“A Place for War and a Place for Peace:
Rightly Distinguishing Our Calls to Spiritual Warfare and Calls to Spiritual Peacemaking”
1 Samuel 19
July 21, 2019
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service
Our text tonight is from First Samuel, chapter nineteen.
Please listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this evening:
19:1 And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David. 2 And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. 3 And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” 4 And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.5 For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and Yahweh worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” 6 And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As Yahweh lives, he shall not be put to death.” 7 And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
8 And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him. 9 Then a harmful spirit from Yahweh came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. 10 And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night.
11 Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, told him, “If you do not escape with your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped. 13 Michal took an image and laid it on the bed and put a pillow of goats’ hair at its head and covered it with the clothes. 14 And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” 15 Then Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16 And when the messengers came in, behold, the image was in the bed, with the pillow of goats’ hair at its head. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me thus and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go. Why should I kill you?’”
18 Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. 19 And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” 20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.”23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Let’s pray …
Lord, as we come to your Word,
along with the psalmist we ask you to teach us the way of your statutes,
that we might keep it to the end.
Give us understanding, that we may follow your word
and observe it with our whole hearts.
Incline our hearts to your testimonies,
and not to our own selfish ends.
Turn our eyes and attention now from frivolous things,
and give us life through your word.
Grant this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:33-34, 36-37]
So – a little bit of review: King Saul has turned away from the Lord – he’s turned away from Yahweh – and so Yahweh has rejected him as king and sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David as the next king of Israel.
David has served both God and Saul faithfully, bringing blessing to Israel by defending them against their enemies. But Saul has become increasingly envious of the glory David has received from this. In chapter eighteen Saul made several more subtle moves to try to bring about David’s death. But here in chapter nineteen his attacks get more overt and out in the open.
In our text we have four attempts that Saul makes on David’s life, and four deliverances. In verses one through eight Saul tasks his servants with killing David. But Jonathan, David’s friend and Saul’s son, who loves and respects David and knows of David’s faithfulness, talks Saul out of this plan, and thus delivers David.
But the deliverance is short-lived. In verse eight David is sent out again to fight the Philistines, the enemies of God’s people, and his success again incites Saul to envy. And in verses nine and ten Saul tries to kill David himself with a spear, but once again David is delivered and escapes, and Saul is unsuccessful.
The third attempt comes when Saul sends his men to lurk outside David’s house and to kill him when he comes out in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife and Saul’s daughter, delivers David this time by lowering him down through a window and deceiving Saul’s men and then Saul himself. Again – we will address the use of deception in the book of Samuel at some point in the future, but not quite yet. Regardless of the means used, Michal brings about David’s third deliverance.
Finally, the fourth attempt that Saul makes on David’s life in this chapter comes in verses eighteen to twenty-four. David flees to Samuel the prophet, and once he hears this, Saul sends men to kill David. But the Holy Spirit of God stops them in their tracks. He sends a second group and the same thing happens. He sends a third group, and once again the Holy Spirit blocks them. Then Saul goes himself, and now God’s Spirit stops Saul, driving him to remove his royal robe, and rendering him temporarily unable to act against David. David is for a fourth time delivered from the hand of Saul.
The past few chapters we have noted that the text sets up contrasting pictures, and this chapter is no different. What we get in this chapter, among other things, are two opposite approaches to warfare and peacemaking – one in Saul and one in David. We will again consider each, and how they apply to us.
And as has been the case the last few Lord’s Days, we begin with Saul.
And what we see in the life of Saul is that when we fail to fight the battles the Lord has called us to, we will soon create war in the places where we should be making peace.
Let me say that again: When we fail to fight the battles the Lord has called us to, we will soon create war in the places where we should be making peace.
This is the dynamic we see play out in Saul’s life. And it begins with his failure to fight the battles that the Lord has called him to.
The first battle that Saul is called to, that he fails to fight, is against the Philistines. Saul was called, we read back in First Samuel 9:16 and 10:13, to save Israel from their surrounding enemies, the Philistines. That was the battle the Lord called him to – to engage in real battle with the enemies of God and God’s people. But in chapters eighteen and nineteen, again and again, when trouble comes, we read of David going out to fight off Israel’s enemies … but we do not hear of Saul going out. Instead … whenever we see Saul, he is sitting in his house. God called Saul to engage in battle with the Philistines … and Saul failed to do it.
