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LESSON NINE - SPIES, A ROMANTIC DOUBLE AGENT, AND THE OUT-LAW PURSUIT

I Samuel 19:11-24

11 Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. 13 Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head. 14 When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.” 15 Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.” 16 But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why did you deceive me like this and send my enemy away so that he escaped?” Michal told him, “He said to me, ‘Let me get away. Why should I kill you?’” 18 When David had fled and made his escape, he went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. Then he and Samuel went to Naioth and stayed there. 19 Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; 20 so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came on Saul’s men, and they also prophesied. 21 Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Finally, he himself left for Ramah and went to the great cistern at Seku. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” “Over in Naioth at Ramah,” they said. 23 So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even on him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. 24 He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. This is why people say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

The Bible is more than just good literature. The plain unvarnished narrative of Old Testament drama addresses spiritual lessons and issues that are still helpful to us today. In addition to that, the Bible is also good literature and filled with intrigue. Inside the narrative are hidden lessons for us to discover. Let’s try to find some.

1. Saul sent spies to the out-law’s house. 11 – 13

When David escaped the javelin, Saul supposed David went straight to his own house, which is just what he did. Saul then sent some of his guards to wait at his door and kill him in the morning.

Michal, however, was the instrument of David’s deliverance. Saul gave Michal to David to be a snare to him, but she proved here to be his protector and helper. Often the devil is out-shot with his own bow. We do not know how Michal knew of the danger, but perhaps she noticed the soldiers in the neighborhood or maybe she had a friend in the court who informed her. Maybe she heard them whispering in the darkness—adding meaning to David’s reference to swords spewing from their lips. Michal warned David.

Well might David complain that his enemies were bloody men, as he did in the psalm he penned then—when Saul sent and they watched the house to kill him. He complained there of the swords spewing from their mouths. “Deliver me from evildoers and save me from bloodthirsty men. See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, O LORD. See what they spew from their mouths—they spew out swords from their lips, and they say, ‘who can hear us?’” (Psalms 59:2, 3, 7).

We do not know when David penned the 59th Psalm, but it is generally believed that it refers to this incident. Perhaps in his own closet before he went out or in the hiding-place to which he fled. It shows that in his fright and hurry, his mind was nevertheless composed, and even in this great danger, his faith was strong. Verse 16 shows strong faith. Just at the time Saul intended that David would be slain, David intends to be singing of God’s strength. “But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble” (Ps.59:16).

When the doors of the house were opened in the morning and David did not appear, the messengers would search the house for him. But Michal told them he was sick in bed (v.14) and if they would not believe her, she had prepared a wooden image in that bed wrapped closely and warm as if it were David asleep and not wanting to be disturbed. The goat’s hair was to resemble David’s hair.

Was it right for her to lie? Life and truth are both values. Life is a higher value than strictly telling the whole truth in all instances. When two principles are in conflict choose the more important principle. Killing and freedom sometimes also are in conflict, and we must choose between the two—which is what happens when soldiers go to war.

Michal knew that the messengers would pursue David if they knew he had escaped. The messengers were humane enough, however, and willing to let David rest, but when Saul received the message, he gave orders for David to be brought so that he could kill David himself.

It was low of Saul to be so eager to triumph over a sick man. So greedy was Saul for revenge the he could now not be happy to see him dead unless he himself had done the killing even though awhile ago he had said, “David will not be put to death” (19:6), and earlier still, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that” (18:17)! It is easy to see the progression: David shall not die! Let the Philistines kill him. You kill him. I will kill him.

Michal got David out of danger. But why was an idol in her house? Could she not learn from Rachel who generations before secretly took “strange gods” from her father’s house? When her father, Laban, accused Jacob of stealing his household gods, Jacob said if the gods had been stolen, the thief shall not live (Gen 31:19, 32, 34). Later, Rachel died. What grief gods cause! Later, Michel criticized David for dancing without dignity. Were the seeds of her shallow spiritual life already evident here?

2. Princess Michal sided with David, then, seemingly, with her father. 14 – 17

When the messengers were sent again, the cheat was discovered, but by this time David was safe and the discovery of the idol was no major problem. But Saul criticized her for siding with her husband against her father. Our first allegiance in human relationships is made clear at the beginning of the Bible. Geneses 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” The husband-wife dyad is the most important relationship. When this is violated problems develop. When it is honored each married partner has a valuable source of friendship and affirmation for life.

When Saul asked Michal why she allowed David to escape, she said, “He said to me, ‘Let me get away. Why should I kill you” (17)? Some scholars say this second lie was also of necessity; a necessary lie in order to save a life—this time Michal’s. Perhaps. Michal, however, clearly, lacks Jonathan’s character who risked his life, confronting his father in David’s behalf, at his own initiative. Others say Michal should have answered that she thought it right to save her husband.

Michal answered Saul’s question, “He said to me, ‘let me get away. Why should I kill you?’” Was that really what David said? Was the second lie part of the original strategy or was it Michal’s addition? Was it necessary to the success of the strategy? Or was it based on Saul’s abnormal, unnatural, and criminal attitude towards David? It is out of character for David to have really threatened to kill her, though it is possible that David told her what to say to protect herself from her unreasonable father. If we remember that it was she, not he, who advised David to flee, and she, not he, who devised the deception by using the idol, we realize that it is quite possible that the lie was of her own making.

