Nov 27 - Dealing With My Mess

Dealing With My Mess

November 27, 2016

1 Samuel 24



1 Samuel 24

November 27th, 2016


Have you ever made a mess a bit messier?  Trying to clean up a mess ended up making things worse. 

It could be a financial mess ... overspending at Christmas time perhaps.

It could be a relational mess, a wicked argument maybe that tore at the fabric of a relationship. ...

It could be a dating mess, you finally figured out that your boy or girlfriend is a bad influence ...

It could be an academic mess, you’ve been caught plagiarizing or cheating on an exam, for example ... 

It could be an alcoholic mess, you drank too much and made a fool of yourself, ...

It could be a physical mess, you’re overweight and unhealthy ...

It could be a legal mess, you were at fault in a car accident. ...


Perhaps we’re encountering a virtual stew of problems that may include financial struggles, relationship problems, career confusion, health and wellness issues, or a general lack of clarity about the direction and purpose of our life.  We know things are amiss and off track, but we feel haunted by our inability to be able to untangle the mess set things right.   


Sometimes the Christmas season can turn into Christmess season... with all the overspending, overeating, overindulging, and odd characters in our extended family. 


When we are faced with a mess, we will be tempted to make our mess messier if we are looking for a quick fix.  What I mean is that each and every time, our mess comes with some bad choices when it comes to dealing with it. 


Oh, I’m going to run away.

I’m going to hide

I’m going to make up a story

I’m going to lie

I’m going to deny.

I’m going to pretend nothing happened

I’m going to spend more money or borrow more money.  I’m going to drink more to forget my drinking problem.  I’m going to deal with the horrible argument by becoming more and more defensive and accusatory

I’m going to lash out.


Each and every mess brings with it the temptation to do the wrong thing in order to deal with it.  But doing the wrong thing really fixes nothing, it only compounds the problem or makes it worse


The story that we will be looking at to do has to do with David prior to becoming the king of Israel.  Now, David was anointed to become king as a teenager, while he was still a shepherd boy.  The problem was that Israel already had a king, so, even if he had no pretensions to the throne, David would be perceived to be a threat to king Saul should Saul find out about it.


But Saul really didn’t know who David was until the day when David killed Goliath, a giant man in the Philistine army that was challenging the soldiers of Israel to a duel.


When David killed Goliath with his slingshot (1 Sam 17), he became an overnight sensation.  Everyone was talking about David, not a lot of people were talking about Saul. 


The Philistines had settled along the Mediterranean shore and were a constant thorn in Israel’s side.  If you look at Saul’s capital at Gibeah, the distance to the territory held by the Philistines is only about 20 km, that’s from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal to Elk Lake.


So the Philistines would often invaded Israel territory, with the result that Saul had to fight them during his whole reign, and eventually he and three of his sons fell in the same battle.


 ... If you’re a Star Trek fan, the Philistines were a perennial thorn in Israel’s side.  Kind of like, at various times, the Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, or Borg ... you know, traditional enemies of the United Federation of Planets.  Had to get a Star Trek reference in for some reason.


After the events with Goliath, Saul forced David to stay with him ... he was not allowed to return to his family in Bethlehem.  David became an armour bearer to Saul.  An armour bearer was also a kind of body guard for the king.


Saul also had David play his heap and sing for him when he wasn’t feeling well or he was troubled.  And the songs would make Saul feel better (cf. 1 Sam 16:14-23). [1]  


David was extremely capable as a soldier and soon rose to become one of Saul’s field generals (18:5). As a result, David became more and more popular with the Israelites. 


One time, when returning from a battle with the Philistines, Saul overheard the women singing “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands” (18:7), and from that moment on he saw David as a threat to his throne and rule. 


[David continued to be incredibly successful in the campaigns against the Philistines and his popularity kept increasing to the point where the average Israelite thought of him as the de facto leader of the nation (18:16, 30)].


Saul decides to make David his son-in-law, hoping that his older daughter, Merab, would inform on David, all the time hoping that David would be killed in one of the many battles with the Philistines (18:17).  But David refused the offer of Merah, with the excuse that he was not worthy of that kind of honour - and he simply didn’t get killed in battle. 


