A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., on October 28, 2012.
Psalm 34:1-10, 19-22; Hebrews 7:23-28
It started as a normal day for the Philistine king whose name was Achish. Lately, things had been fairly calm in his kingdom, if “calm” could ever really describe his wild and wooly people, a people always prepared to get into one kind of scrap or another. If they did not have their neighbors to fight with, then they did it amongst themselves. The Philistines were always looking for a good skirmish. Still, of late, things had been rather calm… calm for the Philistines anyway, and it was his hope that the situation would remain that way.
But it was not to be. Not on this day, anyway. His servants come and tell him that David, the renegade Jewish warrior, has appeared at his city gate. What has he, King Achish, done to invite this trouble? Everybody knows, if they are aware of nothing else, that because of the enmity between David and Saul, the presence of David in the Philistine kingdom means trouble.
Every one, even the Philistines, know that the king of Israel, the paranoid Saul, has put a price on David’s head. David has run for his life, living off the land and is known to have been working as a mercenary in order to get by. Why, there are wanted posters everywhere promising a reward for David’s head. The last thing King Achish needs is for Saul to come running in here with his troops demanding that David be given over to his custody.
But wait: on second thought, this might just turn out to be a blessing after all. Not only would this be an opportunity to curry favor with his neighboring king, as dangerous as that lunatic Saul could be at times, but King Achish might just make a profit in the process. He begins gathering his security forces, all the while mentally counting this newfound money that was about to be lining his pockets, and orders his men to put handcuffs on David and read him the Miranda act.
If there was one thing that could be said of David, it was that he had a keen sense of his surroundings. Perceiving that he was about to get into trouble, and that coming to the Philistine city of Gath might not have been such a great idea after all, David takes the sword that once had belonged to the Philistine giant Goliath and begins banging on the city gates. Then, letting his spittle run down his beard, David makes out like he has gone mad.
When all this is reported to King Achish, realizing that his opportunity might not be so golden after all, he responds by saying, “Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” It was one of those kinds of questions that require no answer. Rhetorical, I think they call it. Yeah, rhetorical… that’s the word.
So, the Philistines in the city of Gath let David go. He escapes to the cave of Adullam and from there he builds up his renegade forces to defend himself against his enemy, King Saul (1 Samuel 21-22).
If you are wondering why we bring this up – I mean, this may be an interesting story, but it wasn’t our Old Testament reading for this morning, so what’s the point? – that is the context behind Psalm 34, which was our Hebrew reading for this morning. David considers that it was not his own ingenuity that enabled him to escape the Philistine king, it was God’s grace and deliverance.
4I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears…
19Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD rescues them from them all.
20He keeps all their bones;
not one of them will be broken.
God is the keeper of the bones.
Have you ever thought about bones? They form a fairly prominent thread in the scriptures, especially in the Psalms…
O LORD, heal me,
for my bones are shaking with terror (6:2b).
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint…
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me (22:14, 17).
There is no health in my bones
because of my sin (38:3).
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice (51:8).
As a number of you are aware, I’ve published a book on David. He is known as the man who was after God’s own heart, though it’s hard for us at times to see how. He really was quite a rascal after all. In fact, even after having spent a goodly portion of my ministry writing about and preaching on David, I’m not all that certain – not at all – that I would have cared for him very much, as a person that is. I guess it’s true of all national leaders, whatever generation, whatever nation… it takes a lot of ego to rise to the top, and greater ego still to stay there. David seems to be no different from anyone else in that regard.
He often let his insatiable appetite guide his thinking, and that appetite was not limited to food, if you are aware of his story and know what I mean. There were times when he disguised his own ambitions as wanting to do things to honor God. As the story of David is told, the Lord spent a goodly portion of his time just keeping David in tow.
Still, David had options when he found himself running from Saul, and one of those was to become angry about what was happening to him. If God had promised to be with him, why did he find himself in a cave hiding from Saul with dried spit on his beard? But David chose not to do that, to become angry, that is. Instead, he offers this psalm in praise to the God who has thus far saved his bones. It really is a remarkable piece of scripture revealing a remarkable faith.
And it is David’s way of continuing to say yes to the God who thus far has been with him through some pretty momentous, not to mention scary, experiences. This psalm is his way of deciding to take part in a plan that was not of his own choosing. Instead, he finds himself doing things for reasons, at least at this point, he does not fully understand. But he places himself in the hands of One who has a design for him, a design that as yet has not come fully into focus.
Chances are, just about every one of us finds ourselves in that same kind of situation, regardless of who we are, how old we are, or where the journey so far has taken us. As it was for David, who is hiding in the cave of Adullam, there is a great deal of the unknown before us. How we face that unknown says a great deal about our faith.
* * * *
It seems as if Jesus is fully aware of what his immediate future will hold. He is in an upper room in Jerusalem, sharing the Passover meal with his disciples. The air is thick with uncertainty and foreboding. There is little conversation, unusual for this group of men. The disciples have heard their teacher talk about a cross, about a trial and conviction. He has even mentioned resurrection, but who can possibly consider such a thing, especially at a time like this?
He offers them bread, and speaks of it as his body. He shares the cup and talks of his shed blood. Were his hands shaking when he gave it to them? Did his voice quiver, in fearful anticipation of what was awaiting him? There is no mention of it, and we have reason to think it was not so. Why? Because, if his ancestor David could find full assurance in the promises of God, imagine how much Jesus depended on this word of grace to sustain him?
7The angel of the LORD encamps around
those who fear him, and delivers them.
8O taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
Wherever you find yourself in life, as uncertain as tomorrow may be, you are encouraged to place yourself in the hands of the One who sustains and guides you.
It is said that because of the impending sabbath, it was necessary to break the legs of the criminals who were crucified that fateful day in order to hasten their deaths. No one could be left hanging there when the sun went down and the holy day commenced.
The Romans couldn’t have cared less how long these men hung there. It was not their responsibility to show mercy of any kind or to any degree to the criminals they crucified. But at times they conceded to the desires of the religious Jews. This was one of those times.
And so it was done that their legs were broken, first the one on the right and then the one on the left. But the one in the center, when they came to him, was already dead. He had placed his life in the hands of the God who is the keeper of the bones, and not one of them was broken.
Have you done the same?
Lord, we ask not for safety but for grace. However such grace comes to us, may we respond in gratitude, for you are indeed good to us. Happy are we when we take our refuge in your mercy. Through Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.