This week's Bible Study - July 18, 2010
The Power of Petition
1 Samuel 22:17-20; 23:1-13
Quote of the Week:
"A generous prayer is never presented in vain; the petition may be refused, but the petitioner is always, I believe, rewarded by some gracious visitation."
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
In the last couple of lessons, we have taken a look at what some may call unlikely places to find power. We took a look at the power of choice, as David was chosen by Samuel (and God) to become king. He would become the king that Israel referred back to for multitudes of generations to follow. Then, we took a look at the power of courage, as David faced the Philistine giant, Goliath. None of us likes to face situations that require courage, but once we have faced them and lived through them, our courage gives us power. Of course, that power comes through God, but we see it evidenced in situations.
This week's lesson is about the power of petition. Petition is another term used for prayer. It isn't the type of prayer that is used before dinner or before bedtime. It is the type of prayer that you pray when you are out of options. It is when you have reached the end of all you can do. It is when you realize that you are utterly powerless to change a situation.
Isn't it interesting that we can have a lesson regarding the power of petition and prayer, when it is precisely when we realize we are powerless? My supposition is that each of us has been to that place in our lives. You face a situation that is beyond your control. And, I'd like to say that your petition brings the circumstance to an ending that you desired, but it doesn't always happen that way. You pray for healing and death occurs. You pray for financial success and you lose your job. You pray for restoration of a relationship and it still falls apart. Time and time again, we face situations that are out of our control. The power that we receive through petition is sometimes the power to see a situation changed as we'd like, but in all cases it helps us to rely upon the only true power in life, the power of God.
Saul became increasingly concerned about the rise of David. He saw him as a threat and, as the king; Saul wanted to ensure that the threat never truly materialized. He basically hunted David, and he assumed anybody that helped David was anti Saul. You may have heard of many other rulers in world history that had the same issue. They were so power hungry and fearful that someone would want to take their throne from them that they often did away with children and other family members to nullify that threat.
David and his rag tag men were running from Saul. These men were not the cream of the crop. They were the ones who owed money or were discontented or in some sort of trouble. This would NOT be the team you would select for battle. In fact, they were not poised to do battle with Saul and his army; they were trying to avoid him. As they had need for food and supplies, David went to the city of Nob and the priest Ahimelech, asking for provisions. Ahimelech inquired of the Lord and gave him provisions, as well as the sword of Goliath (as Goliath was from an area near Nob).
Saul, being the king that wanted to know what was going on, arranged for a meeting with the priests who were at Nob. Saul made it clear that the priest should have known that David opposed Saul - so why did he give him bread and a sword, as well as inquiring of God on his behalf? Ahimelech declared that David was humble and faithful. He pled the case for David. When any of us are wrongly accused, it is great to have others that will 'go to bat' for us. Sometimes, today, there is misinformation and the desire to slander others. We need to be like Ahimelech and stand up for those who are wrongly accused.
However, things didn't go well with Ahimelech, as King Saul said that he and his father's house would surely die. Saul turned to his guards and told them to kill the priests of the Lord, because they had sided with David. They should have known he was fleeing and told the King. The king's officials saw past the ruse of King Saul and were not willing to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord. Thankfully, there were people then and people today who will not just blindly follow the order of a king that is wrong. More of us need to be like these officials, who dutifully did their job, but realized when they were asked to cross the line.
There was one that was fine with following the king's order. There are some people today, like Doeg, who have no problems acting on half truths and attacking others, if they think they might get something from it. Doeg was that man. He turned and struck them down. He killed eighty-five men who were of the priesthood. He also put the sword to others in the town - its men and women, its children and infants, its cattle, donkeys and sheep. However, one son of Ahimelech, Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David.
What do you think would be the outcome of all of this? David would have been very thankful for the help he had received, but would surely be heartbroken to hear that those who had befriended him had suffered for that act. It makes a good story line for movies today, but when we see others that suffer because they take a stand for us, it does cause us to pause. I believe most of us don't want others to hurt on our behalf. And, when they hurt because of taking a stand on our behalf, it causes us all the more grief.
As David was on the run with his rag tag group of men, he was told that the Philistines were fighting against Keilah. David inquired of the Lord as to whether he should attack the Philistines. God's answer was clear that he was to go attack the Philistines and save Keilah. Let's pause here - what happens when we ask God for direction and receive clear guidance that may go against our desired outcome? Do we move forward or do we petition God once again in the hopes of getting the answer we desire? David was ready to go, but his men were not so sure. They were even more afraid to stir up another battle against the Philistine forces. This is often our problem, we may hear a word from God, but in our own analysis, we often face paralysis. Our other problems seem so large that we may be fearful of going forth in the manner that God has called us. Our fears are often based on the internal doubt that we have - is God really going to do what he said he would do?