And instead … he made warfare at home, where he should have been working for peace. [Leithart, 116] He began by making war against his faithful servant and ally, David. He announces openly his intention to kill David in verse one, and as we already saw, again and again he tries to carry that battle plan out in his home, against a man whom he has every reason to be at peace with, as his son Jonathan explains to him. He begins by making war in his house with David, but the scope of that war soon expands. Soon Saul is also in conflict with Michal, his daughter. And in chapter twenty we will see him enter into more open conflict with Jonathan, his son. Now we need to remember: Neither David nor Michal nor Jonathan have any desire to harm Saul or enter into conflict with him. All are actively supporting his reign and his people. But Saul begins making war on them anyway.
Because Saul does not engage in the battles the Lord calls him to, he begins to make war in the very places where he should be making peace. Because he does not rightly engage in war on the enemies of God, he begins to make war with the people of God.
But it doesn’t stop there. In verse nine and ten we see another place where Saul is called to battle and fails to rightly engage. Back in chapter sixteen, after Saul repeatedly resisted the Holy Spirit of God, God took his Spirit from him, and sent to Saul a harmful spirit instead. It was a spirit that should have been resisted – that should have been battled.
Along with that, in verse six, Saul has all but admitted that he knows his desire to kill David is wrong – he knows it is sin. And so he knows that the desire to harm David is one that should be resisted – that should be battled against.
But after David’s latest victory in verse eight, Saul seems to withdraw from those battles. Sitting in his house in verse ten, Saul ceases his battle with the harmful spirit and with his sinful desires, and decides once more to try to kill David, hurling his spear at him in the house.
Once more Saul has failed to engage in the battles the Lord has called him to, and once more it results in Saul making war where he should be making peace.
First, as Saul refuses to battle his own temptation, we see him go to war even with his own word and his own better judgment. In verse six Saul swore by oath, in the name of Yahweh, that he would not seek to kill David. He admitted that Jonathan was right and that it was wrong to attack David. But then in verse ten Saul went to war with his own word and commitment – he went to war with the decisions he had made in a better frame of mind. He went to war with his better intentions … instead of making peace with better intentions.
And then, of course, the most spectacular warfare comes in verses eighteen through twenty-four. A few verses earlier, by giving up his resistance, Saul had ceased to battle with the harmful spirit. And making peace with that harmful spirit brings Saul into warfare with God’s Holy Spirit instead. And so, in verses twenty through twenty-four, the Spirit of God – the same Spirit who back in chapter ten had anointed Saul, the same Spirit who back in chapter eleven had rushed on Saul and equipped him for battle, that same Spirit whom Saul should have been at peace with, Saul has now set himself against. He is now sending troops to invade the community of the Holy Spirit’s prophets, in an effort to kill the Holy Spirit’s anointed one, David.
And the Holy Spirit fights back. He stops the invaders in their tracks, and keeps them from going further. Saul sends more men, and the Spirit does it again. He sends a third group, and the Spirit does it again. And finally, the Spirit of God disables, disarms, and disrobes Saul himself. In open warfare, Saul is no match for the Spirit of God.
Saul failed to battle the harmful spirit, and then turned around and waged war on the Spirit of God, when he should have sought peace with God’s Spirit instead.
Again and again in Saul’s life in this chapter we see that when we fail to fight the battles the Lord has called us to, we will soon create war in the places where we should be making peace.
There is an evil in this, of course – a sinful, stubborn rebellion against God. There is also a foolishness in it. The book of Ecclesiastes says that there is “a time for war, and a time for peace.” [3:8] Ecclesiastes is wisdom literature, and the role of wisdom is rightly discerning which time is which.
The sinful and stubborn fool mixes them up. And as he does that, like Saul, he brings destruction onto himself. And in the end, he finds himself opposed even by those closest to him: his son, his daughter … until finally he is opposed directly by God himself.
This is the path that Saul takes.
And it is a path we can be tempted down as well. And when we are, the same patterns we see in Saul’s life begin to play out in our own.
When we fail to fight the battles the Lord has called us to, we will soon create war in the places where we should be making peace.
And so, when we fail to wage war against our own sins and temptations, we soon decide that the conflicts and struggles in our lives are not our fault … but the fault of other people. And we wage war on them instead – whether they be our family members, our friends, our co-workers, our fellow countrymen, or our fellow church members.
When we fail to come alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ – when we fail to help them wage war in the trenches against certain sins and temptations, we will soon find ourselves critiquing, and judging, and making warfare on our brothers and sisters in Christ themselves, rather than helping them battle their sin.
