Believer’s Dilemma and Delight


Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 29:1-11
Rev. Dr. Kwangho Song

Main Points:
I. Believer’s dilemma in the world
II. Believer’s delight in God’s deliverance
III. Believer’s departure from the world’s assembly

Facing a dilemma is not pleasant at all – in fact, dreadful – because, in a dilemmatic situation, we’re required to choose between options that seem equally unfavourable or unsatisfactory. Choosing one option doesn’t seem to be better than choosing the other. Neither is the desirable way, let alone a preferable way. In such a case, we panic.

A story from an unknown source illustrates dilemma well. Two hunters came across a bear so big that they dropped their rifles and ran for cover. One man climbed a tree while the other hid in a nearby cave. The bear was in no hurry to eat, so he sat down between the tree and the cave to reflect upon his good fortune. Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the hunter in the cave came rushing out, almost ran into the waiting bear, hesitated, and then dashed back in again. The same thing happened a second time. When he emerged for the third time, his friend in the tree frantically called out, ‘John, are you crazy? Stay in the cave till he leaves!’ ‘I can’t,’ panted John, ‘there’s another bear in there!’

John’s response is exactly how we would respond to a dilemma in our life. We panic because we don’t see any way out. And David in this chapter we’ve just read is in a situation like that of John. He is in a terrible dilemmatic situation. Choosing one option over the other would not give him any relief, but more pain and deeper damage. I believe some of you have experienced such a dilemma in your life.

David in our text passage faces one like that; it’s a big trouble with no escapeway. I believe this is the biggest dilemma he has ever faced in his life up until now. There are many psalms he wrote and, in many of them, he speaks about troubles and difficulties. Among those troubles, I believe this dilemmatic occasion would be one of the darkest moments he ever experienced, like what he says in Ps. 22:11, “trouble is near, and there is none to help.” Either in the cave or out of the cave, a bear waits.

David’s story in this chapter gives us Christians an important spiritual lesson for facing such a dilemma in our life – what to know and consider, thus, react to it as God’s children. David’s story directs our eyes to God in Jesus and urges us to trust Him even in a dilemmatic situation.

So, let me begin with David in 1 Sam. 29 and together with you think about ‘believer’s dilemma in the world.’ As we’ve seen David so far, following him as he came to and dwell in the land of the Philistines, he’s always been in a dilemmatic situation. I mean, he’s constantly been in a series of dilemmas. He was ordained by Samuel the prophet as Israel’s future king, but he could not proceed to his God-given throne. If he had desired it, he would’ve had to confront or kill Saul because Saul wasn’t at all in a mood of having a peaceful transfer of the crown. God had given it to him, but he could not claim it. Moreover, Saul wanted David dead. So, instead of moving closer to the throne, he was pushed to the edge of his own nation and hid himself in the wilderness. Then, finally he decided to leave Israel for his life and defected to the Philistine king, Achish.

Being allowed to live at a corner of the Philistia, he went out to raid the towns that belonged to the Amalekites and others who were Israel’s enemies. Yet, he reported back to the Philistine king that he had done a favour for him. Achish thought David had been attacking towns that belonged to Israel. In that way, David was doing a favour of Israel, not of the Philistia. But he kept his secret to himself and all men with him. Neither Israel nor Philistia was aware of David’s deeds because of an obvious reason. If David’s secret had been known to anyone of Israel who was not sympathetic toward David, that information might have found its way to the ears of the Philistine king, then, David and his men would’ve been in an irreversible danger. In this way, David has been carefully walking on the verge of life and death while he is in the Philistine territory. It is a dilemma to him although he and all his companions are in a relatively peaceful time.

But, David’s peace did not last long. In fact, peaceful cohabitation between the believer and the unbeliever never lasts. David was summoned by the Philistine king and asked to go out to a war alongside him. The Philistine army is going to fight against the Israelites, David’s own people. If David says, ‘no,’ to this summons, Achish would change his mind and his favour and hospitality toward David would be turned to hostility, regarding him as an enemy of the Philistia. So, he might attack David first before going against the Israel’s army. But if David says, ‘yes,’ to that conscription order, he would have no other option than standing next to Achish in the battlefield and fight against his own blood and flesh – more than that, the army of God! What a dilemma he is in! Inside the cave is a bear and a bigger one awaits him outside. The Bible is silent on what might have gone through David’s mind at this moment, but we could easily guess that most probably David’s heart was screaming in his body as it pumped the blood out toward his brain and his mind was madly searching for a way out.

