18 Jul 2009, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
All throughout history God has had people who remained faithful to Him and some were to be recorded in the Scriptures that we may learn from the lives that they had lived.
They were, without a doubt, God's victors in this great controversy between good and evil.
Many were not necessarily famous or well known even to the most avid of Bible students because we find that very little is said about them. Nevertheless, inspiration was to record just enough information to show us the road they had taken - a road that was to lead to ultimate victory within God's love as revealed fully in Jesus Christ.
As we read the Scriptures we discover that some of these people were to come from well-known families, while others emerge from complete obscurity. Some were to set in motion events that were to stretch far into the distant future, while others crossed the stage of life for one or two episodes and then disappear from history, never to be heard of again.
As we read their stories we see where many faced a variety of crises through which their characters were not only developed, but were also revealed. We also recognise that it was by their responses to these events that the direction of their lives was to be eventually determined.
It is also important to realise that the circumstances of their lives were to be very similar to the ones we face today and in their reactions and responses, it is not surprising that, in reflection, we would see much of our own life's experience being displayed.
We also need to see that in their yielding to the grace of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our own path to victory can be more fully understood. Further, it is important that as we read their stories we need to understand that their lives did not flower in a night, but were the product of years of preparation.
We see these experiences in the life of the man called Stephen - a faithful martyr, the businesswomen Lydia, Hannah - a faithful wife and mother, Onesimus - the runaway slave, Eliezar - a devoted steward, Dorcas the resurrected worker and many, many more.
However, let us begin this morning by looking at the life of one young man whose loyalty to his insane father was to cost him his life at the point of a Philistine sword.
The period from 1100-1011 BC was to be one of unrest, turmoil and transition as the massive migrations of sea peoples around the Mediterranean began to affect all parts of the ancient east. It also saw the transition of Israel from centuries of theocracy operated by prophets and judges to the status of becoming a kingdom like the many pagan nations that surrounded them (Nichol, 1972: 448, 450).
This was to see the prophet Samuel at the close of his life, being called upon to be the unwilling agent in establishing this new monarchy (Ibid: 449). This decision was to eventually lead to a man called Saul being chosen as the king.
In spite of the many warnings that had been given through the gift of prophecy concerning the difficulties and disadvantages of becoming a monarchy, the Israelite nation had continued to demand a king.
1 Sam 10: 25 tells us that, after discussing with the people this important question of rulership, the prophet Samuel wrote a book on 'the manner of the kingdom' and brought it before the Lord. While the book itself was probably of no value to the new king because it is believed by most scholars that he couldn't read, Samuel was to continually encourage him with the many assurances of God's abiding presence. As we read later, the inspired counsel of Samuel was soon rejected and Saul was to surround himself with a strong bodyguard of men as he became the absolute ruler of the nation (Ibid).
As the inspired writings trace the events of Saul's life, we watch the king eventually march into insanity and finally into devil possession. Having persistently rejected the Spirit of God, 1 Sam 16: 13, 14 tells us that evil spirits were given free access to his mind (Hardinge, 1983; 91).
It is with this background in mind that we first hear about the heir-apparent to the throne who was Saul's eldest son by the name of Jonathan. He is introduced to the story, not only during a time of national danger, but at a time when major stresses and fractures were developing within his family circle (Ibid: 90).
The relationship of his father both with Jehovah and His prophet had been deteriorating for some time and as a result, Jonathan's brother-in-law David had been selected by God to be the new successor to the throne.
It seems the watershed in Saul's life was to be found both in his failure to carry out the divine mandate to annihilate the Amalekites which was then followed by the many attempts to justify his conduct by lying and deceit. This behaviour was to result in the rulership being taken from him and given to David while Jonathon, who was now no longer the heir-apparent, was seen to uphold God's decision.
If Jonathan had been consumed by an ambition to become king, he could have chosen to cut short his father's disastrous reign and taken the throne by force as so many were to do in later times. He could have also used his close relationship with David as an opportunity to have his rival assassinated (Ibid).
However, the direction he took sets him apart as being one of the truly great men of history. Like Moses and even Jesus himself, Jonathan refused to fight for rights that obviously were his. His loyalties were not only to include God and His kingdom, but were also to include his father and his reign, his friends and their future, his family, and their eventual safety in a dynasty that he knew was soon going to change (Ibid).
We need to recognise that a man's strength is not measured by the passions that control him, but by the passions which God's grace empowers him to control. This is seen in the fact that nowhere do the Scriptures record one selfish statement or one self-centred act in the entire history devoted to his young life (Ibid).