When we fail to engage in the spiritual battles that are evangelism and apologetics – when we fail to engage in the battles of sharing and defending the faith, we soon fixate on smaller theological issues and wage verbal war against our brothers and sisters in the faith with whom we should be at peace.
When we fail to engage in the spiritual battle of standing with Christ and standing for the truth of the gospel when trials and persecutions come, then we soon find ourselves defensively criticizing and slandering our brothers and sister in Christ who do.
And when we fail to engage in the spiritual battle of temptation – when we just give in to Satan without a fight, when we make peace with the spiritual enemies of God, then we soon find ourselves at war with the Holy Spirit himself, as he comes at us and seeks to goad us to repentance.
And because that is true, one hint that you may be failing to engage in the battles the Lord has called you to is that you find yourself inciting a war in a relationship that should be characterized by peace.
Now, of course I do not mean that any time you have conflict in a place that it should not be, that you are at fault or that Saul’s pattern is the cause. David, remember, had conflict in a relationship where it should not be, but it was not his fault.
I am talking about when you are instigating the conflict when it does not need be there. And you might need to think about it a bit before you dismiss that possibility.
If you seem to be in conflict with those around you, and especially with those close to you … have you actually considered that it might not be them you should be waging war against … but that your sin may be what is causing the conflict?
If you find yourself critiquing and passing judgment on Christians who struggle with a certain kind of sin – whether it’s an individual you know or a group you read about … if you find yourself coldly criticizing them … and telling them, or telling others, or telling your Facebook friends, how you know what is wrong with them and what they need to do to fix it … if you find yourself going after your brothers and sisters in Christ like that, but you haven’t come alongside them or people who struggle as they do, you haven’t drawn close to them and tried to build them up, or help them bear their burden, or assisted them in their spiritual battle with sin and temptation … then maybe you need to consider that it’s not your brothers and sisters you should be lobbing grenades at … but you should be by their side, in the trenches with them, as they battle their sin.
If you find yourself using your gifts of reason and persuasion to wage intramural theological battles and to tear down the theology and practice of other Christians, and question their orthodoxy, then maybe you should consider that it’s not the Body of Christ you should be approaching with such evangelistic zeal, but those outside the body who need to hear the good news – who need your defense of the faith.
If you are frustrated with those who have stood up for their faith, maybe the battle you need to consider fighting is with your temptation to shy away from publicly identifying with your Lord, and all his unpopular views.
If you find yourself stung by the Holy Spirit, and cut by his Word in the Scriptures, then maybe it’s time to consider that it’s not the Holy Spirit you should be battling with and resisting, but the temptations of the devil that you should be waging war against.
Where are you making war in the very place where you should be making peace? Where are you failing to engage in battle at the very place God is calling you to it? Where do you look a bit like Saul?
That is the first question our text puts to us, as we consider Saul.
The second picture it gives us, is the picture of David.
And in David we see the mirror opposite of Saul. Because David fights the battles that the Lord has called him to, he also seeks peace where there should be peace.
In verse eight we read that when the Philistines were threatening the people of God, David went out and fought against them – he fought the battles the Lord had called him to.
And then, when David came back to Israel, even when difficulties and trials came to him – even when he was attacked without provocation within the people of God, David still worked to make peace in Israel. He sought to make peace with Saul through Jonathan. And when Saul came after David himself or with his men, David continued to work for peace.
We should recognize that that wasn’t just a necessity … it was an intentional choice. David was a skilled fighter. We read last chapter that David had been set over other soldiers, to command them. We also read last week that the people approved of David’s leadership, praised his successes, and loved David.
When Saul threatened David … don’t you think he could have fought back? Don’t you think he could have fought himself? Don’t you think he could have raised up an army to support him?
But he didn’t. He knew that his role was to work for peace among the people of God – not to win a civil war. He knew that such a battle would not be good for him or for Saul or (most importantly) for the people of God. He knew that such a battle was not what he had been called to. And so while he did not allow Saul to sin against him – he did not allow Saul to just kill him … he also did not strike back with the same methods that Saul used. David fought the battles the Lord had called him to against the Philistines and worked for peace where the Lord had called him to peace among the Israelites.
So David fought the enemies of God’s people. He fought the temptation to strike back at Saul. And along with that, David also fought against the spiritual enemies of Israel, so that he could be at peace with the Spirit of Israel’s God.
