes outside, however stormy the sky, and seamed with the fiery darts. If we have God in our hearts, we have enough for courage and for strength.
III. THE EFFORT BY WHICH THIS ASSURANCE IS ATTAINED AND SUSTAINED. The words of the original convey even more forcibly than those of our translation the thought of David's own action in securing him the hold of God as his. He "strengthened himself in the Lord his God." The Hebrew conveys the notion of effort, persistent and continuous; and it tells us this, that when things are as black as they were round David at that hour — it is not a matter of course, even for a good man, that there shall well up in his heart this tranquillising and victorious conviction; but he has to set himself to reach and to keep it. God will give it, but he will not give it unless the man strains after it. He "strengthened himself in the Lord," and if he had not set doggedly about resisting the pressure of circumstances, and flinging himself as it were, by am effort, into the arms of God, circumstances would have been too many for him, and despair would have shrouded his soul. In the darkest moment it is possible for a man to surround himself with God's light, but even in the brightest it is not possible to do so unless he makes a serious effete. That effort may consist mainly in two things. One is that we shall honestly try to occupy our minds, as well as our hearts, with the truth which certifies to us that God is, in very deed, ours. If we never think, or think languidly and rarely, about what God has revealed to us by the Word and life and death and intercession of Jesus Christ, concerning Himself, His heart of love towards us, and His relations to us, then we shall not have, either in the time of disaster or of joy, the blessed sense that He is indeed ours. if a man will not think about Christian truth he will not have the blessedness of Christian possession of God. There is no mystery about the road to the sweetness and holiness and power that may belong to a Christian. The only way to get them is to be occupied, far more than most of us are, with the plain truths of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. If you can never think about them they cannot affect you, and they will not make you sure that God is yours. There is another thing which we have to make an effort to do, if we would have the blessedness of this conviction filling and flooding oar hearts. For the possession is reciprocal; we say, "My God," and He says, "My people." Unless we yield ourselves to Him and say, "I am Thine," we shall never be able to say, "Thou art mine." We must recognise His possession of us; we must yield ourselves; we must obey; we must elect Him as our chief good, we must feel that we are not our own, but bought with a price. And then when we look up into the heavens thus submissive, thus obedient, thus owning His authority, and His rights, as well as claiming His love and His tenderness, and cry; "My Father," He will bend down and whisper into our hearts: "Thou art My beloved son." Then we shall be strong, and of a good courage, however weak and timid, and we shall be rich, though, like David, we have lost all things.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
II. This leads us to remark upon THE SUFFICIENCY OF DAVID'S FAITH. You may have a strong impression that in certain you shall be helped, delivered, but the impression may be all a delusion, "the baseless fabric of a vision," a hallucination of the mind. David's faith was real subjectively, because it was sufficiently well-grounded objectively. He "encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Faith separated from an adequate object is powerless; inspired by such an object — there is but One — it is mighty, puts heart into the weak, puts enthusiasm into the hopeless, laying hem upon God it is omnipotent.
III. ANOTHER FEATURE OF DAVID'S FAITH IS ITS ACTIVITY, ITS ENERGY. David bestirred himself to appropriate the strength which the Object of his faith, and his faith in that Object, were calculated to inspire. "He encouraged himself in the Lord his God." What a blessed art this of self-encouragement in God. There is an attitude of faith which is passive. The language of its triumph then is the meek, "Thy will be done." But faith is active, lively. This is its characteristic feature.
IV. LET US NOT FORGET THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF DAVID'S FAITH (from v. 7). It was no time to lie upon the earth; there was something to be done, and done at once. David's faith gave shape and force to his action. He calls for the ephod, enquires of the Lord, obtains a favourable response, pursues the Amalekites, rescues the captives, inflicts a crushing blow upon the captors. Application: — "Nil desperandum!" We may encourage ourselves and one another in the Lord our God. He is ours if we will but accept Him. In Jesus Christ He is our Lord and our God. And if we are thus to encourage ourselves, we should maintain a spirit of calm equanimity.
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