But Saul didn’t give up.  Communicating with David through his servants or slaves, he offered David his younger daughter, Michal, as a wife.  David was a lot more inclined to say “yes”, but he didn’t have any money or property that he could give as the bride price, which would have been significant, given that this was the daughter of the king.


However, Saul let David know that he didn’t want livestock or money for the dowry.  Rather, David had to kill 100 Philistines and bring proof of it. This was another ploy by Saul to have David fall in battle (18:25).


But David didn’t fall.  He and his men ended up killing 200 Philistines and bringing the proof to Saul.  Saul then had to give his younger daughter to David, again in the hopes that she would inform on him.  The problem was, that she really was in love with David.


When David just wouldn’t die in battle, Saul decides to kill him outright.  He orders his son and attendants to kill David, but David’s wife, Saul’s daughter, helped him to escape and he went into hiding until Saul was dissuaded from his plan. 


But just a little while later, Saul tried to kill David by throwing a spear with all his might at David.  And David knew he had to flee the capital if he wanted to live. 


David in essence had to become an outlaw.  He first fled north to Ramah (19:18), then south to Nob (21:1), then west to Gath to one of the Philistine kings, pretending that he had gone crazy, then east to Adullam, where he gathered 600 followers (23:13). 


He then brought his parents to safety in Moab, all the way around the other side of the Dead Sea before returning to the forests of Hereth, very near to Adullam where he had left. 


He then had to flee southeast to Keilah, then to the wilderness surrounding Ziph, then to Horesh, then to the desert of Maon, and finally east to the region surrounding En Gedi


While you can tell his movements from the red lines on the overhead, what you can’t see is just how close Saul and his army were in pursuit of David. 


So David was forced to keep moving and moving again.  But as he’s hiding in the wilderness near En Gedi, Saul finally catches up with him after returning from another skirmish with the Philistines.


Now keep in mind that David didn’t ask for the mess he was in.  He did little to deserve the mess, it was really based on Saul’s jealousy and fear that David would take his throne [sometimes the reason why the boss seems to have it out for us].  Let’s begin reading in 1 Sam 24, beginning at v.1.


After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.”

So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the crags of the wild goats.                   1 Samuel 24:1-2


Saul had just fought the Philistines, likely icluding the 3,000 men who were with him now.  They had not returned home for a break.  They were tired and hungry.  Some may have been injured.  Others had lost friends on the battle field.  Nevertheless, they were a considerable force, given that David only had a relatively small group of soldiers with him at the time.


En Gedi is the largest oasis along the western shore of the Dead Sea, one of only two places where there are fresh water springs, and also was blessed with fertile soil. 


If you were here a few weeks ago when I spoke on healing (Nov 6th, James 5), I referenced King Jehoshaphat (ca. 870-845) who ruled about 150 years after king Saul.  Jehoshapat was frightened when he heard that the armies of Ammon, Moab and Edom had gathered at En Gedi in order to advance on Jerusalem, only 45 km away (2 Chron 20:2). 


In OT times En Gedi was famous for its palm trees, vineyard and flowers (Song of Songs 1:14).  Of course we don’t know just how beautiful it was back then.  Here is how it looks like today:


En Gedi means literally “the spring of the kid (or young goat),” in reference to the ibex that have always lived near the springs of En Gedi.[2]


This time, when David and his men were fleeing from King Saul, the pursuers searched the “crags of the wild goats” again a reference to the ibex who were common in that vicinity.

The name of the place indicates that these were craggy rocks, likely a bit of a climb in the rocky ascent to the plateau above the oasis.[3]  So let’s continue in our passage.


Saul came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and he went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave.    1 Samuel 24:3


So while the 3,000 and the entourage that followed such an army, waited in the hot sun, Saul gets off his mule or camel, scrambles up the hill, and enters the cave in order to relieve himself.  It’s dark in there and he likely can’t see much.  By the way, this is the only reference I know in the Bible about someone going to the bathroom - to the delight of young boys when they hear the story.    


David and his men were hiding in the cave because they saw Saul and his army coming, and they were really, really close. 


