“Pentecost: Warfare by the Spirit”
1 Samuel 16:13-23
June 9, 2019
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service
Our text this evening is from First Samuel, chapter sixteen, verses thirteen through twenty-three.
This is the next passage in our consecutive reading of the Book of Samuel … but providentially it is also a very appropriate text for us to consider on Pentecost Sunday, and we will be looking at it and thinking about it in relation to Pentecost and the work of the Spirit. Specifically, we’ll be drawing in the account of Acts chapter two that we read together this morning. We won’t be reading that text again, but we will be referring to it, so you’ll want to have it in mind – and if you weren’t here this morning, you might want to glance at it.
Last Lord’s Day evening we considered God’s selection of David as the next king for his people Israel – that account was given to us in the first thirteen verses of First Samuel sixteen. David, in that passage, was anointed king by the prophet Samuel … but Saul – Saul who has now repeatedly rejected Yahweh, Israel’s God – Saul is still sitting on the throne. That situation will shape the next fifteen chapters of Samuel, but the first interactions on those terms comes here, in chapter sixteen.
So, with that in mind, First Samuel, chapter sixteen, verses thirteen through twenty-three. Please listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this evening:
13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed [David] in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of Yahweh rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
14 Now the Spirit of Yahweh departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from Yahweh tormented him. 15 And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” 17 So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” 18 One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and Yahweh is with him.” 19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” 20 And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. 21 And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. 22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” 23 And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Let’s pray …
Lord, we call to you, and we ask you to save us,
so that we might be your faithful servants, and live in light of your testimonies.
We cry out to you,
and we put our hope in your words.
We gather here now,
that we might meditate on your promises.
Hear our prayer, according to your steadfast love,
according to your justice in your covenant, give us life.
And as we face opposition from those who oppose you,
Help us to know how to root ourselves in you.
Grant this, we ask, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:46-151]
As I’ve already mentioned, our text begins with a picture that evokes what we considered this morning in the account of Pentecost in Acts chapter two. After Samuel anoints David as king, we read in verse thirteen that the Spirit of Yahweh, that God the Holy Spirit, rushes upon David.
And like at Pentecost, what is pictured here is the enabling, equipping work of the Holy Spirit for the task David has been called to. The Church was given a commission, and the Holy Spirit was poured out to make the Church what it needed to be for that commission, and similarly, David has been commissioned to be the next king, and the same equipping Spirit rushes upon him. There is a parallel between those two events, and a parallel appropriate for Pentecost Sunday.
And as we consider the enabling work of the Holy Spirit, though I have pointed out some of this before, it’s worth reminding ourselves that throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, when the Holy Spirit rushes upon someone, it is usually to equip them for battle, for prophetic obedience, and for ruling wisely. And many times the stress is on equipping them for battle.
We saw this just a few chapters earlier in First Samuel. Back in chapter eleven a portion of Israel is being oppressed by her enemies, and Saul hears of it, and we read that “the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul” and then he proceeds to organize the army and defeat Israel’s enemies in battle.
And this is not a new pattern, but one repeated throughout the book of Judges. In Judges 3 we read that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Othniel and he “went out to war, and Yahweh gave [the] king of Mesopotamia into his hand.”
In Judges 6 we read that “the Spirit of Yahweh clothed Gideon” and in the next chapters he defeats the Midianites in battle.
In Judges 11 we read that “the Spirit of Yahweh was upon Jephthah,” and then he goes out and subdues the Ammonites in battle.
And in Judges 14 we read that “the Spirit of Yahweh rushed upon” Samson, and then he strikes down his enemies in Ashkelon.
And the pattern does not end in the Old Testament but takes on even more significance in the New Testament. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus at his baptism, and then each also records how the Holy Spirit then “led”, or even “drove” Jesus out to the wilderness where he wages spiritual battle with the devil, in the form of the temptations.
And so, as the Holy Spirit rushes on David in First Samuel 16:13, and … as we considered this morning … as the Holy Spirit rushes on Peter and the early church in Acts 2:1-4 … both of them are similarly being equipped for battle.
In what follows in both passages, we see that the Holy Spirit, poured out on God’s people, drives them to and empowers them for redemptive spiritual battle with those who are hostile to God.
Let me say that again: We see here that the Holy Spirit, poured out on God’s people, drives them to and empowers them for redemptive spiritual battle with those who are hostile to God.
That’s where our text will lead us. If we want to see that clearly, and understand its implications, we need to ask three questions:
– First, what is the nature of the battle?
