After Darkness, Light

To refer to this sermon as a conclusion is a little misleading. The story continues on in 2 Samuel, which I plan on teaching Wednesday evenings after we finish our current study of Matthew’s Gospel. In a way, this sermon also serves as a great introduction to 2 Samuel. In this chapter, Saul’s reign and life draw to a close. We get to reflect on everything we have seen in 1 Samuel over the sixty-nine weeks we have spent in the story. For those who have followed the conversation in 1 Samuel, please contact me and share what God has done in your life through our study of 1 Samuel or something you have gleaned from 1 Samuel that impacted you. I will share my reflections at the end of this sermon.

You have heard the phrase post tenebras lux, or “after darkness, light.”Saul has lived his life according to what he thought benefitted him according to his own self-interest and self-will. He practiced religion because he thought he could gain something from God by doing the correct things. Saul’s reign is the epitome of either a legalistic or prosperity gospel. His righteousness is of his own works and has led him into deep rebellion against God. He was never regenerated, and we have seen his derogation. Today, we see the darkness before the light. How many of you have experienced or are experiencing hopelessness? Is there a darkness that overcomes you or the land? Scripture is not silent on the dark times God’s people face on this earth.

1 Samuel 31:1-13

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua the sons of Saul. The battle went heavily against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and pierce me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died with his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men on that day together.

When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley, with those who were beyond the Jordan, saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned the cities and fled; then the Philistines came and lived in them. It came about on the next day when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped off his weapons, and sent them throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his weapons in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.

Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.

Saul’s demise (v. 1-6)

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua the sons of Saul. The battle went heavily against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and pierce me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died with his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men on that day together.

Samuel revealed Saul’s fate in Chapter 15, verse 28. Because Saul was not a man after God’s own heart but was a ravenous wolf, according to what was revealed about the tribe of Benjamin in Genesis 49, God tears the kingdom from Saul. In Chapter 28, verse 19, the spirit of Samuel revealed that God’s punishment upon Saul’s household included Saul’s death and the death of his sons. God fulfills His word against Saul and Saul’s sons. In a monarchical setting or empire, a throne can only be taken from a king or emperor by abdication or death. When one king dies, his son succeeds him as king. Dynasties depend on bloodlines. It is not difficult to see why God’s promise to tear the kingdom from Saul necessitated the death of Saul’s family—especially since Saul never thought about willingly abdicating the throne and giving it to David.

Jonathan is David’s friend and a God-honoring man. Yet, God takes his life by the hand of the Philistines. Jonathan’s life is not required of him at this specific time because of his own sin but because of his father’s. It’s not difficult to see that when we live in sin, pursuing our own interests according to our own wills, the effects of our sin reach beyond us. When we do not live to honor God, our children, spouses, communities, and nations are effected. When we, like Saul, seek to build our own kingdoms and our own righteousness, we negatively impact the world around us. When we think about this present darkness, the blame is on people. Human wretchedness has far-reaching consequences—both natural consequences like we saw the previous two weeks and God’s just wrath being poured out. The noetic effects of original sin are made more evident through the continuing wretchedness of humankind apart from Jesus Christ. 

Hopelessness and suicide are in view, here. Saul was badly wounded and took his own life. In response, his armor bearer also took his own life. Their suicides might result from some type of honor-code, but that is unlikely since Saul’s fears being made sport of. Again, it seems Saul’s fear of the future is leading him. Instead of becoming prisoners of war to be made sport of, they take their own lives. We can know that the outlook is hopeless. During dimes of darkness in our own lives, our thoughts can go to some dangerous places. Our reflections are powerful, persuading us of things that are neither real nor true. If you have ever been lost in your own reflections during times of darkness, you know that we are really good at creating false realities, false enemies, and victimizing ourselves to points of depression, anxiety, and paranoia—some of the traits we have seen characterize Saul’s life. A thought flirts with us, “It would be better if I was gone…” We get really good at falling on our swords, metaphorically and sometimes literally. It always comes during times of darkness in our lives, whether real or merely perceived. Saul doesn’t see a way out of the darkness. He does not trust God to deliver him; So, he goes out on his own terms—Saul committed one final act of blasphemy by assuming authority over his own death. That’s what suicide is, either metaphorical or literal—blasphemy. Anytime any person assumes authority over life and death concerning him or herself or others, he mocks God. Many applications can be made, here, including to murder and abortion, and there is a conversation to be had about just war and self-defense, but suicide is directly in view. God created us. Our lives are His. When we really trust Him, we bear with this world and with the people God has given to us. We trust that God will move us or take us home at the time He has determined. We don’t live or die on our own terms but God’s. If you are in a hopeless or a dark place in your life, I want to encourage you. Suicide, metaphorical or literal, won’t fix anything. It only brings hurt to those who love us. Instead of trying to avoid the pain, hurt, or hardships you perceive, learn how to rest. Later in the story, David will have an affair with a woman named Bathsheba. Bathsheba will bear David a son named Solomon. Bathsheba will give Solomon the following advice:

What, O my son? And what, O son of my womb? And what, O son of my vows? Do not give your strength to women, Or your ways to that which destroys kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty And remember his trouble no more (Proverbs 31:2-7).

