Saturday, April 07, 2012
A ROCKY ROAD
"For He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways. They will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the young lion and the serpent." (Psalm 91:11-13 HCSB)
Two children were struggling up a steep mountain path. Thick forest on either side hemmed them in, and the uphill trail was strewn with fallen rocks--even an occasional boulder that had dislodged from the mountainside. As they had to pull themselves up over these, and the struggle became difficult, the little girl complained to her brother about these "bumps in the road." He told her, "It will be alright. The bumps are what you climb on!"*
God never promised a smooth road. In fact, you need to prepare yourself--it is guaranteed to be a rocky road. It is all uphill and very steep, for it is the path that leads from earth to heaven. It is dangerous because we travel in hostile territory--a place where the enemy of our souls relentlessly pursues us.
God has promised a safe arrival. The grand design He has for us will be accomplished. Angelic armies surround us. They support us with unseen hands, to keep us from falling. God turns the rocks in the road to stepping stones, rather than stumbling blocks. Satan, the roaring lion, who mounts a frontal assault at times, and at other points is a snake in the grass, who slithers quietly, until he is suddenly ready to strike, will be overcome.
David learned that. But, the lessons weren't quickly assimilated. He didn't pass every test. Due to our flesh, there is a learning curve. We don't naturally walk by faith--we more readily walk by sight.
On this rocky road, there was FLIGHT. "David went to Ahimelech the priest at Nob. Ahimelech was afraid to meet David, so he said to him, 'Why are you alone and no one is with you?' " (1 Samuel 21:1 HCSB) David has fled from Saul's wrath. He is a fugitive from injustice. Like Dr. Richard Kimble, who had committed no crime, David is constantly pursued by Saul, who is as intent on catching "The Fugitive," as Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard was, in the movie. Don't be shocked when this is where the rocky road takes you. "Dear friends, don't be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you." (1 Peter 4:12 HCSB)
But, David does seem unprepared for this. When the priest questions him, David deceives. Ahimelech, the priest will be caught in the web of intrigue and will die, along with the other priests and their families in the bloody slaughter house that was the city of Nob, killed by the poisonous spider, Doeg (read 1 Sam.22:11-23). David failed the test. He had an army of angels at his disposal, but he trusted in his own resources instead. It is easy to do, but the consequences can be disastrous--and not only for us--but, for others whose lives are intertwined with ours.
Flight turns to FRIGHT. David fails another test. The rocky road is hard. The pilgrim looks for a short-cut. That turns a pilgrim's progress into regress. It is how Christian on his journey to the Celestial City, wanders into By-path Meadow and winds up, along with his companion, Hopeful, in Doubting Castle, a prisoner of Giant Despair, as John Bunyan portrays it in, "Pilgrim's Progress." Only the key of promise would enable them to escape. For a long time that key remained, unused and forgotten by Christian, as the two pilgrims were beaten senseless by Giant Despair.
So it was for David as he takes the Devil's detour--off the Holy Way that is so hard, onto the By-path into Philistine territory. There unfolds one of the saddest chapters in the saga--in a place where he had no business being. We read:
"David fled that day from Saul's presence and went to King Achish of Gath. But Achish's servants said to him, 'Isn't this David, the king of the land? Don't they sing about him during their dances:
Saul has killed his thousands,
but David his tens of thousands?'
David took this to heart and became very afraid of King Achish of Gath, so he pretended to be insane in their presence. He acted like a madman around them, scribbling on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.
'Look! You can see the man is crazy,' Achish said to his servants. 'Why did you bring him to me? Do I have such a shortage of crazy people that you brought this one to act crazy around me? Is this one going to come into my house?' " (1 Samuel 21:10-15 HCSB)
I never liked tests in school. But, the "pop quiz" was the worst. At least I might study for the other kind. If you weren't prepared for the pop test, it meant failure. David found out. He was destined to be a lord and instead behaves as a lunatic. Oh, David--remember the key of promise!
Flight leads to fright, and fright to FIGHT. "It was reported to David: 'Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and raiding the threshing floors.' So David inquired of the Lord: 'Should I launch an attack against these Philistines?' The Lord answered David, "Launch an attack against the Philistines and rescue Keilah.' " (1 Samuel 23:1, 2 HCSB) Warfare would mark much of David's life. Now, at last, he treats the Philistines as foes rather than seeking to be their friends. Always remember, "...Don't you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world's friend becomes God's enemy." (James 4:4 HCSB) The opposite is true, as well. If you are a friend of God, the world will hate you. This makes our journey a rocky road. We have to fight our way along, inch by inch. But, now we find David looking to God and not leaning on his own understanding. We find Him trusting in the will of God and not relying on the ways of the flesh. David has remembered the key of promise.
Flight that leads to fright, and fright to fight, next brings David to FAITH. "This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith." (1 John 5:4b HCSB) When David has a golden opportunity to kill Saul, he refuses to do so. It made sense to do it. His men pressured him to do it. But this time, David decides the rocky road is the right road. The text presents this test: "so they said to him, 'Look, this is the day the Lord told you about: "I will hand your enemy over to you so you can do to him whatever you desire." ' Then David got up and secretly cut off the corner of Saul's robe. Afterward, David's conscience bothered him because he had cut off the corner of Saul's robe. He said to his men, 'I swear before the Lord: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed. [I will never] lift my hand against him, since he is the Lord's anointed.' " (1 Samuel 24:4-6 HCSB) The hard way is the Holy Way. David will trust in God--in God's timing and in God's way--to fulfill His promise. Instead of taking matters into his own hands, he will leave them in God's hands. "So those who suffer according to God's will should, while doing what is good, entrust themselves to a faithful Creator." (1 Peter 4:19 HCSB)
It is on the harp of hardship, callused fingers stroking the strings of suffering, that the hymns of faith are composed. The music within is squeezed out of a heart under the pressure of pain. "Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory. If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (1 Peter 4:13, 14 HCSB) David rejoiced as he took once more the key of promise:
"The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.' " (Psalm 91:1, 2 HCSB)
*Thanks to Warren Wiersbe, who authored a book, "The Bumps Are What You Climb On," where I first encountered this story. I read it while hospitalized, recovering from a major surgery in a difficult, discouraging time in my life. It helped me keep climbing!