|God's Divine Care
Godís Divine Care
Reading: Psalm 34
Introduction: "O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him." Psalm 34:8.
If we believe the scribal heading attached to this Psalm, David must have been going through an extremely difficult and awkward time in life when he composed these words. You see, if the scribal heading is correct, David writes this Psalm shortly after his time of hiding from King Saul among the Philistines. The heading reads: Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out and he went away. The reference is to the story found in I Samuel 21 when David is on the run. It was a time that had started with such promise and hope and incredible success. David, the boy wonder, the young man out in the field shepherding his fatherís flocks when the Prophet Samuel came looking for a man after Godís own heart. David was called in from the fields after Samuel had looked over all of Jesseís other sons and not yet spotted Godís intended King. Then David came in, handsome and ruddy in complexion, and in the presence of his father and brothers, David stood there as Samuel poured the oil over him, anointed himóDavid, the youngest in the family; David, the one stuck with the job of tending sheep while the older brothers went off to fightóanointed to be the next king of Israel. The writer says that the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.
As the writer chooses to order his story, it is after that anointing that the brothers are off in the army, while David continues to be a shepherd at home. It is after the anointing that he goes to visit his brothers, sees and hears the Giant Philistine Goliath, and watches as King Saul and all of his men cower every time Goliath speaks. David takes the stones and the sling and slays the Giantóďtaste and see that the LORD is goodĒóthat would have been a good time to pen these words. For a time after that Davidís life must have been happy. He struck up a deep and abiding friendship with the Kingís son, Jonathan. He became a great hero among the people. They even began to sing about him. ďSaul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.Ē David was just sitting there in Saulís house playing a little music himself, when King Saul suddenly picked up that spear and came after him. Rather than his music being soothing to the king, suddenly the King was insane, out to kill him.
Perhaps it was just a temporary moment because, the next thing David knew the king was offering David his oldest daughter in marriage. But then right before the wedding, Saul gave his daughter to someone else. David did end up marrying a younger daughter Michal, and she did seem head over heels in love with him. He had to bring back proof that he had single handedly killed one hundred Philistines in order to become her husband, but David did that because he understood that being the son-in-law of the king was no little thing. David, the shepherd boy, killer of Goliath, anointed by Samuel while Saul was still alive and wellÖnow David was a member of the royal family by marriage at least. Sometimes fathers-in-law just donít care for their daughterís choice in a mate. Saul only seemed to hate David worse once he was part of the family. David and Michal hadnít been married long at all before Saul was telling everyone in his house that he wanted David dead. Jonathan thought he could bring them together and fix everything, but having David there in the same room just made Saul go crazy. He tried to pin him to the wall with a spear again. So David fled the room. His bride Michal had to secretly hide him from her father, then helped him escape through the window while she stalled her father with a story about David being sick.
That began a period of running in Davidís life that had to have been miserable. When he said good-bye to his wife, Michal, life with her would never be the same again. When they did finally get back together, David would have other wives, and Michal would loathe him instead of loving him. David first fled to the prophet Samuel, the one who had anointed him to be the next king and tell him his troubles. But Saul tracked him down and he couldnít stay with Samuel. On the run from the King, David would soon have to sever his relationship with his best friend, Jonathan. There was no way they could stay in contact without Saul catching up with David and perhaps killing them both.
David fled to the house of priest, Ahimelech in the village of Nob. David had a few young men with him, evidently, but he was fleeing from the king and he had no weapons with which to defend himself. The priest gave David what food he had available. Curiously, the only weapon Ahimelech had was the sword of the Giant Goliath. After David fled from there, Saul ordered an attack on Ahimelech and all the priests in the town of Nob. In Davidís wake, eighty-five priests were slain, and the town of Nob was destroyed. And David found himself fleeing for refuge among the people he gained so much fame fighting and killing. In order to hide from Saul, David fled to Gath, a town controlled by the Philistines. Unfortunately, he was soon recognized as the ďking of the land,Ē the one about whom the Israelites sang, ďSaul his killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands.Ē Once Davidís cover was blown, David survived by pretending to be insane. The writer tells us, ďDavid changed his behavior before them; he pretended to be mad when in their presence. He scratched marks on the doors of the gate; and let spittle run down his beard.Ē When they brought David before the Philistine king, the king wanted nothing to do with a crazy man, and David was released.
I recite all of that background this morning because that is the context, we are told, for David writing Psalm 34, a psalm of new orientation. It is a psalm that celebrates, that gives thanks for Godís divine care and protection. It is one of those acrostic poems in which each stanza in Hebrew begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The first 10 verses give thanks for Godís deliverance; verses 11-14 give instructions for living that result from Godís goodness and steadfast love; verses 15-22 provide a contrast between those who follow those instructions and those who do not. Read the Psalm with me.
"I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
"4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
"7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing."
Listen to the ethical instruction that David says coincides with experiencing Godís protection and goodness.
"11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
"15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit."
Remember the timing for writing these words. Life has been anything but easy for David. His best friend is gone. His wife is gone. He is anointed to be the next king, but the current king is trying to kill him.
"19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all. He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken. Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned."
There may indeed be times when Godís angel appears and we are delivered in miraculous ways. But there are no guarantees! Godís Divine Care is not a guarantee of comfort and safety and escape from bad things happening to good people. Godís love for his people does not prevent evil people from doing evil things which have grave impact at times on the lives of those who seek him. Davidís life is also clear testimony that righteous living and the experience of Godís divine love and care are not tied to perfect living. Godís love and care does have expectation to it, however. There are trajectories of behavior. Trajectories that reflect evil hearts and humble hearts. Trajectories that reflect the pursuit of Godís righteousness, and those which choose evil and reject God and his call.
In your life and mine, the promise is not that where God is there is no suffering, no struggle, no trials in life. The promise is that where there is suffering, where there is turmoil and struggle, when we cry out, God is there. Thatís the message of the cross, isnít it. Not that God avoided the struggle or the suffering or the injustice, but that he took it all upon himself. Paul understood that when told the Corinthians, ďWe have this treasure in clay jars.Ē Our faith in Christ does not make us impervious to pain or struggle or hardship. It brings the promise of God-presence; sustaining, loving, healing God presence.
There is one more part of the story that sheds some light on Davidís words in Psalm 34, and helps us all to understand Godís care for us in our time. In I Samuel 22, the story of Davidís flight continues with these words: "David left there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; when his brothers and all his fatherís house heard of it, they went down there to him. Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Those who were with him numbered about four hundred."
Isnít it often the case that when our struggle is greatest, Godís presence comes to us in the presence of community? Davidís family learns of his plight and comes to confirm their supportóand Godís support. They are the ones who know the rest of the story; the ones who know of his anointing by Samuel. Then others come as well, swelling his following to 400. Community is often where and how God reminds us of his care and protection. But notice also who these people areóthe displaced and outcast themselves. Godís divine care also comes with Misssion, the call to reach out beyond ourselves and our circumstances to touch the lives of others, to lead others. The flight from Saul is not over. David is still on the run. There will still be close calls. But David is now the captain of these others who came from their own distress. And it is to them that he offers new hope.
"Taste and see," he says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in himÖÖMany are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all."
Delivered at Woodmont Hills, November 5, 2000.
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