With all of the negative activities taking place around him we see Jonathan's goodness and his reliance on God taking precedence over everything else. We see him gaining victory over his enemies, victory in his relationship with his own irrational father, and victory over his own ambition (Ibid).
The story of Jonathan's affection and love for David is also seen as one of the most moving and beautiful narratives in all biblical literature and more so when we recognise that he had nothing material to gain by showing friendship to his rival. The more troubles and dangers that multiplied around David, the more Jonathan was to defend and befriend him. (Ibid: 94).
Through the passing years as Saul became more and more demented, his hatred of David grew to be an obsession involving various plots and counterplots against him. However, it was to be Jonathan's love for justice and fair play that led him to reveal the evil designs of his father (Ibid: 95). Even when Saul attempted to nail his son to the wall with a spear, he continued to protect David to the utmost of his ability.
For nearly 40 years Jonathan's attitude never changed nor did his dedication to protect David's life even though it proved to be of great cost to himself. However, it was only because of his submission to God's will that his devotion both to David and his father was to be tested. It was on this cross of divided loyalty that Jonathan put self behind him and eventually victory was to be his.
Finally, when David went to live in southern Judah as a fugitive from Saul's wrath, the two friends were to have their last recorded meeting found in 1Sam 23: 16-18.
Not long after this encounter, and because of his loyalty to his father, Jonathan was to perish along with the king and his two brothers in the battle of Gilboa. This slaughter of the Israelite army by the Philistines was precipitated by Saul who had first broken his contract with God and then had openly joined hands with the devil. The tragedy of Jonathan's life was that he died at the hands of an adversary that he had previously defeated.
According to the Philistine custom, his body, along with other members of the royal family, was fastened to the wall in the city of Beth-shean to commemorate their victory over Israel. However, in gratitude for having been saved by Saul on an earlier occasion, the men of Jabesh-giliad, under David's orders, crossed the Jordan, rescued the bodies and brought them home to give them an honourable burial (Nichol, 1960: 596). In this way David was to not only honour God's anointed king, but also recognise the loyal, unselfish love of his friend.
All through his troubled life Jonathan was to march calmly, loyally and lovingly even unto death with the sure reliance on the justice and mercy of his God.
Psalm 25: 9 reminds us that 'The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way.'
We all need to learn from Jonathan's life of humility, loyalty, friendship and devotion that was eventually to bring honour and respect to the God of heaven.
Also living around this same period of Israel's history was a woman who we probably would never have heard of if her husband had been a more decent sort of man. However, Nabal, which means 'foolish', was a man of property and wealth, leading him to think too much of himself and too little of those around him.
His wife, Abigail, had married an evil-tempered, intolerant, overbearing and arrogant drunkard of a man and, as been suggested by author, David Meyer, it is remarkable how many Abigails get married to Nabals (Gane, 1991: 88).
She lived with her husband on an extensive stretch of sheep country south of Hebron, in the wilderness of Paran. They were lavish entertainers in the days before David and Solomon when 'every man did that which was right in his own eyes' (Judges 21: 25). Bands of vigilantes from the surrounding villages often sought to keep the neighbouring and marauding Ishmaelites at bay, and it was during this time that David and his army of 600 fighting men often had occasion to protect the flocks of Nabal and others from these thieving and predatory gangs of men.
What do we know about Abigail?
1 Sam 25: 3 tells us that Abigail was an intelligent and very beautiful woman and although living with a cantankerous and evil man, she was to reveal the inner beauty of a spirit-filled life. She had not allowed her husbands poor behaviour to tarnish her charm and courtesy. It has been said that her influence, like the fragrance of a flower, breathed out kindness, peace, and piety (Ibid).
What was it that precipitated the crisis in this story that found Abigail in the centre of the drama?
1 Samuel 25: 4-13 tells us that during the time of the harvest festival when Nabal was shearing his sheep, David came to ask him for help at a time when he and his men were in great need.
We need to understand that hospitality was, and still is, an obligation in the East. In addition, because of the Harvest Festival, it was a time when gift giving was also in order.
However, 1 Sam 25: 10 tells us that David's messengers were rudely thrust aside with David himself being accused of being a deserter from duty in his disloyalty to King Saul. This refusal to provide supplies for David's men according to the culture of the time was to be seen as an insult and a defiance of common courtesy.
What makes it worse is that Nabal, who feigned ignorance of David, would have known who he was, as his servants already held David in high regard for the protection previously given against the thieving Ishmaelites.
Nabal's selfish actions were not only seen to be ungrateful, but were to be dangerously short-sighted.