Solomon’s godly mother advised him not to give himself over to wine and strong drink in order to numb the pain of life. Drunkenness is, in a sense, suicide. Drunkenness is a way to escape a bitter and worthless life, a present darkness; It is not desirable because it keeps a person from accomplishing anything worthwhile—like defending others against injustice. A king is not to escape hardship because he will not be able to do anything to help mend the world if he does. In the New Testament, Paul will instruct the entire church the way that Bathsheba advises Solomon:

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:15-21).

The Holy Spirit is a better comforter than anything we can do to try to numb or extinguish the pain or hardships in life. The Holy Spirit actually builds us up rather than giving us over to dissipation like those things people do to merely forget or remove themselves. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are filled with joy—even singing to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. When we rest in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit takes us joyfully to church! When we rest in ourselves and merely try to escape hardship or forget, it is dissipation. Do you want to know why depression and anxiety levels are so high? Do you want to know why the suicide rate is what it is? People do not know about the Holy Spirit, and self-proclaiming Christians have not found their rest in the Holy Spirit.

Israel’s shame (v. 7-10)

When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley, with those who were beyond the Jordan, saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned the cities and fled; then the Philistines came and lived in them. It came about on the next day when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped off his weapons, and sent them throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his weapons in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.

The battle is lost. The king has perished. There is no heir. Israel is dead. Her tribes are scattered. Every man is for himself. The people flee their cities, and those cities are inhabited by a foreign nation—God’s enemies. Saul’s body is desecrated and put on display—propaganda declaring glory for Philistia.

At the beginning of 1 Samuel, Isreal was reborn and unified under the new king. The book that began with so much miraculous hope now ends in hopelessness. Israel is scattered and, again, without a king. Her desire to be like the other nations meant a fate like that of the other nations. Once again, we realize that when we are left to our own devices and seeking our own wills and interests, we are self-condemned people like Saul. We finish our study of 1 Samuel in darkness, yearning for a new dawn for the nation of Israel. God has prepared Israel’s true king, the one through whom He will establish His own throne within His creation—David. The dawning of David in 2 Samuel will foreshadow the dawning of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. When Jesus begins His public ministry in the Gospels, it will be said:

The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned (Matthew 4:16; Cf. Luke 2:32; alluding to Isaiah 9:2; 60:1-3).

Post tenebras lux. Jesus is the light that dawns after the darkness.

This present darkness (v. 11-13)

Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.

The valiant men, brave men trained and skilled for war, of Jabesh-gilead retrieved Saul’s body, and it was burned and his bones buried under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh-gilead—not even near his home. The valiant men from Jabesh fasted in mourning over what had become of their king and country.

Conclusion and introduction: a few reflections on 1 Samuel

1 Samuel has been the first book I’ve been able to walk through, preaching lectio continua (verse-by-verse) in any local church I have served. There are two reasons I haven’t been able to preach this way before coming to the Church at Sunsites. The first reason was my own maturity and understanding of the Scriptures. First,  I needed to have a decent enough understanding of the whole Bible before I could present a single book so well and devote as much time to a single book as I have 1 Samuel. I had to begin preaching broadly and topically so that I could learn and understand enough to bring all the Scriptures to bear on one book in a meaningful and beneficial way. I have discovered that preaching or teaching lectio continua requires a greater maturity in one’s knowledge of the Scriptures and a greater commitment to see the Scriptures in their context than I had previously. Preaching and teaching this way also required me to completely forsake reactive preaching and teaching, teaching in response to culture or people, and proved to be a purer way to receive God’s word from His pulpit. It required my patience with the text and for those listening. It required me to love the people I am preaching to more than I ever have loved a congregation before. Second, the local churches I have served previously did not hunger for God’s word. Most desired only what was easy on the ears and what confirmed their own intuitions—which makes it impossible for a pastor to devote himself to preaching without skipping anything; There are many difficult texts that challenge our sensibilities. If people do not love God, they are not okay with that. People prefer what is familiar. If we only receive what is familiar, we never come to know God more.

The Gospel is present in 1 Samuel. If we consider the whole of 1 Samuel, only half the Gospel is present. Renewed Israel uniting under her first king parallels the creation of the world. Saul’s derogation and the present darkness we end with parallel humankind’s original sin and descent into wretchedness. The hopelessness we feel with broken Israel is the hopelessness of sinful humanity. In 2 Samuel, we see redemption under David, the type of Christ, and glorification under Solomon. Any time we read the Old Testament, we should recognize that national Israel is a pictorial prophecy depicting God’s eschatological people among the nations. The story of national Israel is the story of the Gospel. God gave the Law, and people could not be righteous. God gave the kings, and they could not deliver people. God gave the prophets, and they could not persuade the nations. Salvation only works if God fulfills the Law and prophets and if He alone sits on His throne within His creation. What Saul could not accomplish for Israel, Jesus Christ—the descendant of David—accomplishes for all of His chosen people among the nations.

May the Lord continue to use our study through 1 Samuel around the world and for generations to come. May He continue to win His glory and teach us about His providence and throne. Amen.


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