“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

This is our position my beloved brethren and sisters. We are running the race set before us, but have not yet attained to the prize. Hence the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13-15:

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. Let as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal it unto you”.

This principle is brought out in our readings for to-day and was particularly shown in the Master as we see from Philippians 2:5-8:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, (RSV) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

We see it in the attitude of David in our Samuel reading and in the attitude of the Master in our Matthew reading. Let us go back to our readings in 1 Samuel 26 and 27. The situation had now arisen that David was in danger of being killed by Saul as we see from chapter 23:14:

“And David abode in the wilderness in strongholds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.”

The Ziphites, where he dwelt, were a distance from Saul, yet they travelled great lengths to betray David to him. There is a lesson from this, which we see from Proverbs 6: 16 & 18:

“These things doth Yahweh hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him. . . . An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, and feet that be swift in running to mischief”.

We should rather be swift to hear God’s word, and if we are, we shall minister to our brethren and sisters and not betray them (Jas.1:19, 22-27, 1 Pet. 1:22-23).

As a result of this betrayal, Saul pursued David with 3000 chosen men as he had done when David was at Engedi. This unwarranted number is summed up in David’s words in chapter 26: 20:

“Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the face of the earth before the face of Yahweh: for the king of Israel is come to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains”.

But David found where Saul lay. This was the second opportunity he had of avenging himself on Saul. On the first occasion recorded in chapter 24, Saul came into the very cave where David was hidden. This could have seemed providential, and David must have had great difficulty in restraining his men. His heart even smote him because he had cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily. This demonstrated to Saul the harmlessness and innocence of David. Yet he still pursued him with this great number. Saul was like the Ziphites. His heart devised wicked imaginations and his feet were swift in running to mischief. On this second occasion David went down to the camp with Abishai who had volunteered to go down with him. Let us read verses 8-11:

“Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day: now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth this once, and I will not smite him the second time. And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against Yahweh’s anointed, and be guiltless? David said furthermore, As Yahweh liveth, Yahweh shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. Yahweh forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against Yahweh’s anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go”.

In this he was a type of his greater Son. Although he had been anointed king he did not think the throne was a thing to be grasped at. Moreover David had learnt a lesson from Nabal. When Nabal refused to help David and he would have avenged himself upon him, David was restrained through the wisdom of Nabal’s wife, Abigail. Shortly after this Nabal died of drunkenness and shock and David learnt from this that he was right in not lifting up his hand against Saul. The Almighty would deal with Saul as he saw fit. When David revealed to Saul that he had been into the camp and taken Saul’s spear, he answered Saul with these words:

“Now therefore, I pray thee, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If Yahweh have stirred thee up against me, let him accept an offering: but if they be the children of men, (we know it was the Ziphites) cursed be they before Yahweh; for they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of Yahweh, saying, Go, serve other gods”.

These words are very searching brethren and sisters. Saul was not a true shepherd. He was driving the faithful away instead of encouraging them. This was in contrast to what king Asa did. After the division of the kingdom between Judah and the ten tribes and after Jeroboam had set up false worship in Bethel and in Dan, Asa sought to draw the ten tribes away from this false worship to Jerusalem, after the prophet Azariah had said to him, “Yahweh is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you”(11 Chron. 15:2). Asa did seek Yahweh so we read in 11 Chronicles 15:9:

“And he gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon: for they fell to him out of Israel (the ten tribes) in abundance, when they saw that Yahweh his God was with him. So they gathered themselves together at Jerusalem …”

But Yahweh had forsaken Saul, and not only was he driving faithful David and his men from their inheritance, encouraging them to serve other gods but through Doeg, the Edomite, had slain 85 of the priests from the city of Nob. David was the true shepherd. As he had slain the lion and the bear to defend his flock, so he had slain Goliath to save the flock of Israel. Yet Saul was driving away the very one who had saved Israel from his inheritance.

