Two Sinners in Times of Need


Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 28:1-25
Rev. Dr. Kwangho Song

Main Points:
I. A sinner seeks the Lord’s guidance
II. Another sinner seeks the devil’s advice
III. God seeks a penitent sinner

The weather for yesterday and today seems to me a sign of approaching spring. And there’s another thing we’re fast approaching, that is, the end of this sermon series from the First Book of Samuel. We’ve got only three chapters to go to finish this book. I hope you’re enjoying this series as I do. As we approach its end, we see the lives of two main figures of this book, David and Saul, diverging further and further away from each other’s course. While Saul rejects God further, David depends on Him more; while Saul becomes more self-righteous, David is adorned with the Lord’s righteousness more. While Saul is quick in going downhill to the way of the condemned, David is lifted and carried upward slowly yet surely to his throne. This is what we read from these closing chapters of 1 Samuel.

In this chapter we’ve just read, however, that movement of diverging from one another seems to suddenly disappear as both of them are found in similar pits of troubles. At least here in 1 Sam. 28, neither one is smiling at all. I don’t know whether you’ve tried a bungee jump, but both David and Saul are, in this chapter, pushed to the tip of a bungee jump stand. In a second, they’re going to plummet to the deepest pit they’ve never imagined coming. So, they both are in terribly bad situations, struggling desperately and seeking a helping hand.

In a sense, most of us understand what that means as we ourselves have gone through some moments of trouble and we’ve sought for help. Such a moment is like standing at the edge of a cliff, much more dangerous than standing on a bungee jump platform. In such a case, people struggle to grab hold of anything that might save them from troubles. So, we know what sort of situations these two men are and how desperately they’re searching for a help.

Examining what happens to each of these men, David and Saul, we find an interesting point, that is, they respond to their situation differently – in fact, completely opposite way – and so are the results of their responses. In their troubles, one seeks God while the other looks for anything other than God for help. This difference again separates David from Saul, leading David to upward to God’s throne of grace and Saul to the opposite direction of the condemned.

This story gives a truly important spiritual lesson for all Christians like you and me, and at the same time, a great challenge for all people in the world who seek anything but God for help in their times of need. Simply put, this story is for all men and women to come to the true God, seeking His helping hand in their times of need. Coming to Him, the Lord God, for help, only one thing is required, that is, repentance of their sins. When a sinner comes in repentance, seeking God’s help, He’ll give the sinner not just a relief from troubles, not just peace of heart and mind, but also salvation, life in both this life and the next. The message we hear from this story in God’s holy book is that He will forgive. No matter how deep one’s trouble is, God is approachable, He can save. No matter how bad one’s sin is, God always hears a penitent sinner and forgives his sins. More than that, He brings him up from that trouble and adorns him with His glory. This is the message we hear from this chapter as in all other parts of the Bible.

So, we’ll follow the way of David first and that of Saul to hear this message of sinner’s need for coming to God in repentance to receive His grace in forgiveness of sins, covering a multitude of sins.

David has been in the Philistia for about a year by now and we read and contemplated last Sunday on his works at Ziklag, their resident city in the Philistia. He went out with his men and raided the enemies of Israel and, by doing that, he carried out God’s command for Israel which Saul and all Israelites have forgotten to comply, that is, to get rid of the Canaanite tribes including the Amalekites. Of course, he’s kept this secret to Achish, king of Gath. So, in this way, David has been fairly free in the land of the Philistines.

But freedom in the land of the God-rejectors never lasts. Sooner or later, the effort of God-fearers to cohabit with God-haters will be flagging and worn out. That’s what comes to David and his men at Ziklag. All Philistine leaders gather together and decide to have a war against Saul and his army. David is summoned by Achish, king of Gath, and his intention is questioned. ‘Will you stand on our side in this coming war against Saul and his army?’

Truth is that it’s not surprising to hear this question because such is the question many Christians and churches have heard in every era in history. Just to give you a few examples, at the time of imperialism several centuries ago, churches heard almost the exact same question from their authorities, ‘Will you stand on our side when we exploit peoples and their lands in colonisation and man slavery?’ Fairly recently, in the last century, the churches in Germany during the time of Nazi Germany were asked, ‘Will you stand on our side as we carry out an ethnic cleansing?’ Their time of peace and freedom in the midst of God-rejectors was over and they had to face that serious question which asked them to decide between life and death in terms of their Christian faith. The same is happening with the churches in our time and the question many churches hear is something like this: ‘Will you stand on the world’s side when it takes the Bible out of the life of the public?’ The question David and his men hear from Achish is a familiar question to all churches and Christians.