Who would believe that David would say such a thing? None of David’s admirers, including you and me. Only those who thought ill of David could possible have believed that David would say such a terrible thing. Only a Saul who believed so many bad things of David would have believed this bad thing about him. What do we learn from this? We find “evidence” for what we believe. Our beliefs influence what we “see” more than our optic nerves.

David was far from being so barbarous a man, so unkind a husband, so brutish or threatening a person as she implies in her answer. But David suffered from both friends and enemies and centuries later a descendant of David was both betrayed and killed. He was known as “the Son of David.”

3. Soldiers pursue the outlaw but are hindered by an invisible force. 18 - 24

Where did David flee? David did not flee to Bethlehem, nor his family, nor to any of the cities of Israel where the crowds had sung their songs praising his military victories. He ran straight to the man of God who had started him on his journey toward the throne. Samuel had given him assurance of the crown and that assurance was now fading. So to Samuel he fled. He told everything Saul had done to him. Saul had promised favor, a wife, then life and Samuel had promised the throne. In flying to Samuel he was making God his refuge since Samuel was the man of God. We choose the kind of counsel we will receive when we choose the counselor to whom we go. Samuel, as a prophet of God, was able to help him.

He met with little rest or satisfaction in Saul’s court so he went to Samuel’s church. The little satisfactions we find in life are enjoyed best by those who have it in communion with God. To this communion David returned many times. “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old” (Ps. 25:1-6).

David went to Samuel at Ramah (vs. 18), but Saul heard David is at “Naioth at Ramah” (vs.19). What is the difference between Ramah and Naioth? Ramah is the village where Samuel lived. David fled to him there. Then Samuel took him to the dwellings of the prophets who lived in a cluster of houses nearby. They were Samuel’s students. Elijah, then Elisha, also had groups of prophets—the school of the prophets—who attended to their needs and studied under them. Naioth, the prophet’s dwellings where Samuel and David went, is therefore the location for the following drama.

Saul was informed by his spies that David has fled to “Naioth at Ramah” (v 19). Through a comical series of three sendings, Saul is unable to bring back the out-law because of some invisible interference—the powerful presence of God among those who were evidently worshipping. Saul is unable to perceive that David was under the special protection of Heaven.

They prophesied—they joined with the prophets in speaking about or praising God. Instead of seizing David, they themselves were seized. Either (1) such a joyous excitement surrounded the crowd of worshippers that they could not think of capturing David—they forgot their mission. Or the excitement of worship so convicted them with a desire to do right, not wrong, that they decided they should not capture David. Could not or should not. These are usually two different issues. If you cannot you don’t need to learn and won’t learn that you should not. But if you know you should not, and your conscience is bound to obey God, you also know you cannot.

In either case, we see the positive influence of being with good people. If you are good, strong, resilient, and steadfast in your faith you can go anywhere almost and maintain your integrity and continue to worship and serve God, though you won’t really want to go there. But some of us need to be careful to stay in good company because we know that good company is a safety net. If you need the net, use the net. Know yourself. If you are too weak to choose right actions, then choose right crowds.

How was David delivered when Saul himself went to Naioth at Ramah? Neither as he delivered his lamb by slaying the lion, nor as Elijah was delivered by consuming the messengers with fire from heaven, but by turning the lions, for the present, into lambs.

When Saul went “he also” took off his clothes and prophesied. Throwing off his clothing was the effect of the heat of the body produced by internal excitement—as when you play volleyball and get warmed up you take off your outer clothes. We may suppose that the messengers had earlier done the same thing because it says of Saul that, “he also.”

Saul too stripped off his royal robe and warlike equipment, perhaps in his case, because they were too fine or too heavy for worship. When Saul went, Saul “also” had the spirit of the Lord come on him, Saul “also” took off his outer garments, Saul “also” prophesied, but the text does not say Saul “also” lay all night naked. Saul alone lay unconscious all night—evidently overcome by the excitement and ecstasy of the event. Do you know why Saul lay there all night?

In I Samuel 10:11, the proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” was first mentioned because prophesying was so different from what Saul was known to do. Now, in I Samuel 19:24, the proverb is used again because Saul, who had disobeyed, been rejected and then chose to be jealous of David and thereby made room for an evil spirit to work for evil in his tormented mind, now prophesying was so contrary from what Saul was known to do.

David was spared by Saul’s change. Years later the saints in Damascus were delivered from the rage of another Saul, this one of Tarsus who became Paul the Apostle, who was so changed in his spirit that not only did the people of Damascus have peace for a day, but the whole church had peace for many years. God can change us, but we decide if the change is permanent as in the case of Saul of Tarsus or just for a day as in the case of King Saul.

Surprised that Saul should be prophesying? The obvious application for us is to examine our behavior outside of church when we are not worshipping to see if it is consistent with our behavior inside the church when we are worshipping. Behavior outside of church places either a question mark or an exclamation mark behind what we say in church. People are watching our behavior both inside and outside the church. They are listening to what we say inside and outside our places of worship. Lord help us that our behavior and words in both places—inside and outside—will be consistent with each other and bring honor to our Father in Heaven. Saul was not a good example on this point. “He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence.” Saul behaved wickedly outside the community of believers and lay all night before the Lord in the company of the prophets. Which behavior shows us the real Saul? Which behavior shows us the real you?