– Second, what are our weapons in the battle?
– And third, what are the expected results of each battle we face?
So – with the rushing of the Spirit, we expect a battle. What is the nature of the battle, what are our weapons in the battle, and what are the expected results of each battle?
First, what is the nature of the battle?
There is a lot of discussion on that topic in conservative Christian circles right now. Let me mention a few answers that are out there and being discussed.
The first answer is that the battle is already lost … for now at least … and so our best hope for the moment is strategic retreat. This view takes an honest look at where our culture is, and where it is headed, and concludes that those who are hostile to the Biblical God not only outnumber those who follow the Biblical God, but also that those hostile to the Biblical God hold on to so many important seats of power, whether political, economic, educational, or institutional, that the battle is basically lost for now, and so our best approach is strategic retreat.
This approach is often thoughtful and certainly can feel very rational and reasonable.
We could analyze this perspective in some detail, but for now I’ll only direct us to our texts from tonight and this morning.
Consider David and his situation.
Saul, we learn in verse fourteen has experienced the opposite of David. The same Spirit that’s now equipping David and that had equipped Saul, has now left Saul … and in the Holy Spirit’s place has come a harmful spirit.
Commentators debate the nature of this spirit. I think it most likely represents a demonic spirit – an angel in rebellion against God. When we read that this harmful spirit was “from Yahweh” I think the stress is not that it was a spirit who belonged to Yahweh, but rather that the author is stressing God’s sovereign power even over such evil spirits. We read in Job how even Satan cannot act unless God permits him to. So the Holy Spirit has left Saul and a demon is at work in him now instead.
And we should note in all of this that Saul is not an innocent victim. He has repeatedly rebelled against God without sincere repentance. The loss of the Spirit of God and the gain of a harmful spirit is not something being done to Saul so much as it is his receiving what he has been asking for, again and again, and again.
David, on the other hand, is a man after God’s own heart, who wants to serve God faithfully. The Spirit has been poured out on him … and then he receives an invitation to serve in Saul’s court. And David would know that Saul was a king who had rejected God. It seems evident that the stories of Saul’s rebellion against Samuel the prophet, that the stories of Saul’s mistreatment of God’s people, the stories of Saul’s direct disobedience to God’s word – that all of these would be known fairly widely. And if that weren’t bad enough, David is asked to come because Saul is now influenced by this harmful spirit.
Now … it would have seemed really reasonable for David to say “Look. The king and his court are corrupt. They have openly rejected God. There are literally demons at work there. There is no realistic chance of me influencing the situation positively and a lot greater chance of me being influenced negatively, and so, I’m not going to enter a situation like that. I’m going to set up an alternative community and we’ll develop our faith there on our own.”
That would have sounded reasonable. But the Holy Spirit had rushed on David, and that’s not what David said.
Similarly, it would have been reasonable for Peter to say to the other disciples on Pentecost “We are 120 believers surrounded by thousands of nonbelieving Jews – some of whom were here and had supported the execution of Jesus. There is no hope of influencing them. Our best bet is to keep the doors and windows closed and stay up here in the upper room rather than run the risks that come with going out to them.”
But again, the Holy Spirit had rushed on Peter, and that’s not what Peter said.
David and Peter do not take the path of declaring that the battle is already lost and that their best hope is strategic retreat. That’s the first possible response, and it’s a response not taken in these passages.
A second possible response is to declare that there doesn’t need to be any real battle, and we should enter the world and just keep our faith private.
This is another response that many Christians in our culture have taken to as they downplay the animosity between God and the world and tell themselves and others that we can keep our faith in the private sphere and all will be well.
We should note that David was not known for this either. In fact, David was known for his relationship with God – the servants say in verse eighteen that Yahweh is with him. David lived in Israel at a time when the king was known to be at odds with Yahweh, their God – so much so that Saul’s own servants confess openly in verse sixteen that the harmful spirit coming against Saul their master is from God. They know that Saul and God are at odds with each other. But David’s faith was public enough that they mention it in describing him, and they have confidence that his relationship to God might help Saul. David’s faith is a public fact, even as he enters the service of one hostile to God.
Similarly, Peter does not come out on Pentecost and propose a “live and let live” relationship between the Church and the nonbelieving Jews. He confronts them. He tells them in Acts 2:22 that God was with Jesus, and then he declares to them in the next verse that they killed him.
David and Peter each might have sought to live a conflict-free life in a spiritually hostile world by privatizing their faith … but the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and under the influence of the Spirit that’s not what they did.
