Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018

Sanctuary

King David Series-5

 

1st Samuel 21:1-10 and 22:9-23

There is no longer any hope for David to be able to remain in Saul’s court. Saul’s attempts to kill him, which started out as irrational outbursts of anger, have solidified into a cool and calculated determination to murder the man he considers to be his rival. Saul is paranoid and determined to maintain his grip on power, so David has to flee.

At this time, the capital city of Israel was Gibeah, which was located a few miles to the north of Jerusalem. David first flees to the town of Nob, which was just a few miles away, almost in between Gibeah and Jerusalem. Nob was the current home of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. It was a sanctuary, a holy place.

We know that God is holy. He is “other.” He is not like us, not sinful, but holy and pure. Sanctuaries remind us of God’s holiness. But we also know that God is present throughout all of life, in every place and everything. We can’t go anywhere and be away from his presence. He is not bound to sanctuaries or holy places.

Theologians call these opposite but interrelated ideas immanence and transcendence. Immanence is God’s nearness, his availability in every place and circumstance. Transcendence is God’s distance from us, his holiness and “other-ness.” Sanctuaries and all holy places, not just those built with human hands, remind us of transcendence. They say to us, “There is more to life than what you can see with your eyes.”

In this holy place, David finds Ahimelech, the high priest. Ahimelech is suspicious about David’s presence. David is after all, a captain in Saul’s army. It seems strange that he is here all alone. Ahimelech asks him why he is alone.

And David lies. Some Bible scholars try to excuse David, to rationalize his decision to deceive the high priest. And I don’t doubt that David probably thought he was doing the best that he could. But he was also only thinking of himself. His thoughts were completely centered on his own survival, and he did not think of how his actions would affect others. If David had been honest, then Ahimelech could have made his own decision about whether or not to help David. And if he decided to help, and Saul killed him for it, then at least he would have died for doing the right thing. But instead, Ahimelech was compelled to help David, for which we know he will soon die.

David is no saint. He is no “other-worldly” character who never does anything wrong. He is just as real and foolish as you and I. We also tell lies, and just like David, we can seldom see all the results of our missteps before we take them.

But we can say this for David: He is not without God. He is still connected to God. And often that is very difficult to do in the midst of all the difficulties of life. Perhaps it says more about David than anything that in the moment of his deepest need, he runs to the sanctuary, to a holy place to find help.

And he receives it. Ahimelech helps him. He gives him shewbread or showbread. These were sacred loaves, twelve of them to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Every Sabbath, they were placed on the altar and left there for a week. The next Sabbath, they were replaced, and the old ones were eaten by the priests. They probably didn’t taste too good by then though!

David is not a priest, of course, so Ahimelech is “bending” the rules to help him. But centuries later, Jesus would praise Ahimelech for this action. Because, as Jesus frequently showed in his ministry, human need is far more important to God than religious ceremony.

David also needed a weapon, and he was given Goliath’s sword.

David came into the sanctuary hungry and defenseless. He left full and protected.

But he wasn’t alone there. Doeg the Edomite was also there. Doeg was not an Israelite. He was a descendant of Jacob’s brother Esau, also called Edom. Nonetheless, he has found employment in Saul’s court. Most translators think that he is described as the chief herdsman of Saul. But there are some other opinions about what the text means. Some think he is the chief guard of Saul, the head of Saul’s personal guard. Others think he is the chief messenger of Saul. A messenger was not just someone who carried messages from the king, but also someone who carried messages to the king about what was happening in the kingdom. In other words, Doeg might be Saul’s chief spy.

He was in the Tabernacle for some kind of religious duty. We don’t know exactly what that was. If he was a herdsman, he might have just been delivering sacrificial

animals. But if he is a messenger, then he might be there to receive an oracle, a message from God through the priest.

Regardless of why, he was there. And he saw David. And he saw Ahimelech help David. And he took notes.

David then flees from Israelite territory and goes to Gath, one of the Philisitine cities. He seems to be taking the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Perhaps he can find shelter with Saul’s enemy. But he is recognized. He tries to act like a madman to relieve suspicion of his motives. But it doesn’t work. The king of Gath says, “We already have enough crazy people here! Get lost!”

Next David goes to the cave of Adullam. Here he begins to attract a following. People who are disaffected by Saul begin seeking him out, and he starts to grow a loyal following of men.

Then David goes to Moab. His great-great-grandmother was from Moab, so he has some connections there. He takes his parents to Moab, to keep them safe. And then he returns to Israelite territory in the Forest of Hereth.

Saul finds out that he has returned. And he’s not happy. His paranoia has grown to the point that he begins accusing everyone of being in league with David. He sees conspiracy everywhere.

And Doeg sees his opportunity to ingratiate himself with Saul. He sees, “I’ve seen David. I was in the Tabernacle, and I saw the high priest helping your enemy.” Doeg reveals himself for what he really is. He is a thoroughly political man. He’s always thinking what’s best for him.

Eighty-five priests are summoned to Saul. Saul accuses them of helping his enemy. In his mind, these priests are not to serve God, but to serve the king and preserve his reign.

For his part, Ahimelech proves to be a man of genuine character and courage. He defends David. And he doesn’t deny his own responsibility.

But mad king Saul will hear nothing of reason. He orders the death of these 85 priests. Even his own soldiers won’t carry out this order. They know it is a horrific and

unjust order. But Doeg will. And not just the priests, but their families as well, men, women, and children.

We often question how God can allow such evil to happen. The fact is that God very seldom intervenes to prevent such evil. And he doesn’t promise to protect us from evil. He only promises that eventually, evil will no longer have its day. It will not last forever.

This doesn’t mean that God is absent in the midst of evil though. He is present in and through the response of his people to evil. David takes responsibility for his role in this evil. He knows he did wrong by involving Ahimelech. And he pledges to Ahimelech’s son, the new high priest Abiathar, that he will do all he can to give him a future free from such evil, at the guarantee of his own life.

What should we take away from this rather ugly story?

Two men went into the sanctuary. Doeg had no real spiritual interest. For him, religion was useful for keeping up appearances, looking like a certain kind of person. Religion was useful; but God was not. His question was, “How can I use all this God stuff for my own advantage?”

But David was desperate to receive help from God. He was unable to survive on his own. And so he received bread and a sword. Coincidentally, bread and a sword are both frequent pictures for the Word of God. It is our daily bread, our sustenance. It is the Sword of the Spirit, our defense against the powers of evil.

Sanctuaries, holy places, and not just those built by human hands, are not museums to the past. Nor are they places to escape from life, to run away from the ugly realities of the world. Instead, holy places are where we are nourished and equipped to face the ugly realities of life.

Verse of the Day...