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Deliverance and Comic Relief

January 7th, 2019

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)

Does God have a sense of humour? Well, He must because He created us with one, and we are made in His image, so where else would we get a good clean sense of humour other than from God. In fact, faith enables us to laugh at those things we cannot control in life.

Psalm 34 is David’s celebratory psalm of faith for the deliverance of God, but the historical account is interesting, even humorous. It is the type of deliverance story that makes us laugh, because God showed His power in a surprising way in unusual circumstances.

Here’s the story (1 Sam 21:12-16):

David is on the run from Saul and in desperation went to the Philistine city of Gath, where Achish was king. In Psalm 34 his official title is used, Abimelech (Gen. 26:1), but 1 Samuel used the common name he was called, Achish. Achish had just a few recorded words in scripture but they reveal him as a man with a quick wit and a sense of humour.

So David comes into the City of Gath but some recognized him as their enemy, a king in the land, and one who had “slain his tens of thousands.” David, though, pretended to be completely out-of-his-mind crazy, scribbling on the city gates and drooling in his beard. They brought him before King Achish, and he said, in effect, “Did you think that we had some shortage of crazy people in our kingdom that you had to bring this guy into my house?”

Now, this is just me, but I can see Achish saying this and shaking his head, laughing to himself, and thinking: What a bunch of idiots I have running this kingdom of mine. If I wanted to see crazy people scribble on walls and drool in their beards we could find some local people to do that. And he could probably call out the names of some of the crazy people he had in his kingdom. But the ruse worked, and David survived and lived for several years in Philistine territory.

David’s perspective on this matter was very different, and he saw in all of this the protection of God. Psalm 34 was written in retrospect, thinking about the deliverance of God. I believe this incident and this Psalm 34 say something important to us: experiencing God’s deliverance and protection is not always dry and antiseptic. Sometimes God provides some colour and humour along the way.

Humour has been described as the human reaction to something that is quite beyond us to control or comprehend entirely. God’s deliverance is certainly one of these matters. That He will deliver is always the promise we rest upon, but how and when and by whom are different matters entirely. It is our faith that enables us to laugh. God may, in fact, choose to deliver us through death, so don’t fear it.

Many of the stories of Christ are humorous, even if we do not always notice, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The mugged and maimed Jew was not helped by the priest and the Levi, but then along comes a Samaritan… You cannot help but smile at the irony of it all, and that irony seems to surround us all the time.

Likewise, David, as the anointed future king of Israel should have expected that the then current king of Israel, Saul, would respect that and protect him and work with him. But, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, here is this Philistine King of Gath, Achish, helping him out. G.K. Chesterton wrote:

Life is serious all the time, but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in your neckties, but in anything important (such as sex, death, and religion), you must have mirth or you will have madness.

Someone once asked Pope John XXIII (1958-63), “How many people work in the Vatican?” He thought for a few seconds and then replied, “About half of them.”


One Thing I Desire

January 6th, 2019

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

I have been often touched by the thought of this verse and the perspective of the heart that David described. Isn’t this the desire of every heart of every Christian – to simply look upon the beauty of the Lord. Isn’t this the description of the Christian life:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

We should remember that David lived before the Solomonic temple was constructed, so he was not referring to some beautiful architecture or impressive structure, rather he was referring to the temple/tabernacle in Shiloh. The tabernacle had come to rest there and over the centuries between Joshua and David the original materials had begun to decay and a temple of sorts was constructed. It was called a “house” (1 Sam. 1:7) and “temple” (1 Sam. 1:9), so construction worthy of these words was there. Yet it was never said to have been a beautiful construction, rather it seemed to have simply been the necessary replacements for the decay of the tabernacle.

David and the Spirit of God

David was attracted to the beauty of the Lord that he had experienced there, and this was a reference to the divine illumination and revelation to his spirit. The temple and tabernacle were designed by the command of God to communicate His nature and love. The sacrificial system revealed the holiness of God, but also that there was a way for a sinner to approach God. Holy God had provided a way that the worst sinner could be forgiven.

The temple pointed to Christ and the salvation He provides. The sacrifices prefigured His death on the cross. The furnishings of the temple also spoke of God’s grace and prefigured the Christ. The table and the shewbread revealed Christ the Bread of Life (John 6:35). The menorah with its candles represented Christ the Light of the World (John 8:12). The altar of incense pictured Christ our intercessor (John 17, Hebrews 7:25, and 1 John 2:1). And David understood some deep truths about God, the beauty of God. This made the Israel faith, that was divinely inspired and initiated, different from the other peoples and their gods that were cast in their own fears and were there to serve their own agendas.

David experienced an unusual connection with God for that day – for any day for that matter – and was filled with the Spirit. At his anointing by the prophet Samuel, as a young David was taken from tending sheep, the scripture says:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. (1 Sam. 16:13)

And that spiritual reality was with him the remainder of his life. All of his successes in battle, his effectiveness in dealing with frustrating circumstances, his courage, his compassion, and everything good about David – especially the psalms which God inspired him to write – was based upon this reality of the Spirit of God moving in him. David, in this way, prefigured the Christian, because it is said of us that we all have an anointing from God (1 John 2:20,27), and our minds and hearts are enlightened by His Word and Spirit.

David’s Sin

Yet David was not perfect and succumbed to temptation and sin as well. In this sense he prefigured every Christian for we all share this mixture of the indwelling reality of the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13-14) and our old sinful nature that still abides within us (Rom. 7:18 and Eph. 2:1-3). After confronted by the prophet Nathan of his sin with Bathsheba David cried out to the Lord:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:10-12)

David gives us a wonderful example of this balance of being indwelled by the Spirit of God and still contending with the old sinful nature. Confession of his sin brought cleansing and restoration of joy, and he was then able to worship afresh and anew in purity of heart and mind. Again he could cry out to see the beauty of the Lord through the inspiring presence of the Spirit. Can’t we all see ourselves in him here, that despite our failings and our sins – whether others consider them great or not, sin is always sin and blocks our communication with God and His with us – but then receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

This was, in fact, part of David’s prayer in Psalm 51: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psa. 51:17). And like him we can come boldly before the throne of grace in the name of Christ and receive forgiveness and cleansing and restoration. The devil would like us to think otherwise, that our failures are fatal, but in the grace of God there is forgiveness and cleansing. If we come honestly and humbly to God He will forgive and restore.

The New Man in Christ

But there is a difference with us in this New Testament era, a difference that was not David’s to have in his age, and that is the new person created by God through the gospel. We Christians in this the Church Age are beings with sinful natures that are indwelled by the Spirit of God, but not that only. We also receive a new nature: “The new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).

The Spirit of God is not merely a visitor, rather He has brought new life to us and has marked us with His presence – we are sealed with Him (Eph. 1:14). We are marked with this “down payment” that God has made on our souls to insure that we, His inheritance, shall be redeemed fully. Now we can say with confidence in God that we shall be with Him for eternity and be able to gaze constantly upon His beauty. As Christ said:

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:24-26)