The Human Heart

At The Church at Sunsites, we walk through Scripture verse-by-verse in a sincere way and present the text for what it is, making application where appropriate. It is called expository preaching lectio continua. It is difficult because the preacher is bound to God’s order of things. The preacher is not wrestling with his own ideas and choosing texts to present. Rather, the text must wrestle his heart before he ever presents it to the Lord’s congregation. This week, the text just broke me (more than usual) because I had to wrestle with the incurable condition of my own heart in an obvious way. Fear about what the future may hold causes us to act in extreme ways. David has fled to the Philistines, and Saul has stopped searching for him. Achish, the king of Gath, believes David will be his servant forever.

1 Samuel 28:1-9

Now it came about in those days that the Philistines gathered their armed camps for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Know assuredly that you will go out with me in the camp, you and your men.”

David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” So Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”

Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists. So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa. When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.

Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.”

Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, “Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.”

But the woman said to him, “Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?”

David and Achish (v. 1-2)

Now it came about in those days that the Philistines gathered their armed camps for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Know assuredly that you will go out with me in the camp, you and your men.”
David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” So Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”

Before this, David has been plundering other Canaanites and killing them so Achish would remain oblivious to David’s actions. Achish believes David is a good ally to have, but the reverse is actually true. In the previous passage, David’s heart led him to plunder and murder. Now, instead of trusting in what God can do, he is ready to show Achish what he can do. Throughout Saul’s life and ministry as king, his heart has led him to pursue David, slay priests, and present unholy worship before God. When people do what they think is best in Scripture, the result always seems to be their downfall unless God intervenes. That’s why Scripture says that when we are left to our own devices, every intent of ours is only wicked all the time (Cf. Genesis 6:5). It also reveals that the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable (Jeremiah 17:9). That’s why it says that all of our righteous acts, those things we believe to be good, are like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). In the new testament, we see that it is our desires that cause conflict, particularly among Christians (James 1:1; 4:1).

There was a time in my ministry I felt I needed to be praised by people. Scripture was not my authority, but the whims of people were—which caused many, many problems and conflicts worse than I can describe to you in a sermon. I wouldn’t. I do, though, want to boast about my own weaknesses because that is how the power of God dwells in a person (2 Corinthians 12:9)—only by his or her weakness. Those of you who have been here have heard my testimony. I fought God when He called me into pastoral ministry because I knew about the turmoil. My desire was to settle down into a cushy job, make money, and have a family. I fought God’s desire because I wanted what I wanted. God won that fight. Starting in youth ministry, I took the popular approach of our day—do cool stuff, be relevant, base the ministry on the desires of youth, grow those numbers, and then give them Scripture. I was able to triple the size of a youth group, but only a couple of those students were actually getting to know Jesus more. Then, there were conflicts all around. God eventually took me to Oklahoma to pastor my first church. I broke my back to make sure everyone was pleased so I could advance my own ministry. After a-year-and-a-half of constant conflict, I was asked to resign. It was inevitable. That particular church did the same thing to every pastor after me and every pastor before me except the pastor who built the church 40 years prior to my ministry there. Still, God is always reminding me of the danger of self-ambition and showing me that my own desires are wicked because I am unrighteous by nature. He did that through a few passages of Scripture this week. God continues to show me that he needs pastors and church members who are broken over their own sin and desires because without that, Christ’s strength is not evident in their lives. I believe God uses conflicts, which are always caused by our desires, to show us our own insufficiency and need to conform more and more to his desires. If we are repentant, we are sanctified through every conflict and stronger in the of grace of God when everything is said and done. That was the message of the first sermon I ever preached here at The Church at Sunsites. I am going to set the example by publicly repenting this morning. There was an instance in which I sought my own desires rather than God’s desires and the church’s good. I am in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness. I am in need of my church family’s grace and forgiveness. With grace and forgiveness, we will emerge, together, in the strength of Christ alone. Without it, we will only devour one-another. I’ve seen the pattern over and over again—God told us it would be that way.