David’s words brought Saul temporarily to a right state of mind and he recognised that he had done wrong. David returned his spear, and then we read his words in verses 23-24:

“Yahweh render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness: for Yahweh delivered thee into my hand to-day, but I would not stretch forth my hand against Yahweh’s anointed. And, behold, as thy life was much set by this day in mine eyes, so let my life be much set by in the eyes of Yahweh, and let him deliver me out of all travail”.

These words were reflected by David in Psalm 18: 25-26:

“With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright; With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward”.

How true these words were brethren and sisters. David’s life was much set by in the eyes of the Almighty so that even when he sinned with Bathsheba, his sin was put away and his life was spared.

Saul’s response in 1 Samuel 26:25 is very significant:

“Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do great things, and also thou shalt still prevail. So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place”.

It is noteworthy that Saul said this and no doubt he knew in his heart that it was true. The same word “prevail” is used of Jacob in Genesis 32:28. It was after he had wrestled with the angel, who must have only exercised human strength. But Jacob held on to the angel, as he held on to his brother’s heel in the womb. So we read in verses 28:

“Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed”

Let us turn to Hosea 12:3-5:

“He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he (the Almighty) spake with us; Even Yahweh Elohim of hosts; Yahweh is his memorial”.

The angels had led David into this situation where he had opportunity to kill Saul, as urged on by Abishai. He had to wrestle with his conscience as Jacob had wrestled with the angel. He knew that he would prevail as we see from verse 10 of chapter 26, and Saul’s words reassured him. So although David had been anointed king, he did not think the throne was a thing to be grasped at but had to wait until the time when he was given power with God. But even when he became king he still had to continue wrestling with the angel, which involved many tears and supplications for power with God enshrined in the name Israel will not be realised until the kingdom.

We see this with the Master in our reading in Matthew. Jesus had just heard of the death of John the Baptist. He must have felt more alone. Yet as John had decreased he had to increase. So followed the wonderful miracle of the feeding of the 5000. But at the end of the miracle, we read in verses 22-23:

“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was alone”.

The word constrain means to compel. Why did Jesus do this? The answer is in the John account in John 6:14-15:

“Then those men when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone”.

This was similar to the Master’s temptation in the wilderness, showing that these temptations followed him throughout his ministry. They actually recognised that he was the prophet like unto Moses and were going to take him by force to make him king. The Master therefore had to extricate his disciples from this situation, lest they should be drawn away by the multitude. Hence the words in verse 14, “straightway Jesus constrained (compelled) his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him”.

As one brother commented, it must have been a miracle, how the Master extricated himself from the clutches of the multitude. How he needed to go up apart into a mountain to pray and we read, “when the evening was come, he was there alone”. Jesus had been sorely tempted to grasp at kingship and he had to resist it with an iron will and at the same time to control his disciples who could have been easily carried away by the multitudes. How he needed a time of solace with his heavenly Father.

At the same time the disciples were experiencing the storm on the lake. Jesus compelled them to leave a situation in which they could have achieved fame with him, to experience this terrible storm and the contrary wind. They had to learn that kingship could only be attained through much tribulation.

But Jesus would eventually overcome and still the nations, as represented by his walking on the sea, and they would eventually rule with him, sitting on twelve thrones and judging the twelve tribes of Israel. But they had to have their eyes at all times fixed on Jesus, as Peter learned when he attempted to walk on the sea.

Adam and Eve failed to see this principle when they were tempted. They wanted equality with the Elohim. Our faith has to be tried as their faith was tried. The great danger is that we can be tempted to seek a high position in the world, even in the ecclesial world. The words of John are very relevant:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever”.

So we come to remember our absent Master brethren and sisters. Rather than achieving equality with God, he chose to lay down his life in obedience to the Father and in love for his friends and suffer that cruel and shameful death on the stake. May we follow his example:

“Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come (Heb.13:12-14)”.

Carlo Barberesi