Monday, June 11, 2007

David and his Three Military Chiefs: Learning Some Spiritual Lessons from a Battle Scene

(1 Chronicles 11: 10-19)
- Rev. Sudhakar Mondithoka,
(Former National Director of RZIM-India and currently a Visiting Professor of Christian Apologetics, Ethics, and World Religions at SAIACS and SABC, Bangalore)

Introduction: Humans are busier than ever before – our generation is the busiest generation in history. Speed is good. Being busy is good. However, being too busy (busy beyond a healthy limit) has many baneful affects. We are all under tremendous pressure to perform that comes from outside and the unhealthy drive from within and we often end up in the ‘performance trap’. All this leads to increased levels of tension and anxiety (stress). No wonder that 40% of deaths in Urban India are due to life-style disorders or diseases. Look at this Psalm 23 parody – The 21st Century Busy Person’s Version of Psalm 23:
The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest.
It makes me lie down only when exhausted.
It leads me to deep depression. It hounds my soul.
It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity's sake.
Event though I run frantically from task to task, dawn to desk, I will never get it all done, for my "ideal" is always with me.
Deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.
They demand performance from me, beyond the limits of my schedule.
They anoint my head with migraines.
My in-tray and in-box overflow.
Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration and desperation forever.
[Lord, please help me to stay close to your Psalm 23 for me and not mine. My Psalm 23 leads me to destruction, yours leads me to peace, and all the good things you want me to enjoy in life. Amen]

With this as the backdrop, let us now look at the context of the text that I want us to consider closely.

Setting/Background/Context: It was a very crucial point in the history of Israel. Their first king, Saul started deviating (going away from God), although he started well and did well for some time. The Lord had chosen David, the youngest son of Jesse and turned the kingdom over to David. Samuel the prophet had already anointed David King of Israel, but Saul was haunting him and he was hiding from Saul. Saul just died, because of unfaithfulness in following/to the Lord (1 Chro. 11: 13-14). After Saul’s death, the elders of Israel anointed David king over Israel at Hebron. However, there was resistance coming from different quarters. David and his men conquer Jerusalem. The Philistines gathered for battle at Pas Dammim. David’s troops fled from the Philistines, but his mighty men, about thirty chiefs (who gave David’s kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land – v. 10) took their stand, struck the Philistines down, and the Lord borough about great victory. At that time King David, their Master (Commander in Chief) was in the stronghold - a rock at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem.