The men said, “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

1 Samuel 24:4


What are the odds of this happening?  If Saul is the problem, the mess, for David, the God just provided the solution to deal with it.


That is exactly what David’s men think.  God has delivered your enemy into your hands.  Do unto him as he’s trying to do unto you!  Sneak up, kill him, behead him and exit the cave holding up his bloody head.  This is the perfect coup.  The men outside will immediately accept you as their new king. 


And David was caught up in the emotion. He crawls up to Saul with the express purpose of killing him.  Saul, in a most vulnerable position, likely facing the entrance of the cave, is totally unaware of who is sneaking up behind him.  He would only feel a yank on the back of his hair before his throat is slit.    


But when David gets there, something changed. Maybe he thinks to himself:  I’m about to assassinate my king, my father in law, my children’s granddad.  When my children ask me how I became king, I would have to tell them that I killed their grandpa.  If I murder the king, that will be my story forever.


And, with the knife he was going to use to kill Saul, he only cuts off a piece of Paul’s garment, possibly the outer garment that Saul had taken off and laid beside himself. 


Would David have been justified in killing Saul?  One would think so.  Was it expected of him?  It certainly was.  But was it the right thing, the virtuous thing to do?  David himself didn’t think so. 


Had David made a pragmatic decision here, it would in fact have compounded the mess.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.  Let’s continue on in the story


Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe.  He said to his men, “YHWH forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, YHWH’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of YHWH.”   With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul.  And Saul left the cave and went his way.                                                                                                     1 Samuel 24:5-7


When he had crawled back to his men, David felt bad about the fact that he had even cut the corner from Saul’s garment. 


YHWH forbid ... I almost forgot that he is God’s man to lead Israel at this time.  He wasn’t just anointed by the prophet and judge Samuel, he was in fact chosen by God.  And it is God’s will that I honour that choice.  How can I even think of becoming king by harming the man or even damaging his clothes?


Now David’s men had no such qualms.  Hey, if you’ve got a problem, we definitely do not.  So let us do it.  We’ll attack and kill him. 


But David told them off in no uncertain terms.  And then the chance had passed.  Saul left the cave. One would think that David and his men would lay low and wait until Saul and his army moved on ... that was what they had hoped for in the first place.  But David decided otherwise.


Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’?  This day you have seen with your own eyes how YHWH delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is YHWH’s anointed.’   See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you.”   2 Samuel 24:8-11


The 3,000 men had been waiting for some time in the hot sun.  By now, most of them would be sitting down.  Finally, his majesty is climbing back down from the cave. 


And then someone was shouting up there.  Loud.


Here are some artist’s rendering of the story up to now.  But David isn’t kneeling, and he isn’t that close to King Saul.  David literally lies flat on the ground with his face in the dirt.  When Saul recognizes who it is, David makes quite the speech. 


He begins to explain to Saul that, against all logic and the urging of his men, he did not kill Saul, even though he was close enough to do so.  Look, I spared you.  I protected you, something that your bodyguards were not able to do, against my men killing you. So David continues:


See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May YHWH judge between you and me.  And may YHWH avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.”                         1 Samuel 24:11-12


An interesting way he finishes his speech.  You’re hunting down the wrong man but I am no threat to you. I refuse to do anything to harm you.  And because I’m innocent and you have wronged me, I will let God be the one to be your judge and punish you for what you’ve done if he chooses to do so.    In essence David’s telling Saul that he will opt for virtue over against hurting or harming him. 


Now granted, David was taking a calculated risk here.  Saul could have ordered his men to attack.  But Saul’s men would lose any respect for Saul had he done so.  They may even have refused because they all recognized that David had chosen the high road at a time and place where life was cheap and violence an almost daily occurrence.


So Saul takes his men and off he goes.  It is approximately 1010 BC.  Only 4-5 years later, Saul was wounded critically by a Philistine arrow during battle.  In order not to fall alive into the hands of the enemy, Saul impales himself on his sword and dies. The death he had so fervently wished would befall David, ironically overtook him, possibly the punishment that David had told Saul would be coming. 


David won the ensuing civil war between himself and one of Saul’s sons, who had crowned himself king in the northern portion of the kingdom (2 Sam 5).