David took their fears to heart and once again inquired of the Lord. Again, he was clearly told by the Lord to go down to Keilah, and God would give the Philistines into his hand. This is one sign of a true leader - the willingness to listen to the concerns that the 'people' have, but to also once again seek God. The true leader will listen, but will still follow God's direction, rather than majority opinion. Often, people just need to understand that their fears have been considered. So, they went to Keilah and inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. Abiathar, the priest (the son of Ahimelech) brought the ephod down with him when he fled to meet David at Keilah. Abiathar brought David the word of what happened to the people of Nob.
Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and that news made Saul giddy. He assumed that God had handed David over to him, because he had basically imprisoned himself in Keilah, a town with gates and bars. It is interesting to hear that Saul still believed that God was on his side, even after he had destroyed the people of Nob and now was going after the man that God had called to be the true king. Sometimes, people get so caught up in doing what they believe to be right while seeking out Scriptures that seem to back up their actions, they fail to recognize that they may very well be out of God's will in how they respond to their circumstances. When they reach this point in their life, they may find themselves with "Scriptural tunnel vision" (clinging to one set of Scriptures), while at the same time being out of alignment with many other verses in God's word. We are called to use the Word of God as a sword, but our adversary is Satan and not other believers. As an example, Psalm 64:3 says "They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows."
David learned that Saul was plotting against him, and he faced a dilemma. He asked Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod to him and to inquire of the Lord on his behalf. He shared that Saul had plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town because of David. He had to be thinking of what had happened to the priests and others in Nob because they helped him. An entire town was destroyed because of King Saul's anger towards David. He had to realize that the city of Keilah, which he had come to save from the Philistines, was under peril if they were to harbor David. So, David asked the Lord if the rumors of the attack were true and if he would be surrendered to Saul by the citizens of Keilah. The Lord's answer was that Saul would indeed attack the city of Keilah.
Before we go forward, let's take a closer look at the manner in which David approached the Lord. To begin with, David addressed God, as Lord, God of Israel. Sometimes we tend to get so comfortable with God that we treat him as a friend or an acquaintance. Yes, God desires to have a personal relationship with each believer, but we are still dealing with the God of the Universe. This is the same God that has been at work in our world since the dawn of time. When you address God, are you going before him in awe or are you acting like a young child that wants something and whining until they get it? Secondly, David referred to himself as the servant of the Lord. We know through Scripture that David was known as a man after God's own heart. When the top Biblical characters are mentioned, David is generally in the top five. We see him as a 'star' among the others. However, David's own view of himself was that he was a servant. It really doesn't matter who you are - a preacher, a teacher, a perfect attendee at Bible Study or any other person. When we look at ourselves, as opposed to God, the best we can be is a servant.
David wanted to make sure that he got the information correct. He asked again if the citizens of Keilah would surrender him and his men to Saul. The answer again was yes. So, David and all of his men left Keilah and kept traveling from place to place. Word reached Saul that David was no longer at Keilah, so Saul did not attack the city.
How do you petition God? Do you refer to him as the Lord of all creation, or do you come before him more informally? If you were to meet the President of the United States, whether or not you were in line with his politics, you would treat him with respect. There are offices in our land that demand respect - from teachers, policemen, parents, doctors and so forth. It is interesting that many times we give these positions more respect than we give God, yet we ask so much more of God.
How do you view yourself as you petition God? Do you go before him from a point of power, reminding him once again of the great things you had done in his name? Or do you go before him as a servant? We need to realize that we approach God as one in need. We aren't to approach him as if brokering a deal with him. As you approach God, approach in reverence, as a servant.
How often do you petition God? One thing that is evident through this passage is that David wanted to make sure that he got the right answer from God. When we approach God on a decision, are we so anxious to get our way that we run with it if the answer seems to agree with our position? Sometimes, we look at circumstances and just assume that they imply that God is leading in a direction. However, it is best to ensure that we have clear direction from God before moving.
When you have something that is truly on your heart, God wants to help as you go forward. Approach God with reverence and ask for his direction. 2 Samuel 22:37 says "You widen my path, my feet do not slip." We can't just suppose that we can go any direction we want and that God will widen that path. We need to seek to be in alignment with where he is leading. Sometimes, it may seem counter to what others think, but as we go forward, we need to realize that the chief purpose of life is to follow God, so if God has laid something on your heart, it's his approval that you should seek and not that of others.