What would happen if David says ‘yes’ to this question? David would become not just a traitor, but much more than that; he would be an enemy to God’s people, thus, to their God. That would be far worse than his physical death. If he says, ‘no,’ then, he and his men and all their families with them would be in a serious trouble, most likely death. This question is the trickiest and most difficult dilemma for David as much as for all Christians. No wonder why some churches in our generation have chosen the easy answer and said ‘yes’ to this question and compromised their faith in the Lord Jesus. And by doing so, they’re allowed to have peace with the world, cohabiting in their midst.

What is David’s choice in this situation? He murmurs, simply put. His answer is not clear whether he would stand on Achish’s side or not. He says in v. 2, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” While he speaks ambiguously, hiding himself in the fog of equivocation, he seeks God and His help. Although we don’t have a scriptural evidence of David’s search for God, his silence and lack of enthusiasm for the Philistines’ plan support this interpretation. Otherwise, he would’ve tried to gain support from all other Philistine commanders for his involvement in this raid. But that isn’t the case. In ch. 29, you’ll hear that the Philistine commanders altogether reject David to be a part of their army. They instinctively know that David is not one of them.

So David seeks God’s guidance in this difficult situation. Most likely in repentance, being penitent for his disobedience to God’s command, that is, to stay in the land of Judah. Considering David based on what we’ve read so far, this situation must be in his eyes a God’s discipline for his disobedience. He had a similar moment of repentance in the past. When Saul sought to kill him, he ran and went to Achish at Gath. But he was terrified for his life there, so he had no other option than acting like an insane man, marking on the doors of the city gate. He barely saved his life and, having escaped from the Philistines, went to the Moabites, another enemy of Israel. Having returned from those enemy lands, David became a different man in the beginning of ch. 22 and I strongly believe that that was the result of his repentance. Now is the moment David remembers that bitter yet sweet repentance for his sins. So, in his silence, he seeks God and His guidance.

What do you think would happen to David in repentance? God hears the penitent and answers to their prayers. Ps. 10:17 reminds us of this truth, saying, “O LORD, You hear the desire of the afflicted; You will strengthen their heart; You will incline Your ear [to them].” Although he is a deserter of the promised land of God, living in the midst of God-haters, he repents of his sins and seeks the Lord God and waits for His guidance. And God leads him out of this trouble in a mysteriously amazing way and guides him and all his people out of the enemy’s snare and into safety where they can enjoy the Lord’s abundant blessings.

This is the challenge for us all to come to the Lord in repentance. Not only in times of trouble do we remember and come to Him and seek His guidance, but also in relatively peaceful time in the world do we need to be near our God in repentance of our various sins, such as our negligence with our duty to one another, that is, to love in Jesus, and our indifference to the gospel ministry of Christ’s church. We should also repent from the sin of thinking that Christians and the world could live in peace side by side. It’ll never happen. So, serve God only rather than serving God and mammon, the god of this world.

Whereas David is a deserter in the midst of God-haters, Saul is king of Israel in the shelter of a medium God hates. In the sense of deserting God, David and Saul are equally guilty. But unlike David, Saul seeks a help and guidance from anything but God. While David quietly seeks God in repentance in the midst of God’s enemies, Saul openly seeks the devil’s advice in the midst of God’s people, Israel. What a stark contrast!

Let me help you to understand how Saul deserts God and seeks the devil’s advice. First of all, he inquired of God for help but receives no answer from Him in any possible way. Why? Because Saul seeks God without repentance of his sins. That’s not the way a sinner comes to God and seeks His help. Some years earlier, Saul murdered the high priest of God, accusing him for hiding and helping David. Not only the high priest, but also all people in that city of priests did Saul murder mercilessly. We don’t read Saul’s repentance for that dreadful sin anywhere here or elsewhere. He has been chasing after David in search of his life against God’s plan. No repentance of that either. So, Saul’s inquiry for God’s guidance is an idle chatter like a drunkard’s murmur. His search does not aim the ears of gracious God who never misses any word of the penitent heart and always listens to all who come to Him in spirit and truth. In this way, Saul deserts God.

Secondly, Saul turns to any advisor that could be found, and seeks a medium. What is a medium? A person generally thought to have an ability to converse with the dead and, more accurately, who deceives people with a secret way of deceit to manipulate them to think that he/she can communicate with the spirits of the dead. God hates medium alongside spiritist, necromancer, sorcerer and one who calls up the dead, as Dt. 18:10-11 clearly teaches. To a medium God hates, Saul turns! By this, it sounds like he’s saying, ‘You see? I inquired of God but He didn’t answer to me. So, what else can I do other than seeing a medium?’