I started off with this story by saying that every mess comes prepackaged with some bad options.  If you choose a bad option, you make the mess worse. 


At the root of most messes are bad choices.  There is a breakdown of patience, or self-control, or patience, or joy, or self-control, associated ..., a breakdown of virtue, love, honesty, patience, self-control, goodness, gentleness, kindness.  There is a lack of some virtue.


If we ignore virtue, it’s only a matter of time before there will be one kind of mess or another: And the worse thing to do is to acerbate the situation by making further bad choices. 


You don’t clean up a flood by pouring on more water.  You don’t clean up spilled paint by throwing more paint on it. 


READ:  But we want a quick fix to our mess, to our problem. 

So we lie more to cover a lie. 

We borrow more money to cover our financial mess. 

We shout louder when our temper has already alienated a loved one.

We retaliate and get back in an already messy relationship. 

We take risks and gambles, in order to find a quick fix.  We drink more to cover our drinking problem.

We attempt to continue to cover up a bad thing that we think is still hidden. 


In other words, we attempt to clean up the mess caused by a lack of virtue, with an even greater lack of virtue.  And that will always backfire.  And so we can become liars or hypocrites or failures for life. 


The reality is that any mess that we are in, a year or two or five down the road, will be a byline to our story if we make the right choices


2 years ago I went through a terrible divorce, but because I never spoke badly about my ex, my kid’s still have a good relationship with both of their parents.   


3 years ago I dropped out of school, but I’ve gone to night school to make up and graduated and am heading to university. 


5 years ago I went bankrupt, but through sheer hard work, I’ve repaid all my debtors. 


4 years ago I was arrested and convicted for a b&e, but I have done my time, turned my life around, have a steady job, and go to AA every week. 


I turned myself in,

I paid my debt,

I cut up my credit cards. 

I went to the dean. 

I joined narcotics anonymous.  

I went to a great counsellor ...

I looked to and trusted God.  

I did the hard thing, but the right thing by opting for virtue over expediency.

And that will be my story.


You see, God can and will help us through our messes if we listen to him.  He will take our mess and leverage it and redeem it to bring about something good. 


We all have messes from time to time.  It’s how we address the mess that matters.   So the real story isn’t the mess that we were in or currently are in.  The real story is how we respond to the messes in our lives. 


When we make the wrong choices, then we exacerbate the mess, and it may become a permanently bad part of the story of our lives. 


Illustration: Cruel man trying to bury his aging donkey alive after the donkey had fallen in a pit.  Every time a shovel full of soil hits his back, the donkey shakes it off and steps on the fallen soil ... over and over again ... until he is able to walk out of the pit. 


We need to “shake” in such a way that doesn’t compound the problem but gives us solution to the problem.


By the way, David is an example of both ... in our story, he made the virtuous choice, and he did not become the one who murdered the king, the grandfather of his children.


But David didn’t get this right throughout his life.  He got himself into a huge mess with Bathsheba about 15 years after this event near En Gedi, when he had been king for about 10 years.


Not only did he make a right mess of things, but then he compounded the problem by making some even worse choices trying to cover up the mess ... and in the process this became known by everyone in the kingdom and permanently marked him as huge failure.  Not only that, it also had extremely negative consequences on the family dynamics when his children got older.   


So very unlike the time in En Gedi, he failed to ask himself what the right thing, the virtuous thing, would have been - after he created the mess.  And as a result, this became a permanent black spot on his life. 


Doing the right thing usually doesn’t offer quick, simple fixes. But it results in a story worth telling, a story that glorifies God.  Therefore the question we need to ask ourselves, what story do we want to tell with our lives?  What do we want to tell our children or grandchildren when they get older? 


So how do we get the presence of mind to make the right choices, to remain people of integrity and virtue when we are faced with a mess in our lives? 


First of all, we have to stop ourselves from acting on impulse, or from being controlled by our laziness or overdependence on others. 

We have to stop ourselves from isolating ourselves or clinging to fear or seeing ourselves as the victim. 

We have to stop ourselves from ignoring good advice and just keep doing the same counterproductive and unhelpful thing over and over again - in the hopes that some time the result will be better. 

