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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 12:1-7 The Fourth Commandment

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, December 1, 2023

12:1 These were the men who came to David at Ziklag, when he was banished by Saul son of Kish. They were among the mighty warriors who helped him in battle. 2 They were archers, and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right hand or the left. They were from the tribe of Benjamin, Saul’s relatives. 3 The chief was Ahiezer, then Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah. There was 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 There was Eluzai, Jerimoth, Bealiah, Shemariah, and Shephatiah the Haruphite. 6 Also there were Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, and Jashobeam, the Korahites. 7 And there were Joelah and Zebadiah, sons of Jeroham of Gedor.

This passage is best summarized by Professor Paul O. Wendland: “Saul’s fall and David’s rise are… demonstrated by the fact that Saul’s own kinsmen preferred an outlaw chosen by God to a king rejected by him” (People’s Bible: 1 Chronicles p. 143).

Our author sends us back in time, before Saul’s death. Saul had begun to pursue David all through Israel, trying personally to kill David with a spear three times (1 Samuel 18:10-11, 19:9-10). David reasoned this way: “The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand” (1 Samuel 27:1). So David and his band of outlaws—by this time about 600 men—went to Gath. Achish, the Philistine king of Gath, gave David the village of Ziklag, and David lived there with his wives and his warriors, and they brought their families there.

The passage before us today illustrates the flow of more and more warriors to David during those days. Saul’s national army was dwindling, and David’s outlaw band was growing into an army. This went on for a year and four months, until Saul was killed on Mount Gilboa.

David kept raiding Philistine towns during this time. How did he get away with that? How did the king of Gath let it happen? David was “among wolves,” and so he was “as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a dove” (Matthew 10:16). He was innocent before the Lord, but he was ruthless to the Philistines and the other enemies of Israel. “David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites… Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes” (1 Samuel 27:8-9). He told Achish he had been raiding against southern Judah or some settlement in the south or the Negev. And the king of Gath trusted David, thinking that if David was a stench to Israel, he would be the servant of the king of Gath forever.

David was quickly learning the subtle world of national politics. Soon, very soon, he would be King of Israel (he had already been anointed by Samuel). He was using this time to strengthen his position and Israel’s borders by destroying more and more of Israel’s enemies while making sure that no one at all remained alive to tell his Philistine benefactor what had happened. David did what no other king of Israel or Judah ever did: he learned about his people and about the borders of his land by personally leading troops in battle, especially to the west and the south, although later on he led armies in the east as well, until the army finally asked him to stop, because his life was too valuable to risk (2 Samuel 18:3-4).

What doctrine does this passage illustrate? And how easy—or how difficult—might it be to employ? The essence of the question is an application of the Fourth Commandment. Saul was losing warriors from his national army. Obedience to a king or to a commander in a war is a basic application of the commandment. “A Christian may legitimately (hold public office, etc.), and engage in just wars (and) render military service” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession).

But what about transferring allegiance during a time of war? Surely David was in the right, since Peter and John correctly confessed, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). But did Saul’s rank and file soldiers understand this?

They were aware that David had been anointed by Samuel the prophet to be king of Israel, and that the Spirit of the Lord had come upon David in power (1 Samuel 16:13).

They were aware that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and that an evil spirit tormented Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).

They were aware that David himself had once been called upon regularly to play his harp and soothe Saul, “and the (evil) spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23).

They were aware that God was granting David spectacular success in the wars. David had killed the giant Goliath unassisted—a boy with a slingshot, five smooth stones, and an unwavering faith in God.

They were aware that Saul was unable to kill David, even though this jealousy had turned to rage and blind hatred against the young man, but that David outwitted Saul and remained respectful of Saul always.

Therefore the armies of Israel, without the help of the Book of Acts, could deduce the meaning of God withdrawing his hand from one leader in the face of the enemy (Lamentations 2:3) and making his face shine upon another servant (Psalm 119:135). They knew that David’s labors in engaging in the wars were battles of God to defend the people. Therefore, those soldiers who left Saul to join David did not sin.

At the same time, Saul was the king. God works even through a wicked government to protect his people, to bring stability and prosperity to a country, and to move his governance of the universe forward. Therefore, those soldiers who remained with Saul and who did not join David at this time also did not sin.

What about us?

We do not live in a theocracy, a nation governed personally by God. Our nation does not do the Lord’s work. The deeds of our nation are not good works by any divine standard. The deeds of individual Christians are good works, done from faith, but we must be careful not to imagine that our country, or any modern country anywhere in the world, stands preeminently in God’s hands as the only true state, government, or political system that God approves of. Three or four brothers in the same family may fight and disagree with each other, yet their mother will love them all and sympathize with them all, because she loves them and she is their mother. And so it is with the nations of the world today.

Our readers in America, in Mexico and Central and South America, in Canada, in Malawi, Cameroon, Zambia, Angola, and other nations love their Lord Jesus Christ. But they are not wrong to also love and respect their home governments, nor their own countries’ political systems. They owe that love and respect under the very same Fourth Commandment. For we “honor, serve, and obey them, and give them love and respect.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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