David, Achish, and Saul, all concerned about their own desires, are about to clash.

Saul seeks answers (v. 3-9)

Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists. So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa. When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.

Samuel was dead (Cf. 25:1). Samuel had guided Saul and guarded him in many ways. Saul used Samuel to discern the future, the outcome of any conflict—especially against the Philistines. Saul also removed mediums and spiritists from the land (Cf. 6:1-3; Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10-11). Per usual, the Philistines gathered to invade Israel, and Saul gathered to defend his territory. Saul feared the outcome of the battle. He prayed, but God did not answer.

Do you ever fear the future? This year, 2020, is certainly the year to fear future possibilities. Do you ever pray and pray and feel like God does not answer or reassure you? I do. The text does not say that God is not answering Saul because of anything about Saul. We can make our speculations if we desire. How terrifying it is to be at God’s mercy and not know what He is working together. How terrifying it is to see hardship and conflict coming and have no reassurances, no security, no power to make everything okay.

Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.”

I think Saul knows God’s ultimate plan; David will be king (Cf. 26:25). He seeks a medium. He looks for answers. As he has always done, he tries to do certain things in order to accomplish certain outcomes according to his desires. As we have seen over and again, Saul’s religion either fits the prosperity gospel or works-righteousness of our day.

Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, “Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.”
But the woman said to him, “Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?”

The witch doesn’t know she is talking to Saul. Since Saul has outlawed divination, she believes the stranger before her is trying to trap her and cause her to be killed. Saul’s desire has led him, now, to go against his own decree and God’s law. He is about to cause this woman, the witch at En-dor (not the planet from Star Wars), to break his own law and God’s. When we chase our own desires instead of God’s, we not only plunge into sin but take others with us. Consider the pattern in Saul’s life.

  • In Chapter 15, Saul did not wait for the Lord but sacrificed to the Lord because he wanted to win the battle before him. 
  • After the battle, Saul disobeyed the Lord according to his own religious desires (15:17-23).
  • Instead of repenting, Saul casted blame for his disobedience on others (15:24).
  • Because he never had a repentant heart and always returned to those primeval human desires, he led an entire nation into sin and greater conflict. It was a vicious cycle that caused him to devour the land, fulfilling the prophecy spoken about his tribe (Cf. Genesis 49:27).
  • He will die from a self-inflicted wound in the battle against the Philistines who are now coming against Israel (Cf. 31:4).

Often when we don’t hear from God, we try to come up with our own answers and justify those answers. Saul, from a young age, looked for signs and now wanted to consult a medium. He was desperate to know the outcome. Aren’t we all? Our pride leads us to destruction. How does anyone ever overcome the human heart? Jeremiah 17:9 reveals that the human heart, our desires, is more deceitful than anything else and incurable. That means no matter how mature we are, how much experience we have, or how godly we believe ourselves to be, our depraved desires, which lead us into sin and cause conflict, are incurable. How does anyone cure the incurable? Every pastor, elder, deacon, and every other person, whether following Christ or not, will be led astray by his or her desires. How does anyone cure the incurable? Jeremiah sets the example in Jeremiah 17:14:

Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For You are my praise.

There is nothing we can do to cure the incurable but falling upon the mercy of God and praying for His salvation and sanctification; We turn our eyes upon Jesus, and seek first His kingdom and righteousness instead of our own. That’s why we pray for God’s will to be done and not ours (Cf. Matthew 6:10). That is why those who wait on the Lord renew their strength (Cf. Isaiah 40:31). That’s why Jesus will teach in the Gospels that no one can be His disciple if he or she does not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus (Cf. Luke 14:25-35). May we all continue to follow Christ together and be concerned about His interests rather than our own. When we become aware of our self-interest, may we, like what will become characteristic of David’s life (Cf. 2 Samuel 12:5-14), be quick to repent so we don’t devour the land like Saul has done through 1 Samuel. Then, let us rejoice in God’s salvation and embrace one another graciously as the family of God.

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