David has been well trained through many difficulties and troubles so far, but he has never faced anything like this before. This dilemma means to him two dangers – danger one, he and his 600 men and their families are in the verge of death; danger two, the whole Israel could be extinct as God ordained future king would fight against and kill his own people!

This is David’s dilemma. But it’s not only for him; the same is also for all Christians living in this world. Christians are summoned by this world and asked to have a war against Christ and His church. I mean, to focus our eyes on bread, rather than the true Bread from above, Jesus Christ. Christians are summoned to chase after material gains and bodily satisfaction, rather than to pursue things like righteousness, godliness, faith and love that give spiritual joy and eternal satisfaction in Jesus. No wonder why the first temptation Jesus went through was about turning stones into loaves of bread. More than that, competition against others is commended as a real thing for real people living in the real world, while Christian companionship with one another is regarded as something dismissible, like a child’s play. In this way, Christians are constantly pushed to feel ashamed of their faith and encouraged to put aside their faith while they are not in their church, but in the world.

Having said, I think the greatest problem for us Christians is that not many of us recognise that we’re in the exact dilemma David faces in this chapter of 1 Samuel. Simply put, not many of us realise that we’re in a cave hemmed in between two bears. We serve the world, yet, we’re of Christ the Lord. The prince of this world summons us to stand alongside him as he wages war against the Christ and His church. If we say, ‘yes,’ to the prince of this world, we’d stand against the Lord and His church; if we say, ‘no,’ we’d be in danger of losing our jobs, our possessions, our worldly comfort and fame. Yet, there’s no time for us to withdraw and give a thorough examination of this conscription order as David couldn’t find no time to do so in the previous chapter (ch. 28). We’re living in the world and asked to give an answer of either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Do you see the dilemma you and I face, and how urgent this situation is?

The problem is that, despite this dilemma, not many Christians would feel their heart pumping the blood madly to assist their mind desperately searching for a way out. I mean, not many Christians are interested in finding a way out, let alone taking the situation serious. This is Christian’s dilemma in this world.

Although David knew how serious dilemma it was, unlike most of us, and sought a way out, he – like most us – does not know what to do about it. He can’t do anything other than his mind running madly, yet, unfruitfully. What else could he do? Going back to the story I told you earlier, John who hid himself in the cave couldn’t do anything other than just running between two bears, could he? There was no way out for him. David likewise is sandwiched – he can’t say either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ So, he and his 600 men march alongside the Philistine king. We almost hear him praying madly in his mind, probably in line with the words recorded in one of his psalms, Ps. 4:1,
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
       You have given me relief when I was in distress.
       Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
Or in another psalm of his, Ps. 31:9,
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
       My eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.”

Then, what happens? Vs. 2-3 of our text passage says this: “As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, the commanders of the Philistines said, ‘What are these Hebrews doing here?’” Then, v. 4 tells us that the Philistine commanders are angry with their king, Achish, for supporting David and bringing him into their army. They strongly demand Achish that David be sent away! Achish has no other option than accepting their demand and sending David away!

Do you see what this is? It’s God’s way of saving His dear children, God’s provision and protection for them. This is an actualisation of Prov. 10:29 which says, “the way of the LORD is a stronghold to the blameless,” that is, all who belong to God. This is how God delivers His own children from their dilemma.

From this, we find some principles of God’s deliverance for His own like David as well as you and me. Firstly, God’s deliverance comes in a mysteriously marvellous way. I say, ‘in a mysteriously marvellous way’ because what God does is incomprehensible to us. The depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God is unsearchable and immeasurable. Take David’s deliverance here as an example. Who could expect such a deliverance would come from the Philistine commanders? They were, in a sense, the fangs and claws of one of the deadly bears waiting for David to devour him. But they let him loose, they sent him away, they became the hand of God for David’s deliverance. What an irony! What a mysteriously marvellous way God did save David!

Secondly, God’s deliverance frees Christians from all binding chains of the dilemma they face. David is not saved from one bear only to end up at another’s jaw – no, that’s not the case. He is completely freed from all dangers. He doesn’t have to fight against God’s army, nor to put himself and all his companions under the swords of the Philistines. God’s deliverance lacks nothing; it’s a complete deliverance. All who believe in Jesus are not half saved, unlike some people’s wrong understanding of the gospel and as they claim, the second half of their salvation depends on their lifelong obedience. No, that’s not the case. By faith, a sinner is saved, and his name is recorded in Jesus’ book of eternal life, and none can alter it or put any condition to it. His lifelong obedience is only the result of Jesus’ salvation granted to the forgiven sinner.