A. David and the Three Military Chiefs – A Highly Dramatic Scene on the Battle Field that ends on an Anticlimactic note: While he was in the stronghold, David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” (11: 17). It is like soliloquy, and not a request directed to someone. V. 15 says that three of the thirty chiefs came down to David, their master. We read in v. 18 that they heard their master’s words (as it is implied), broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. Verses 18b and 19 say that when they brought the water, he refused to drink it and poured it out before the Lord, instead.
B. David’s Three Military Chiefs and the Spiritual Lessons we can Learn from them: I want us to now focus a little bit on these three mighty men of David. What can we observe and learn about them? We can learn two important things about them:
1) They were in Physical/Spatial Proximity to their Master and so could hear his words that expressed his longing, and 2) They were in such intimate love relationship with their King that they were willing to put their lives on the line (as we can see in David’s response – vv. 18b –19a) to satisfy the longing of their master. Their courageous/heroic action reveals that they were deeply dedicated/committed to their master. By the way, it was not/does not seem to be careless courage – not merely human, heroic courage, but courage engendered by love. It was not merely determination and drive to succeed in doing something, but doing that flowed out of their being men of love, dedication, and commitment, in their relationship to their master. It was not even something that they did to draw attention to themselves, because they had to break through the enemy lines and so, they must have done it all in a very low-key and unrecognizable/secret fashion. Being in the limelight was not the motivation. It was love.
What lessons can we learn from their example, about our relationship with our master, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, by way of application?
1) We should, like David’s men be physically, emotionally, and mentally in such a situation that we might be able to hear our master (C-in-C) and know his longing, and
2) We should, like David’s men, make ‘being in intimate love relationship with our Master’ the most important thing/top priority in life, so that we might know our king’s longing and do everything we can to satisfy that longing. We should love the Lord our God with all our beings and our dedication and commitment to Him should be such that we will not hesitate even to lay down our lives for Him. This is what we find in the words of Hanani, the seer to Asa in 2 Chro. 16: 9a – “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. . . .” Asa’s son, Jehoshaphat was commended in these words: “His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord;” The text shows further that the ways of the Lord and the Word(s) of God are inextricably linked. And we know that no one is devoted to the ways of the Lord, unless he or she is wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord first. Verse 3 says that the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the ways of his father David, sought the God of his father, and followed his commands. Hear the word of David (his exhortation and warning) to his son Solomon (1 Chro. 28: 9): “And you my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.” There are serious and godly instructions.
Friends, as far as our relationship with the Lord is concerned, the heart of the matter is still a matter of the heart (the core of our being). This is what we see in the teaching (that express his longing) of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Matt. 22: 34-40, we read that his archrivals, the Pharisees heard that he silenced the Sadducees and then they planned/schemed to test/trap him. One of them, who was an expert in the law tested him with a question as to which was the greatest commandment of the law. And Jesus responded saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment.” This means that we should love the Lord with the totality of our beings and this should be our preoccupation in life, perhaps, the top or the only priority in life, for if this is in its place, everything else falls in place. Mark says in chapter 3: 14-16 that Jesus appointed the twelve apostles with twin purposes – first, that they might be with him and secondly, that he might send them out. Commenting on this, A. W. Tozer (the Prophet of the 20th Century), said, “Those that have no time to spend with the Lord, have no right to spend time for the Lord.” The first, our being with him and the second, our doing something for Him, be it preaching or teaching or whatever, should always be kept in that order. Friends, the main/most important thing in life is to keep the main/most important thing, the main/most important thing, as Lee Iacoca once said. This is what our Lord Jesus Christ, our C-in-C models for us – he never allowed this order to be reversed, as we can learn from both Lukan and Markan accounts of his life. He was very busy and popular. People were all the time looking for him. However, he never allowed himself to be driven by the tide of popularity nor by the business. He always ensured that his communion with the Father was sandwiched between two busy days of work. This is what Mark captures for us in 1: 35-39. Commenting on this, a lady (commentator) once said, “While others were still snoring, Jesus was soaring in his communion with the Father.” May the Lord help us all and particularly the graduating students to always keep the first thing, the first thing in life, knowing that if we fail here, our whole life would be topsy turvy/upside down.

C. David and the Lesson that we can Learn from him: Now what lesson can we learn from David’s response, which is anticlimactic, to what the three chiefs had done to satisfy his longing? The Bible says that when the three mighty men brought the water to David, he did not drink it. Instead, he poured it out on the ground before/to the LORD, and said, “Far be it from me, O my God, that I should do this! Shall I drink the blood of these men who have put their lives in jeopardy? For at the risk of their lives they brought it” (v. 19, NKJV). David’s deed and words both show clearly (at least to me) that he realized that such great (self-denying and sacrificing) love, loyalty, and dedication belonged only to the Lord and not to any man, however great that man might be. What a great leader! And what a great example for us! David, a man after God’s own heart, stands in contrast to many of the contemporary Christian leaders, who knowingly or unknowingly engage in excessive image building and in the process make loyalty of their colleagues to them of such high importance that some of them (some times) try to please them and show loyalty to them rather than to God. Pay close attention, as I quote words of profound wisdom coming from Ordway Tead:
“The leader may consciously enjoy a feeling of superiority and aloofness, showing itself in condescension, vanity, conceit, and self-pride. He may demand too much adulation and personal loyalty, and therefore, try to surround himself with sycophants, “yes-men” and ‘rubber stamps.” He may want his own way too much and too often, and be too opinionated and obstinate about taking counsel with his colleagues and followers.”[1]

Conclusion: May the Lord help us all to guard against this dangerous and deadly tendency in others and ourselves in leadership. Let us thank God for King David and commit ourselves to being like him in our leadership style. May the Lord help us to be like David’s three military chiefs in our relationship with our Commander-in-Chief and like David in our relationship with the Lord and other men and women that we work with. Let us pray and respond to God, who I believe has spoken to us from His Word.

[1] Ordway Tead, The Art of Leadership (New York: Mc Graw Hill, 1935), 215.

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