Unfortunately, this is often the attitude we are guilty of. David was not exemption. He left the land of Judah for Gath. He said, ‘I’ll surely die if I don’t leave here’ while God had given him a clear direction to stay in the land of Judah. David said in this sense, ‘But God, I’ve done all things. I’ve spared Saul’s life twice and he’s promised twice to me for my safety, but this isn’t going to happen. Saul, as You know well, will surely come again after me!’ So, David left Judah and went to Gath as Saul now turns to a medium. So is the attitude of many of us, if not all of us. We pray maybe twice or three times, then, say, ‘Why aren’t You giving me an answer, God? I need one now. But because You’re quiet, I’ll see what I can do for myself.’ We must repent of this sin! So, in this sin, Saul deserts God and seeks the devil’s advice.

Thirdly, seeing a medium, Saul attends his ears to the deceptive words of the devil. The medium calls up the so-claimed spirit of Samuel and it speaks to Saul. But this is a big lie and deception. That was not at all the spirit of Samuel. The dead cannot come back in whatever case. It’s nothing but the devil’s play. Some people might question, saying, ‘How could the evil spirit disguised as Samuel foretell Saul what would happen tomorrow regarding the Israel’s army and Saul and Jonathan’s deaths?’ The answer is that’s what the devil does. It has spiritual power and able to see a fragment, not the full picture, of future and uses that to deceive and allure people to stay away from God. As Eph. 6:12 says, our fight, our struggle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Saul attends his ears to its deception and looses all hope, if there was any left. And he falls full length on the ground, filled with fear, as v. 20 tells us, because of those words from the disguised, deceptive devil. What a waste of time and energy! What a foolish pursuit of empty advice! As Matthew Henry, renowned 17th century English minister and theologian, commented on this, Saul is as good as dead ‘as if the archers of the Philistines had already hit him.’

If he repented of all his sins, pouring out his heart before God and saying, ‘I’m sorry, God; I was wrong. Forgive me!’, if he did come to God in repentance, no matter how dreadful his sins were, no matter whether he had murdered not one but ten or a hundred high priests of God, if he did come to God, seeking His forgiveness, the picture we see from v. 20 and onward to the end of this chapter and what follows in the next couple of chapters would’ve never happened. Despite all those terrible sins of Saul, despite his brazen-faced scorns at God’s many previous challenges for repentance, God would surely erase all records of Saul’s sins and renew his heart, let alone saving him and all his army from the hands of the Philistines!

How am I so sure about God’s forgiveness? Because of what God has done in history for numerous sinners. A typical example is Paul of Acts who used to be called as Saul. He was a murderer of an innocent man, Stephen, one of the first seven deacons. Paul persecuted Christians and churches, thus, persecuted Jesus Christ, the Head of His church. But God changed him to be Paul, an apostle for the Gentiles. But before taking up that task of apostleship, he spent three years in repentance and for faith in Jesus Christ. And having spent all his life for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, he now stands before King Agrippa and the governor Festus, as we’ve read earlier this morning from Acts 26, and once again boldly delivers the message of salvation by the name Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through repentance and faith.

All Jesus’ disciples are likewise. They altogether denied Jesus, but in repentance, their hearts were restored through forgiveness and God bestowed upon them His Spirit. More than them, you and I are clear evidence of God’s faithfulness toward His promise for forgiveness. Yet, all collective human examples cannot be compared with the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and the unchangeable promise and power of His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins of all who come to Him in repentance. His forgiveness is surer than anything, surer than the fact that the sun will rise from the east tomorrow morning. Every forgiven sinner knows about it and lives in it even now!

So, what is our conclusion? Let me present to you three points. Firstly, you and I must not be slow in bringing our sins before the cross of Jesus, remembering that God listens to our words of repentance. And repentance makes us stand firm in faith as the more we turn away from sins in repentance, the closer we come to our Lord, thus, the stronger we stand in faith.

Secondly, do not be deceived by the devil’s deception in our walk with the Lord. When we seek our Lord’s guidance, not only in times of need, but also in every situation, we should be patient, being familiar with the way of God leading His dear children. Seek Him and bring your inquiries and wants and desires to Him, and leave them with the Lord, and wait for His answers in His way and time. Do not be anxious; never try to twist the Lord’s arm. Moreover, never try to go after the devil’s advice. In other words, do not follow the way everyone else in the world seek and do – they reject God in their wants and deeds. But as Heb. 4:16 urges us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

And lastly, we must first understand and convince that there’s no sin that cannot be forgiven by God. His forgiveness is for all sinners who come to Him in repentance, regardless of the collective weight of their sins. And to all who repent, Jesus will give His eternal life, and His Spirit will come upon them and indwell them now and for ever! If convinced of this truth, you and I should let others know about this way of salvation; we cannot keep it to ourselves, can we? For it is freely given to us, we should give and share it with others freely and always.

May the Lord lead us in our life and guide us in our sharing of Jesus’ blessing in His forgiveness of sins. ***

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