Death and burial : Saul and Jesus….inglorious, or glorious ?

16 06 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY ONE : 1 Samuel 29 v. 1 – 31 v. 13; John 19 v. 28 – 20 v. 9; Psalm 68 v. 28 – 35

Achish Sends David Back to Ziklag – although Achish is happy to have David and his men fight alongside the Philistine army, against the Israelites (is that what David would really have done ?), his army commanders were not happy, fearing that David would turn against them. They quote the song that was going round about David :
‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’.
Achish tries to persuade them, but they are adamant, and Achish sends David and his men home. Apologetically, Achish says
‘I know that you have been as pleasing in my eyes as an angel of God; nevertheless, the Philistine commanders have said, ‘He must not go up with us to battle’.’
David returns with his men.

David Destroys the Amalekites – when David and his men arrive back at Ziklag, they find it has been attacked and plundered by the Amalekites – all their wives and children, as well as livestock and possessions have been taken. David’s men turn against him, threatening to stone him.
‘But David found strength in the Lord his God’

Another translation give us ‘David encouraged himself in the Lord’ – although the world is against him at this point, and his family all taken captive, David is able to find time to seek the Lord and find his spirit revived, renewed, strengthened. It’s a simple sentence, containing a depth to David’s experience of God’s provision in time of great need. I’m quite certain experiences like this feed his songwriting, and are behind many of the psalms we read.
Where do we go to be strengthened / encouraged in the Lord?

So, David then consults the priest, with his ephod, asking whether they should pursue the Amalekites – he receives the answer, ‘yes’. The prayerful consultation with others before important decisions is a hallmark of David in this period of his leadership.
As they pursue the Amalekites, a third of his small army (200 men) become too exhausted to continue, so the remainder press on. They show kindness to an Egyptian (a slave of one of the Amalekites – interesting twist to have an Egyptian slave lead some Hebrew people (whose identity is wrapped up in having been slaves in Egypt brought to freedom miraculously) to free their captive families) who is wasting away through hunger and thirst, and in return he leads them to the Amalekites.
Whilst the Amalekites are revelling in all the plunder they have seized, David and his four hundred men attack, recovering everything and everyone that had been taken.
Again, David shows his godly integrity, when the four hundred who fought wanted to deny the two hundred, who were too tired to fight, their share of the plunder – ‘No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us….all shall share alike’.

David’s men were falling into the trap of ‘look what we did / what our efforts have achieved’, when David reminds them that everything comes from God, and is not for us to be claiming at the expense of others. He is teaching them a very important lesson.
Our families are God’s gift to us.
Our work opportunities are God’s gift to us.
Our material comforts are God’s gift to us.
And all that we have is not just for us, but for us to work out God’s kingdom purpose and plan – that all may come to know Him, and His glorious love.

David even gives a share of the plunder, as a gift, to the elders of Judah – friends he has encountered in the towns and villages mentioned at the end of this chapter – ‘places where David and his men had roamed’. David does not forget those who have helped him get where he is today, those who have shown great kindness. Are there people we need to thank, as we receive God’s abundant blessings ?

Saul Takes His Life – David has been spared joining with the Philistines in battle against Saul, in what proves to be Saul’s last stand! The fighting is fierce and the Israelites are roundly beaten. Saul’s sons, Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua are killed, and when Saul is badly wounded, he asks his armour-bearer to finish him off. When his armour-bearer refuses to do the deed, Saul falls on his own spear, preferring to end his life than to have it ended at the hands of ‘these uncircumcised fellows’.
The Israelites flee, and the Philistines capture many of the towns and cities.
Saul’s armour is displayed in one of the temples of the Ashtoreths; his head is cut off, and his body pinned to ‘the wall of Beth Shan’.
The valiant men of Jabesh Gilead, when they hear what has happened to Saul’s body, journey through the night to Beth Shan, and take down the bodies of Saul and his sons, taking them back to Jabesh, burying their bones under a tamarisk tree – and as a sign of mourning, and of having handled their dead bodies, they purify themselves with a fast for seven days.

The end of the book of 1 Samuel, is the record of the inglorious end to King Saul.
His reign as Israel’s first king has been fraught because of his turning from God, and his jealousy, temper, damaged spirit.

The Death of Jesus – Jesus speaks again –
‘I am thirsty’ – I always hear this as a spiritual as much as a physical cry on the cross: Jesus is so thirsty for ‘the end’ of the mission He has been on earth to accomplish. Jesus receives the cheap wine vinegar extended to him.
‘It is finished’
mission accomplished, task completed, life ended, God glorified, humanity rescued (redeemed), the Kingdom firmly planted, the deed done, the victory sealed…and all this in a moment which feels terminal, the end, the ‘nothingness’ of death, vacuum, grief.
‘With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.’almost reads like an act of devotion and worship, which of course, it is. Jesus in ‘control’ to the very end….which is only the beginning….

As a way of speeding the painful deaths along, to be done before the special Sabbath, the men either side of Jesus have their legs broken, but Jesus is already dead. A soldier’s sword pierces Jesus’ side, and the flow of separated blood and water is another indication that Jesus is certainly dead. The writer is keen for us to know Jesus was definitely dead
The man who saw it has given testimony…he knows that he tells the truth…so that you may believe.’
and two verses are quoted to back up what has happened, that his bones will not be broken (interesting link back to Exodus / Leviticus references to not breaking the bones of the Passover lamb), but they will look on the one they have pierced (in particular Psalm 22 v. 16 : ‘they pierced my hands and my feet’, but also Zech. 12 v. 10).

The Burial of Jesus – spotlight on Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus (for fear of the Jews), who, with Pilate’s permission takes Jesus’ body away, and spotlight again on Nicodemus (‘the man who had earlier visited Jesus at night’, for fear of the Jews), who now brings HUGE amounts of spices to anoint Jesus’ body.
Jesus is given a traditional Jewish burial:
‘At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no-one had ever been laid.’
Jesus is laid to rest.

The appearances of Nicodemus through John’s gospel reveal a life of growing faith in Jesus, from his early questioning and seeking, to a stage of being willing to speak out for Jesus in a hostile group of Jewish leaders, to more openly offering Jesus a worshipful anointing and burial.

The Empty Tomb – On the third day, early morning, still dark, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb.
The stone is rolled away from the entrance.
She runs to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple to tell them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb… ‘
They run to the tomb (the beloved disciple…the gospel writer himself delights to tell us that he ran the  fastest !!)
Peter is first into the tomb, however.
Strips of linen cloth lie where Jesus had been laid.
The burial cloth is neatly folded.
The beloved disciple sees and believes…..believes what ? (The writer tells us that they didn’t yet realise that this signified Jesus had been raised from the dead according to Scripture).

We can only guess at what must have been going through their heads at this moment….where’s the body…who’s taken it…do the folded graveclothes indicate something more mysterious, something deeper, planned, prepared, taken care over ?

….to be continued….

‘Summon Your power, O God; show us Your strength, O God, as You have done before…
scatter the nations who delight in war…
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord…
Proclaim the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in the skies.




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