In verse nine we are told that David was in Saul’s presence, playing the lyre, while Saul struggled with the harmful spirit. We were told back in chapter sixteen that David was able to combat the effects of this harmful spirit and soothe Saul, with his playing. And even after all that has happened between him and Saul, in verse nine we read that David once again took up his place of combat against this harmful spirit that came against Saul. David chose to engage in battle with the harmful spirit … even as Saul was about to choose to succumb to the harmful spirit.
And because David continued to battle and resist the spiritual forces of darkness around him, he continued to be at peace with the Spirit of God, so that that same Spirit defended David in verses eighteen through twenty-four.
That is the picture we get of David.
There is something beautiful in the picture of a man or a woman who knows when and where to make peace and when and where to make war … isn’t there?
I was thinking about that portrait – that sort of character. And I was struck that it’s the characteristics we see in the kind of characters we look up to in the stories that we tell. We see it in Aragorn and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. We see it in Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. We see it in Dumbledore in Harry Potter, in the Doctor in Doctor Who, in Obi-Wan Kenobi, even in Jim Hopper … in some ways.
In the venerable, the wise, and the virtuous characters of our stories – the characters we admire and look up to, a central trait they have is that then know where to make war and where to make peace, and whichever may be called for, they pursue it with zeal. They fight the forces of darkness and make peace with the forces of light.
I’m struck how in our modern fiction, at least, those characters seem to come up more often in works of fantasy and science-fiction than in works of realism. I wonder what that says about our culture’s hopes for developing those traits.
But even so … we have each seen this trait in someone we know. We have caught glimpses of it in real life.
Maybe you have seen it in the person you thought was going to judge you for your sin or failure … but who instead showed you peacemaking grace, and saw your sin as the enemy rather than you – the person who came alongside you in that battle rather than against you.
Maybe you have seen it in the person who, when you were cowering back from a battle you needed to face, called you out, and built you up, that you might have the courage to confront what you needed to confront.
Maybe you have seen it in the person who has taken you aside and patiently explained to you how you are making war in the very places and relationships where you should be making peace.
Maybe you have seen it in the person you know who is tirelessly working not for themselves … but for the Lord.
Who in your life have you known who combines wisdom and love like this? Like David?
We see our longing for it in our stories. We see glimpses of it around us, in our relationships. And we see it ultimately in our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you read the Gospels, one thing you should notice is that again and again, Jesus knew and never forgot who his true enemies were – who he was called to battle against. Again, and again his warfare is focused on sin, death, the devil, and those who would oppress or tempt away the people of God.
As you read the Gospels, notice who it is that Jesus is always seeking to make peace with: the broken, the lost, the sheep without a shepherd.
Christ’s life in this way is a beautiful picture and we are drawn to it. We want our lives to show forth the same thing. We want to be known by others for the same way of life. We want our ways to point to him.
So take a moment. And step back. And look at your life as it is.
What battles are you fighting right now?
Which ones are good battles to fight – which ones has the Lord called you to fight?
And which ones … should you not be fighting? In which ones are you fighting for wrong reasons? In which ones are you making war where you should be making peace?
And where you see those instances … how can you repent? How can you turn around, and pursue peace rather than war? What apologies might you need to make? What healing might you need to seek? What would it look like to turn from the pattern of Saul in those relationships?
And once you have considered that … look at your life again … and this time ask yourself: Where do you see peace in your life?
Which areas of peace are the right places for peace – the places the Lord has indeed called you to peacemaking?
And which areas of your life is there peace where there should not be? In which ones have you made peace with your sin, or with outside forces that oppose Christ, in ways that you should not have? In which ways have you been like Saul ignoring the Philistines or going along with the harmful spirit? In which places should you be fighting … but you are not?
And if you see those places … what is it, do you think, that keeps you from fighting?
Is it fear? Fear of failure? Fear of losing the battle? Fear of losing your status? Fear of losing what is familiar?
Pursuing that picture of the man or woman of God who knows when to fight and when to make peace – and who is willing to do what they are called to do in each situation – that’s a good picture. It’s a good goal. It is what we should aim for.
But it’s not easy. That is one of the reasons why the thought of pursuing it can make us so fearful.
It’s also why it is helpful to see in our text that we do not have to do it alone. In fact, we cannot do it alone.
David certainly didn’t do it alone. God provided assistance for him.
God gave him his people – people who came alongside David and helped him to be faithful. He gave him Jonathan, who helped deliver David and helped him respond to Saul. He gave him Michal, who watched out for David and helped him escape. He gave him Samuel, providing David with someone to run to when he was in need. God provided assistance to David again and again through his people.