David and Peter did not take the second path of privatizing their faith and living as if there was no spiritual battle.
A third option many have taken nowadays is to treat the battle as if it is primarily a political battle – to respond to the hostility by trying to gain political power over your opponents, so that you can subjugate them to yourself.
David might have come into the courts of Saul and begun to maneuver for power – to grasp at power from Saul, to make treasonous alliances and figure out how to win and seize the throne. He could have acted as if the primary battlefield was political and the best weapons were political ones.
But he didn’t. Instead all we read of David in this opening scene is how he served Saul faithfully. There is not a hint of maneuvering or subversion on his part.
In the same way, Peter and the disciples do not come out of the upper room strategizing as to how they can use the animosity between the Romans and the Jewish leaders to get power over those who killed their Lord. They come out of the upper room and Peter’s genuine concern is that those same people who killed Jesus Christ might be saved from judgment. He wants to bless them, not gain power over them.
David and Peter could have seen the primary battle as political, and the best weapons as political ones – they could have sought to subjugate or crush their enemies … but the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and under the Spirit’s influence, that’s not what they did.
Now, we should be clear. Pulling back for a moment in a particular situation can be wise. Knowing when to speak and when to be silent is wise. Carefully navigating political structures can be wise. All of these things can be important pieces in how God’s people, under the influence of the Holy Spirit interact with the world. But none of them are to be the dominant approach. None of them were the dominant approach of David or Peter in our texts.
Instead, they took a fourth path – what we might call the Pentecost Option, if you will. They stepped into a hostile world, rather than retreating from it. Rather than privatizing their faith, they openly acknowledged their faith and the hostility between their Lord and the world they were stepping into. And rather than seeking to politically crush their enemies, they instead began to seek their good.
Under the leading of the Holy Spirit, David and Peter both saw that the battle before them was real, and that it was primarily spiritual. That was the nature of the battle.
How do you need to cooperate with the Spirit in the same way?
Where have you been avoiding interactions with non-Christians in ways that might sound reasonable … but that make less sense if you possess the same Holy Spirit that David and Peter did?
Where have you been pretending there is no conflict between your faith and the world around you in ways that make your life more peaceful … but that seem a lot less authentic in comparison to how David and Peter stand out and own their faith publicly?
Where have you been tempted to grasp at power and try to hurt those who are hostile to your faith – whether in social interactions, in the workplace, or in your political engagements – where have you treated your enemies in ways that look paganly self-serving, when compared to the concern and service you see in David and Peter?
The nature of the battle is spiritual. And the way forward is the way of Pentecost.
Which leads to our next question …
What are our weapons in this battle?
What are our weapons in this spiritual battle with those who are hostile to God?
What we see is that our weapon is redemptive love aimed at freeing our enemies.
Our weapon is redemptive love aimed at freeing our enemies.
We need to unpack that a bit.
First, why are we trying to free our enemies?
Theologian Peter Leithart recently made a helpful point about this, as he was responding to another Christian who took an approach aimed more at trying to politically subjugate our spiritual enemies.
Leithart responded to that approach by saying that if we thought of these battles as primarily spiritual rather than primarily political, then things would begin to sort out differently. He gives an example – he writes: “Those who advocate the murder of the unborn are our enemies because they are enemies of God; but we should also view them as slaves of Sin and Death. We must rebuke them severely, but in love, with the hope that they will be delivered from their slavery into a freedom they have not yet conceived. And, if they are implacable, as Israel was in the face of most of her prophets, then our witness will harden and blind them for eventual judgment.”
Abortion is one major moral issue, but there are many more.
Leithart’s point is that we tend to act as if the person before us is the only actor when they hold to a position that is hostile to God. But the Bible reminds us again and again that while such a person is an active agent in their hostility to God, while such a person is responsible for their hostility to God and people made in God’s image, still they are also slaves. They are slaves to sin, to death, and to the devil.
David’s response to Saul was not to show up in the court and blast him for the decisions that led him to where he was … his response was to begin working against the spirit that was now oppressing Saul. David worked to give Saul relief, no doubt in the hopes that it might lead to Saul’s repentance and freedom from the demon he had, in essence, chosen for himself.
Similarly, Peter’s response to the nonbelieving Jews in Jerusalem was not to go outside and condemn them, but to earnestly desire that they would repent and believe and so be freed from the sin, death, and the influence of the devil that had led them to crucify Christ in the first place.
