Sermon for September 4th, 2022
For several weeks now, we've been following the story of David. Not King David, but young David on his way to becoming the King. We've been with David on this roller-coaster ride, from his earliest days as an unknown shepherd, to his fame as giant-slayer and leader of King Saul's armies, to his dismissal from Saul's court and his exile in the wilderness, in the cave of Adullam.
Today's scripture passage is the turning point for David on his journey to the throne. King Saul is dead, his army defeated in battle by the Philistines. Once again the people of Israel turn to David, and men begin to flock to him from every tribe, intent on making him their new king.
Today's sermon is also the last in our series, so just as Israel is saying hello to their new king, we'll be saying goodbye. But before we do, there are still a few things I think we can learn.
1 Chronicles 12:1-15
1The following are those who came to David at Ziklag, while he could not move about freely because of Saul son of Kish; they were among the mighty warriors who helped him in war. 2 They were archers, and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right hand or the left; they were Benjaminites, Saul’s kindred. 3 The chief was Ahiezer, then Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah; also Jeziel and Pelet sons of Azmaveth; Beracah, Jehu of Anathoth, 4 Ishmaiah of Gibeon, a warrior among the Thirty and a leader over the Thirty; Jeremiah, Jahaziel, Johanan, Jozabad of Gederah, 5 Eluzai, Jerimoth, Bealiah, Shemariah, Shephatiah the Haruphite; 6 Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, and Jashobeam, the Korahites; 7 and Joelah and Zebadiah, sons of Jeroham of Gedor.
8 From the Gadites there went over to David at the stronghold in the wilderness mighty and experienced warriors, expert with shield and spear, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and who were swift as gazelles on the mountains: 9 Ezer the chief, Obadiah second, Eliab third, 10 Mishmannah fourth, Jeremiah fifth, 11 Attai sixth, Eliel seventh, 12 Johanan eighth, Elzabad ninth, 13 Jeremiah tenth, Machbannai eleventh. 14 These Gadites were officers of the army, the least equal to a hundred and the greatest to a thousand. 15 These are the men who crossed the Jordan in the first month, when it was overflowing all its banks, and put to flight all those in the valleys, to the east and to the west.
Lesson 1: Johnny Come Lately
If you're wondering where exactly the story is in the middle of this long list of names, you're probably not the only one. At least you're not the one standing up here trying to pronounce all of them correctly! But I hope that you also caught some of the really impressive characteristics wrapped up in this list--experienced warriors, experts with shield and spear, some of them ambidextrous, some of them fast as gazelles, all of them equal to at least 100 *other* men in battle.
These are clearly men of great valor and skill--you'd think that David would be thrilled to have him on his side. And he probably was. But I can't help but wondering (and maybe David did, too), "Hey...where were you guys when Saul was hunting me down? Where were you when I was hiding in a cave? I really could have used your help back then. Why now?"
And the answer, of course, is that King Saul is dead. Now it's safe to follow David. What's more, with the Philistine army still running rampant, now there's a need to follow David, a need for a new king. The vast majority of people (then and now) will change their allegiance (or their position, or their mind) only when they feel it is safe to do so, or when dire circumstances make it unsafe *not* to do so. Most people change with the status quo, when everyone and everything around them is changing, too.
And that's okay. David welcomes them in, even if they are what we would call the "Johnny come latelys." The bible spends about thirty verses here recording how great and skilled they are. But the Bible also spends about three times that much space recording the valiant deeds of David's inner circle, the 400 rejects and refugees who came to him in the hour of his (and their) greatest need, in the cave of Adullam. Leaders change their minds and their allegiances and their positions *before* everyone else does, not because everyone else does.
1 Chronicles 12:16-22
16 Some Benjaminites and Judahites came to the stronghold to David. 17 David went out to meet them and said to them, “If you have come to me in friendship, to help me, then my heart will be knit to you; but if you have come to betray me to my adversaries, though my hands have done no wrong, then may the God of our ancestors see and give judgment.” 18 Then the spirit came upon Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said, “We are yours, O David; and with you, O son of Jesse! Peace, peace to you, and peace to the one who helps you! For your God is the one who helps you.” Then David received them, and made them officers of his troops.
19 Some of the Manassites deserted to David when he came with the Philistines for the battle against Saul. (Yet he did not help them, for the rulers of the Philistines took counsel and sent him away, saying, “He will desert to his master Saul at the cost of our heads.”) 20 As he went to Ziklag these Manassites deserted to him: Adnah, Jozabad, Jediael, Michael, Jozabad, Elihu, and Zillethai, chiefs of the thousands in Manasseh. 21 They helped David against the band of raiders, for they were all warriors and commanders in the army. 22 Indeed from day to day people kept coming to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.
Lesson 2: Trust but Verify
When the Benjaminties and the Judahites come to David, his welcome is not quite as automatic as it was with the other groups. That's because King Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin; those were his people, and the Judahites were close allies with the Benjaminites. So David goes out to meet them before welcoming them--he wants to trust, but he also needs to verify.