Thirdly, God delivers His children despite their unworthiness. David in 1 Sam. 29 has contributed nothing to his deliverance. He is not worthy to receive it either. He remained quiet – we don’t hear any word from him in any form of prayer or soliloquy. When the Philistine king tries to lead him to retreat, David even disguises his feeling, pretending to be angry at the decision as if he truly wishes to go and fight against Israel’s army. Simply put, he’s breaking various laws of God here, like ‘do not lie’ or ‘do not falsely testify’ or ‘do not deceive with your lips.’ Moreover, he has been associated with a false party, the Philistines, Israel’s enemy, who are idolaters. The Lord’s command for His beloved is ‘not even to eat with such a one.’ In this way, David is not worthy to receive God’s deliverance; in fact, he deserves God’s punishment for his disobedience. But such an unworthy sinner God saves in His grace and delivers from all dangers! Likewise, He saved you and me despite our unworthiness! In the same way, He will save many more sinners despite their unworthiness to receive His gracious gift of Jesus.

Fourthly, God’s deliverance is a pure joy in every believing soul! And this summarises the nature of God’s deliverance. Try to picture David as he hears the words of his salvation delivered through the mouth of the head of the enemy, Achish. What a joyful man he must be! So he writes in Ps. 31:7-8 these words that describe the joy the filled his heart and soul:
I will rejoice and be glad in Your steadfast love, because You have seen my affliction;
       You have known the distress of my soul,
       and You have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
       You have set my feet in a broad place.”

This is not all of his joy; he knows that God will always deliver him out of dangers because He is gracious, because His steadfast love is everlasting, as David writes again in Ps. 57:3,
“[God] will send from heaven and save me;
       He will put to shame him who tramples on me.
       God will send out His steadfast love and His faithfulness!
Not only this very moment, but also always till the end, God will be with us, His dear children, and He’ll never forsake us! This is a pure joy in David and in every believing soul!

The last point we need to remember from this story of David is his departure from the Philistine’s assembly. Like David, we too rise up and depart from the enemy’s assembly as our Lord delivers us from all dangers and all snares of the enemy. There’s nothing we can do alongside the world’s assembly. This is the principle taught in 2 Cor. 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Working in partnership with the unbelievers is an ‘unequal’ or ‘inadequate’ thing for the believers. This doesn’t mean we should separate ourselves from the unbeliever, nor should we seek every aspect in our business partnership with an unbeliever to be ‘equal.’ Rather, it teaches us to not seek to either establish any spiritual ties with the unbelievers or condone their idolatry in the midst of the unbelievers.

Our deliverance has already been declared and we’re moving away from the world’s assembly. By God’s grace, believers are directed to our home, although it is a temporary earthly dwelling, like that of David and his people at Ziklag and for us this congregation at St Columba’s. Some Christians’ departure from the world’s assembly is quick and swift while some others’ is slow. But altogether, we’re leaving the world’s assembly and joyfully walk toward our home where we meet with the Lord Jesus and the Father, and being guided by the Holy Spirit, share the love of Christ with one another and grow in it.

No wonder why David sings praises to the Lord as he prepares his early morning departure in another psalm of his; so, hear his song as recorded in Ps. 143:8,
Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust.
       Make me know the way I should go, for to You I life up my soul.

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus, this is the spiritual lesson for us. Although this dilemma of living in the world continues, God has already delivered us from it through Jesus, His Son, our Saviour and Lord. He is our joy because He is our life; without Him, apart from Him, there’ll be no joy, no deliverance.

Having said, there are two challenges for us. The first challenge: we must know that we’re of God and Christ, and we cannot pursue what the prince of this world commends us. In case any of us tries to pursue this world’s values, he is turning back into the dilemma he has been delivered from and going back into the cave of John, into the trap of bears at each end. We must not, therefore, turn around, but walk joyfully alongside all believing brothers and sisters toward our home.

And the second challenge: we ought to remember that our Father will always be with us, will always save and deliver us. And He’ll never change His mind toward us. All human parents could change their minds toward their children, but never will our Heavenly Father! So, in all and every situation or life’s dilemma, we can trust Him and we must trust Him! ***

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