And how do we do this?  Just a couple of thoughts along those lines.


First of all, I think I need to be in the right frame of mind in order to make good decisions and to be guided by God’s Spirit.  So what can I do?


Blow the cobwebs out.  Go for a good walk. Get the endorphins flowing. Talk with God about what is happening.  Try to gain a different perspective.


Then sit back and relax.  Breathe deeply.  Try to relax the body. Close your eyes.  Do this in a place that makes you feel safe and at ease, whether it’s an easy chair at home or a park bench.  Try to calm your mind as best as possible.


Dwell in gratitude to God for all of his blessings in your life.  Deeply appreciate all that is right and good and possibly even challenging. 


When we are in the right frame of mind, then there are other steps that we can take in order to make the right decisions to get us out of a mess.


If we created a mess of our health because of how we treated our body, ...

or a mess of our finances because of the non-stop spending, ...

or a mess of a relationship because we treated someone poorly, ...

then we need to acknowledge it for what it is. We really see the mess for what it is and what has led to it.


Part of that may include trying to figure out the secret payoff of the bad decisions we have made - dulling our pain, spreading our misery to others, experiencing joy at duping others, being able to control others with our anger, making more money, creating a false image... usually there is a secret payoff for bad decisions ... otherwise we wouldn’t make them over and over again.


The purpose of recognizing the mess for what it is, is NOT to wallow in guilt and self-condemnation.  The purpose is to know the cause, to expose the underlying “reward”, to find forgiveness for ourselves, and so to find a better path in the future where we can change and grow.


Not the people whose lives are a mess because of their terrible decisions, or those who just don’t have the wisdom or experience to steer us in the right decision.  We need to find people who have it together, who have life experience, who are doing well emotionally, financially, relationally, and spiritually.


Ask him:  “What are you trying to tell me that I’ve been too busy to hear?  What’s the most important thing that I need to know right now?”  Then listen patiently and quietly for the answer.


You may never have done this before, but once in a while it is good to get out of the scrambling chaos that can be our brain and listen to what God may be saying to us. 


His is usually the calm and kind voice that speaks in our minds, not one that is frantic or mean or condemning.


All is well. God loves me.  All things, even this situation, can and will work for my good when I respond to God’s love by loving Him.  Something good will come from this, even though I can’t see it. 


We are on this earth to glorify and enjoy God to the best of our ability.

Our purpose is to bless others and provide for ourselves and our families through working an honest job.

Our purpose is to discover and do the things that energize us, make us feel alive, make us experience joy, and give us a great deal of satisfaction.

Our purpose is to use our talents, skills and gifting in order to be kind and help others


I don’t mean that we are to indulge our selfishness or narcissistic tendencies.  What I do mean is that we can do a number of things that bring us joy and make us feel good and give us the strength to manage the mess better and to make better choices.  So power naps, eating nutritious meals, getting a massage, going to bed early, sleeping in, going for a hike, sitting on the beach ... we need to do whatever it takes to reboot ourselves. 


Sometimes it takes a big, heart wrenching mess to wake us up and inspire us to change for the better. 


We need to pay attention and look for the lessons this messy time in our life is offering us.  In other words, recognize that every mess is an opportunity to grow as long as we don’t get short-changed by the inner negative critic.


Thankfully, it’s never too late to turn things around to some degree.  If we made bad choices yesterday, choices that led to a mess, we can make better ones today.  We do not have to stay stuck.


As a concluding remark, let me repeat what I said earlier.  We all have messes from time to time.  It’s how we address the mess that matters.   So the real story isn’t the mess that we were in or currently are in.  The real story is how we respond to the messes in our lives





[1] Chronologically this likely took place after the Goliath incident, where David was a stranger to Saul, even though this is in chapter 16 and the death of Goliath is in chapter 17.

[2] Ibex is one of those names, like sheep, deer, elk and moose, where the plural is the same as the singular.

[3] This was in probably the area leading up to the plateau above the Dead Sea.  Because the climb upward was pretty daunting, the area was also called the strongholds of En Gedi - 1 Sam 23:29.