Incensed by this rude and contemptuous treatment from Nabal, David decides on immediate punishment ordering his men to put on their swords (1 Sam 25: 13). They were to put the holdings of Nabal and his entire household to the fire and to the sword.
You could imagine the terror in the hearts of the servants as they approached Abigail pleading that she needed to act and act quickly or they were as good as dead.
Abigail immediately grasped the gravity of the situation and, along with herself, dispatched a small procession of provision-bearers to travel along the route that David would come. 1 Sam 25: 18 says that she loaded her donkeys with'… 200 loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, about 37 litres of roasted grain, 100 cakes of raisons and 200 cakes of pressed figs…'
Abigail was not only wise and beautiful, but a woman of action. Most women, living with a man like Nabal, might easily have been intimidated and fearful. However, she showed great courage and initiative, first in assuming the responsibility of confronting David, but also by risking her own safety against this 400 strong and determined army of men who were bent on vengeance and threatening to destroy all that was in their path.
We now see Abigails character shining forth as she speaks with David, bowing before him with her face to the ground. 1 Sam 25: 24 tells us that she fell at his feet and said, 'My Lord, let the blame be on me alone…'
Abigail, with these words, shows her willingness to bear her husband's guilt, to become a substitute for the sins of this wicked man and in doing this she is reflecting the spirit of Jesus.
She also tactfully and wisely gave David two reasons why it would not be in his best interest to destroy Nabal.
First, if David were fighting the battles of the Lord, God would take care of his enemies for him. He was not to fall into the same trap that had engulfed Saul who spent his energies on personal vendettas.
Secondly, David must not stain his record with the guilt of bloodshed that results from the abuse of power and had resulted in the downfall of King Saul.
One violent attack by David on a well-known Judean citizen could well have cost him the throne and may have led to his instant betrayal to Saul. We need to recognise that anger, however justifiable, nearly always leads to overreaction (Ibid: 89).
Author Ellen White sums it up well when she said that Abigail's '…words could only have come from the lips of one who had partaken of that wisdom which cometh down from above. The piety of Abigail, like the fragrance of a flower, breathed out all unconsciously in face of word and action, the Spirit of the Son of God was abiding in her soul. Her heart was full of purity, gentleness, and sanctified love. Her speech, seasoned with grace, and full of kindness and peace, shed a heavenly influence. Better impulses came to David, and he trembled as he thought what might have been the consequences of his rash purpose. An entire household would have been slain, containing more than one, precious, God-fearing person like Abigail, who had engaged in the blessed ministry of good. Her words healed the sore and bruised heart of David…' (White, E. G., Signs of the Times, Oct 26, 1888).
Not only did Abigail's straightforward and persuasive words check David, but also they thrust her into the developing story of salvation where we see God working with people where he finds them.
On returning home, instead of receiving thanks and appreciation she finds Nabal, along with his close companions, drunk and unaware of the danger he had just escaped. 1 Sam 25: 37, 38 (NIV) tells us that '…in the morning when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.'
However, the story does not end there for when David heard that Nabal was dead he sent word to Abigail asking her to become his wife. While her soft words had turned away wrath, it had also planted the seeds of love that saw this godly woman now become a blessing to the future ruler of Israel. David was to see in her '…a virtuous woman: for her price [was] far above rubies (Prov 31: 10).
Abigail, in turn, was now to live up to the meaning of her name that meant 'My father rejoice'.
Although multiple marriages were not part of God's ideal, He repeatedly was to work with the Israelites as He found them. Once again Abigail displayed the same humility and helpfulness that had become a part of her life. In an eloquent affirmation of love and readiness she accepted his proposal by bowing down with her face to the ground and said, 'Here is your maidservant, ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master's servants.'
In His own way God had solved her immediate problems to her advantage and to His glory.
The victories gained by both Jonathan and Abigail in their lives were probably never seen to be spectacular to men, but in the sight of heaven they were victors in this great controversy between Christ and Satan, between good and evil.
While their triumph may have been of a simple kind, both responded faithfully to the gifts that were given to them and both their lives were to give a fuller revelation of God.
In this way they were to be seen as part of those faithful men and women of all ages who could be classed as God's Victors.
Gane, E. (ed) (1991) 'Crisis, Change and Challenge'. Adult Sabbath School Lesson. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Association
Hardinge, L. (1983) 'These were Victors' Adult Sabbath School Lesson. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Association
Nichol, F. D. (1960) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary Vol 8. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association
Nichol, F. D. (1972) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 2. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
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