But along with that God also provided his Spirit. And we can have some assurance that the battle with Saul in verses eighteen through twenty-four was not the only time the Holy Spirit was assisting David. We can bet that it was the Holy Spirit whom David was relying on again and again when he was tempted to do other than he should – when he was tempted to strike back against Saul, when he was tempted to take the throne by force, when he was tempted to stop going out and fighting the Philistines on Saul’s behalf. The Spirit of God was with David, and again and again he assisted him.
And so it can be with us.
We too need the people of God. David could not stand on his own when trials came his way … do you really expect that you can? Or are you wisely seeking out a Jonathan or a Michal in your life? Is there a Samuel whom you can entrust yourself to when you are in need? You too need the people of God if you are to fight when you need to fight, and pursue peace when you need to pursue peace, and know the difference between when you are to pursue one or the other.
And along with the people of God, you’ll also need the Spirit of God. You’ll need to call on him and rely on him. You’ll need to listen to him and not resist him. You’ll need to cultivate your relationship with God – not only so that he will help you … but so that when he offers his help you are ready to receive it.
Now … even if you do all that, it is no guarantee that trouble will not come. It certainly came for David. Such reliance on God and his people are an aid when the trouble comes, not measures that guarantee it never will come.
And when it comes, you do not know how God will assist you. David received a miraculous deliverance in the end. But that is not the Spirit’s way for everyone in this life. Some are delivered from suffering. Others are delivered through suffering.
That picture in the last paragraph of our passage – the picture with the enemies of David being stopped in their tracks as they pursue him – it’s not a picture we will all get to see in this life. But it is a picture we will all get to see …. if not now, then in the next life.
As we seek to fight where we need to fight and make peace where we need to make peace, we need to also trust that God can and will do the same. We need to trust that in the end, God knows who his faithful servants are, as well as who has set themselves against him. We need to trust that if we entrust ourselves to him, God will, in the end, rescue us from all our enemies, while striking down his enemies and ours, and stripping them of their worldly glory.
That is indeed what God has promised to do on the last day – on the final judgment. First Samuel nineteen, verse eighteen to twenty-four is a little picture of that. Do you believe that? Do you believe that as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, that Christ fulfills his office as our king by subduing us to himself, by ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies? Because believing that – believing that God is at peace with you and will battle your true enemies – that is what makes it possible to wage the wars God has called you to wage – that is what makes it possible to pursue peace where he has called you to pursue peace.
David knew that God was with him … and that made it possible for him to do what he does. If you know that God is with you, in Christ and by his Spirit, then that will make it possible for you too.
Solomon writes that there is a time for war and a time for peace.
We live in an age that seems to disagree.
And disagreement with that statement is not just in the world around us – it is often in the church as well.
For some in our culture and in the church, any call to battle is suspect – any call to spiritual or social or cultural warfare is viewed as problematic and likely to be evil. Those who feel this way wonder at why everyone can’t just get along already and try to shut down those who raise conflicts of any kind.
For others in the culture and in the church, any call to peacemaking is suspect – any call to peacemaking with others is seen as feckless and cowardly. We see this tendency on both sides of the political spectrum. We can see this tendency on both sides of many debates within the broader Christian church.
Some believe we are called to peace with all. Others believe we are called to war with all who take even a slightly different perspective than we do.
Both positions – both ways of viewing the world, Solomon would say, are deeply foolish. Both are sinful. Both are un-Christ-like.
The Bible demands that we accept that every Christian is called to both – to both peacemaking and to battle.
The Bible reminds us that wisdom is needed to know which we are called to when.
And the Bible reminds us that God will give wisdom to those who ask for it and pursue it.
Our God knows when there should be war and when there should be peace. Our call is to follow him closely so that we will know as well.
Brothers and sisters, let us be people who follow in the footprints of our elder brother Jesus Christ – people who are quick to battle when battle is called for, and quick to make peace when peace is called for.
Let us be people who wage war against our sin, against the lies of the devil, against the unbelief of the world. Let us be people who sow peace in our families, in our congregation, in the broader Body of Christ, and in the lives of those who are scattered like sheep without a shepherd.
Let us be the people of Jesus Christ, the son of David.
This sermon draws on material from:
Alter, Robert. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.
Davis, Dale Ralph. I Samuel: Looking on the Heart. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000.
Firth, David G. 1 & 2 Samuel. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.
Leithart, Peter J. A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.