Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.
Reading 1 - 1Sa 29:1-4
"The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and
Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. As the Philistine rulers marched with
their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the
rear with Achish. The commanders of the Philistines asked, 'What about these
Hebrews?' Achish replied, 'Is this not David, who was an officer of Saul king of
Israel? He has already been with me for over a year, and from the day he left
Saul until now, I have found no fault in him.' But the Philistine commanders
were angry with him and said, 'Send the man back, that he may return to the
place you assigned him. He must not go with us into battle, or he will turn
against us during the fighting. How better could he regain his master's favor
than by taking the heads of our own men?' " (1Sa 29:1-4).
This is surely a possibility to consider: did David really
hope to go into battle alongside the Philistines, and then turn against them --
making another show of loyalty to Saul? The Philistine commanders certainly
thought so (v 4)!
If this were the case, then -- providentially -- God did not
allow this, because He knew that Saul and his army were to be defeated, and it
would not be good if David were to be associated with them in that
If Achish had allowed David to remain, can we suppose he would
have been faithful to Achish (and the Philistines) and fight against Israel? Or
would he have done -- as the lords of the Philistines said -- and joined with
Saul against the Philistines in battle? I would guess that he would have used
the occasion to turn against the Philistines and fight for Saul and Israel. But,
either way, God prevented him from being in such a situation... in fact, He sees
that David is sent far away from the battle, because either alternative was not
the best for David:
Fighting against Saul was unacceptable; the sort of thing David had never
done before, and which he had gone to great lengths to avoid, even when Saul
sought his life -- Saul was after all the LORD's Anointed.
to fight for Saul and against the Philistines would have placed him on the
"wrong side" too, in that God seems to have determined that Saul and his house
would fall in battle; this was His plan, to open the way for David to assume the
throne for which he was intended. And David, being there personally, would only
When you think about it, it seems to me this is a lot like the
political quandary that Christadelphians face all the time: ie, "So why DON'T
you vote in such-and-such elections? Surely you can see that Party X and its
candidates are better/more righteous/more suitable in God's sight than Party Y
and its candidates." And the answer -- at least, AN answer -- would be: "Even if
Party X -- like Saul -- is 'better' than Party Y -- the Philistines -- that
doesn't necessarily mean that God wants Party X -- or Saul -- to win out this
time! So I take no position on this matter, and leave it to God to work out in
His own way."
Reading 2 - Jer 5:6
"Therefore a lion from the forest will attack them, a wolf
from the desert will ravage them, a leopard will lie in wait near their towns to
tear to pieces any who venture out, for their rebellion is great and their
backslidings many" (Jer 5:6).
Notice all the "wild beasts" which would "tear" and "devour"
A LION: Babylon, which destroyed Judah.
A WOLF: Assyria, which destroyed Israel (cp v 11).
A WOLF FROM THE DESERT: Literally, in Hebrew, a "zeeb" of the
"ereb" (Arabs?): referring to the marauders whom Gideon routed (Jdg
A LEOPARD: Medo-Persia (cp Dan 7:6), watching over the
desolate cities of the land (made so by Babylon and Assyria).
The wolf, the leopard, and the lion all appear also in Isa
11:6 -- a beautiful picture of the coming glories of God's eternal Kingdom: "The
wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf
and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead
Reading 3 - Mat 16:24-26
I think it wouldn't be going too far to say that there IS a
discernible reason for every commandment which we are given... and that that
reason leads, without too much delay or detour, right back to the Atonement.
Christ's sacrifice is not just about blood, and sweat, and
tears... and it is not just about the cross on that dreadful, but wonderful,
It is -- and we all know this! -- about the life he lived
every day, every hour, before he arrived, finally, at that cross. Because it was
his own unique life, built up day by day, with the building blocks of a thousand
moments of ten thousand days, that made his cross meaningful.
Thousands of Jewish men died on thousands of Roman crosses
across the length and breadth of Israel. But only one man died a sacrificial,
atoning death on a cross. Because he was the perfect sacrifice, without spot or
So Christ's sacrifice is really about a life of many choices,
each one in one way or another a choice to deny himself, and his own will, and
to serve his Father, and his Father's will.
A lifetime of choices made the final choice -- of the cross
itself -- a choice of cosmic significance... a choice which resonates to this
day, and echoes in our lives.
The essence of sacrifice is denial of self. And if we choose
Christ and his cross, then we are also choosing denial of self... as a way of
life. It is the hardest choice we can make, but it is the most rewarding.
Allowed to work in our lives, that commitment and that choice will change us.
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after
me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants
to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his
life? Or what can a man give in exchange for his life?' " (Mat 16:24-26).
We could run down a list of Christ's commandments, and the
commandments passed along by the apostles as well, and ask: 'How does this
relate to the Atonement?' And in every case, I venture to suggest, we shall find
the answer -- and the meaningful example for us, of HOW to keep the commandment,
and WHY we should keep it -- in the "living sacrifice" of Christ.
Do we wonder why we are commanded this, for example?: "Do not
resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him
the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him
have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two
miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants
to borrow from you" (Mat 5:39-42). Well, of course, reason enough to do this --
or (let's be honest) to try very, very hard -- is that Christ has commanded it.
But was it just an otherwise pointless requirement plucked out of the air:
'Let's test them with this one, while we are at it'? Of course not. We are told
not to resist evil because Christ did not resist evil. And Christ did not resist
evil because he had committed himself, wholeheartedly, to his Father who would
ultimately judge rightly (1Pe 2:23). If we believe that that final judgment of
our Father is sure and certain and righteous, then what does it matter if evil
ones misuse us today, or tomorrow, or all the rest of our lives? God will set it
right. What does it matter if we lose our coat, or our time, or our creature
comforts -- the loss of those things which we might hold dear will only
reinforce to our minds the one thing that we MUST hold MOST dear -- which no
thief or bully or evil circumstance can take away from us: "What, then, shall we
say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not
spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -- how will he not also, along
with him, graciously give us all things?... Who shall separate us from the love
of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or
danger or sword?" (Rom 8:31,32,35).
And suppose the "cross" we are called to bear at this very
moment is not the loss of property, or health, or loved ones... the terrible
losses that Job, for example, bore? Suppose the "cross" we are called to bear at
this very moment is... simply... the harsh word spoken to us, or the little
slight we experience, or the brief delay because some driver cut us off in
traffic, or the tiny barb that pricks our pride?
Maybe the "cross" that we are called to bear, right now, is
not the great mountain of difficulty that looms in front of us... but the little
grain of sand in our shoe!
How do we respond? Do we give harsh word for harsh word,
little grumble for silly slight, little whispered curse for minor inconvenience?
Do we recoil at the least threat to our pride, or the least questioning of our
intelligence, or our strength, or our goodness, or our wisdom?
Or... do we recall that "even Christ did not please himself"
(Rom 15:3)? And do we therefore "turn the other cheek" to the little slap, the
little needle, the little attack -- even if, and especially if, it comes from a
brother or sister?
If we do, and when we do, then we are "living the atonement"
in our lives.
Through fits and starts, and stops and blind alleys, sometimes
failing but sometimes succeeding, we are learning to be, even in the small
things of our lives, "living sacrifices" (Rom 12:1,2).
But the trouble with "living sacrifices" is that -- as one
writer put it -- "they keep crawling down off the altar".
Lord, help me to hold on to your altar, and "die a little bit"
every day, so that I might show forth your death until you return.