There's a pattern here, a formula worth noting--let me emphasize certain words and see if you can figure it out. David says, "If YOU have come to ME in friendship, to help ME, then MY heart will be knit to YOU; but if you have come to betray me to my adversaries, then may the GOD of OUR ancestors see and give judgment.
It is our part to extend welcome, forgiveness, trust, and even love to those who once were our adversaries, especially when they come seeking it willingly. But it is God's part (not ours) to see and to give judgment when that trust is broken.
There's a contrast here, too. In verse 19 we learn that David, when he was on the run from Saul, had switched allegiances and attempted to go into battle with the Philistines against Saul. But they sent him home, unwilling to trust him and afraid he might betray them. David, when given the chance, does the opposite: He shows the ability to forgive and trust his former enemies. And from here out, David's army grows; while the Philistine army recedes.
1 Chronicles 12:23-37
23 These are the numbers of the divisions of the armed troops who came to David in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him, according to the word of the Lord. 24 The people of Judah bearing shield and spear numbered six thousand eight hundred armed troops. 25 Of the Simeonites, mighty warriors, seven thousand one hundred. 26 Of the Levites four thousand six hundred. 27 Jehoiada, leader of the house of Aaron, and with him three thousand seven hundred. 28 Zadok, a young warrior, and twenty-two commanders from his own ancestral house. 29 Of the Benjaminites, the kindred of Saul, three thousand, of whom the majority had continued to keep their allegiance to the house of Saul. 30 Of the Ephraimites, twenty thousand eight hundred, mighty warriors, notables in their ancestral houses. 31 Of the half-tribe of Manasseh, eighteen thousand, who were expressly named to come and make David king. 32 Of Issachar, those who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, two hundred chiefs, and all their kindred under their command. 33 Of Zebulun, fifty thousand seasoned troops, equipped for battle with all the weapons of war, to help David with singleness of purpose. 34 Of Naphtali, a thousand commanders, with whom there were thirty-seven thousand armed with shield and spear. 35 Of the Danites, twenty-eight thousand six hundred equipped for battle. 36 Of Asher, forty thousand seasoned troops ready for battle. 37 Of the Reubenites and Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh from beyond the Jordan, one hundred twenty thousand armed with all the weapons of war.
Lesson 3: The Tribe of Issacar
More numbers, more skills, more difficult-to-pronounce names. BUT...One of these tribes is not like the others...
You've probably already guessed which one just from the title slide. But let me drive home the point. Look at the numbers: The tribe of Judah contributes 6,800 men to David's army. The Simeonites contribute 7,100 men. The Levites (who have no land, and are the priests!) still manage to contribute 4,600 men, plus another 3,700 from the house of Aaron (also Levite) for a total contribution of 8,300 men. Ephraimites, 20,000. Manasseh, which is not even a full tribe, still contribute 18,000. Zebulun, 50,000 men. Naphtali, 38,000. From the tribe of Dan, 28,000. From Asher, 40,000. From Rueben and Gad, 120,000.
Oh wait...and buried somewhere in the middle (verse 32) there's also the TINY tribe of Issachar. They bring...just 200 men plus a few kinfolk. In a combined army of 340,822 men, Issachar's contribution accounts for less than 0.05% of the total. That had to be a little awkward. Like showing up to a multi-million dollar Sotheby's auction with a jar full of pennies. Other tribes bring mighty warriors, skilled with weapons and ready to fight. But Issachar has no discernible skill in battle, no swords or shields. All they have is this: "And of Issachar, those who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do."
There will always be people or organizations (or businesses, or churches) who are bigger, stronger, more skilled, or more wealthy than you and yours. Don't let that stop you or discourage you. Because the men of Issachar were the only ones who brought their particular gift, and without their gift, all the strength and skill and might of the other tribes would probably have been entirely misdirected...and wasted. Instead, believe that God gave you exactly the right skills and talents to accomplish what he calls you to do in this world and in his kingdom.
And if you're a leader (like David), remember that you need to surround yourself not just with strength and skill and numbers...but also with people who have vision and wisdom.
1 Chronicles 12:38-40
38 All these, warriors arrayed in battle order, came to Hebron with full intent to make David king over all Israel; likewise all the rest of Israel were of a single mind to make David king. 39 They were there with David for three days, eating and drinking, for their kindred had provided for them. 40 And also their neighbors, from as far away as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, came bringing food on donkeys, camels, mules, and oxen—abundant provisions of meal, cakes of figs, clusters of raisins, wine, oil, oxen, and sheep, for there was joy in Israel.
Lesson 4: Feasting at the Table
Earlier in the sermon, I mentioned how the people of Israel, in this story, are going through a time of drastic change. That can be difficult. Coming together from across the country, encountering people from every tribe and geographical part of Israel...I imagine that's gotta be difficult too. How do you navigate that? Here's one way: You gather around the table. You bring something to the table, even if it's just yourself. And when you gather around the table, you do it joyfully, because the table (then and now) belongs to the Lord: The one who welcomes us in and sends us out to welcome others. The one who provides for us and watches over us. The one who loves us, who gave himself for us, and who asked us to do just this one thing in remembrance of him...