Where do you need to shift your view and desire for someone hostile to God, and maybe also hostile to you? What nonbeliever in your life do you think of as an enemy, but not as one who is a slave to sin, death, and the devil? What non-Christian do you need to cultivate pity for rather than hatred for? There is someone for you – there’s someone for everyone in that category. Who do you need to view the way David and Peter viewed those around them? Who do you need to respond to in love, just as David and Peter responded in love?
And as you consider that, you also need to reflect on how the kind of loved each showed was important – and it was important in several ways.
First, both David and Peter loved in ways that were recognizable as love to those they interacted with. You can see this first in how Saul responded to David. Saul, we read in verse twenty-one, loved David “greatly.” We read that he made David his armor-bearer, which probably was an honorary title for his role in the court, more than a military position at the time [Alter, 99; Jordan, 38:00-39:20]. We read that Saul sent a request to Jesse that David could remain in his service, “because,” Saul wrote: “he has found favor in my sight.” In verse twenty-three we read that David refreshed Saul and made him well. David loved Saul in ways that Saul could see and recognize.
Similarly, at least three-thousand of those gathered on Pentecost could see that Peter genuinely wanted to help them – that he wanted them to find forgiveness and salvation. When they were distressed by the message he delivered of what they had done – when they felt the weight of their guilt – they did not respond by going to someone else for help, but they turned to Peter and the apostles to ask them “Brothers, what shall we do?” They could see the Apostles’ love for them enough to call them “brothers” and to come to them for help.
We too are called to love in ways that our spiritual enemies would recognize – in ways that would bless them, in ways that they would be thankful for, in ways that would make us find favor in their sight.
Think of a non-Christian God is calling you to engage with redemptively, in this kind of spiritual battle. Who is that for you? And what would it look like for you to love them in a way they would be thankful for?
So first, both David and Peter loved in ways that were recognizable as love to those they interacted with.
Second, between the two of them, David and Peter loved in both word and in deed. We see love in deed with David. He served faithfully and brought relief to Saul. We see love in word with Peter as he boldly but lovingly shared the gospel with the nonbelieving Jews.
Most of us tend towards one of these ways of showing redemptive love, and we shy away from the other. We either prefer word or deed. Different situations call us to begin with different ones, but the combined picture here shows us the importance of both. We are called to love those hostile to God in word and in deed.
Third, David and Peter’s love grew out of how they were different from the non-believing world, not out of how they were the same as it. And this one is important if you are one who is tempted to downplay the spiritual tension between Christ’s people and the world.
David and Peter did not love the world exceptionally well by toning down the distinctiveness of their faith, they loved the world exceptionally through the very things that made them different.
David acts as a sort of exorcist in Saul’s court – and he is able to do that because he is faithful to Yahweh in a way that Saul is not. David does not bless Saul by imitating Saul, but by remaining distinct.
Similarly, Peter does not bring the unbelieving Jews to salvation by downplaying the differences in their relationships to Jesus, but by bringing them into focus and stark contrast. It is because Peter’s relationship to Jesus is different than theirs that he can show them the way to salvation.
We can often be tempted to act as if the best thing we have to offer the nonbelieving world is just more of something or other that the nonbelieving world already has. We can be tempted to act as if muting our faith is how we can help best. David and Peter remind us that that is not true. The best things you have to offer the non-Christians around you are rooted in the gospel that sets you apart.
David and Peter’s love grew out of how they were different from the non-believing world, not how they were the same as it.
Fourth, and finally, the power behind these weapons was the Holy Spirit. David didn’t drive out the harmful spirit primarily through musical skill. Peter didn’t convert the crowds primarily through oratorical skill. In both cases, it was the Holy Spirit, working through them.
We can sometimes try to avoid the call to redemptively love those around us because we think we lack the skills to really help them. But the truth is that you will never possess the skills to bring the ultimate help they need. The power they need will never come from you. It will always come from the Holy Spirit, who will work through your acts of redemptive love.
What is our weapon in the spiritual battles we face?
Our weapon is redemptive love aimed at freeing our enemies, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And that brings us to our final question: What are the results we should expect for each battle we face?
Up until now I have brought both the Pentecost account and First Samuel sixteen together because of how they complement each other, and provide a unified picture.
But on this point, we need both texts for the contrast they provide.
In Acts chapter two, empowered by the Holy Spirit Peter steps out in spiritual battle, he reaches out in redemptive love to the nonbelieving Jews around him … and the result is the immediate conversion of 3,000 people.
In First Samuel sixteen David begins a spiritual battle of faithfully loving and serving Saul for years, empowered by the Holy Spirit … and the result will be that Saul will not turn back to God.
Both David and Peter were faithful in how they engaged the nonbelieving world before them. Both David and Peter were empowered by the Holy Spirit. And both got very different results.
This past week I got to sit in on a meeting with Miss Yvette and Miss Ursula, the women who run “The Homes of Naomi, Ruth and Boas” (NRB) – a Christian transitional home here in Tacoma which some in our church have had the privilege of partnering with. It’s a wonderful ministry, and certainly one that is worth considering if you’re looking for a place to serve those in need – if you’re looking for a specific place to fulfill this calling to spiritual battle. And there is a lot that many of us can learn from that ministry and its leaders.
And in that meeting, Miss Yvette shared several stories with us about those they had been ministering to. And some of the stories were hard. Some were of residents who seemed so promising, who seemed so dedicated to changing their lives, who seemed so interested in Christ, who those ministering at NRB loved and poured themselves into … and then the resident walked away and returned to their old destructive patterns of life. And it was heartbreaking.
Other stories were the opposite. Miss Yvette and Miss Ursula and the volunteers at NRB would try to love and minister to a resident who would resist them, and resent them, curse them. And those at NRB would just try to keep loving them. And then … a turn would come – they would begin to truly embrace their need for change and their need for Christ in a deeper way, and they would long to be set free by the Holy Spirit.
Some stories spanned both arcs: a resident would leave in rebellion, only to come back some time later, to admit their need for help, and to ask to be allowed back into the home.
And Ms. Yvette stressed how you never really knew what the end result was going too be when a resident came in. Sometimes it was wonderful. Many times it was heartbreaking. Their calling, she reminded us, was to love the residents and minister to them as best they can, because they cannot know the results. Their calling was to be faithful and to work in the power of the Holy Spirit. The results were out of their hands.
I came away from that meeting with a deeper appreciation that spiritual battle is not for the faint of heart.
As Peter Leithart said – sometimes we are delivering people from slavery to sin and death, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Other times our work will harden them for the final judgement to come … and that is by the power of the Holy Spirit as well. We cannot know beforehand which one it will be from one case to the next.
We who are equipped by the Holy Spirit are called to step out into the nonbelieving world in the pattern of Pentecost. We are called to wage spiritual battle with redemptive love, aimed at freeing our enemies, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the result is something we cannot know beforehand. They may harden like Saul or soften like the Jews at Pentecost. But either way, our calling is to be faithful to the Spirit who has been poured out upon us.
The callings God puts on his people are often hard. They can be daunting and difficult. There’s a reason why G. K. Chesterton said “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” [Chesterton, 25-26]
It is tempting to retreat. It is tempting to go out into the world and privatize our faith – to hide it under a basket, as Jesus warns us not to do. It is tempting to wage war with others in the pattern of this world. All of those are easier than what we are called to do.
And if we had to do it on our own, it would be impossible.
But our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is not in our ability to buck up and get the job done. Our hope is in the Holy Spirit, poured out on the Church. Our hope is that the Holy Spirit will work in each of us individually, to prepare us for the work we need to do. Our hope is that the Holy Spirit will weave us together with others in the Church, working to the same ends, so that we do not enter this spiritual battle alone. Our hope is in the Spirit’s power to work through our feeble efforts, and not in our own power. We can do nothing on our own. But the Spirit of God? Nothing is impossible for him.
Let us be a people who respond to the Spirit of God in faith … trusting him and not ourselves … stepping out into the world in truth and love, waging spiritual battle through redemptive love, and being willing to do it whatever outcome the Spirit may work through it.
That is, after all, what Christ our Lord did in his earthly life.
And that is what we are called to as well.
For by the power of the Holy Spirit, we the Church, are the Body of Christ, given as a gift, for the life of the world. [Stephen Grabill]
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.
Chesterton, G. K. What’s Wrong with the World. Pantianos Classics. First Published in 1910.
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.
Jordan, James B. Lecture 16 of the lecture series “Books of 1-2 Samuel.” WordMP3.com. (http://www.wordmp3.com/product-group.aspx?id=152 )
Leithart, Peter J. A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.
Leithart, Peter J. “The Alternatives to David-Frenchism.” The Theopolis Institute President’s Blog. June 3, 2019. (https://theopolisinstitute.com/leithart/the-alternatives-to-david-frenchism)