I Samuel 21:10-15, Psalm 34

(c) Copyright August 1998, Rev. Bill Versteeg

I Samuel 21:10-15 NIV

10 That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, "Isn't this David, the king of the land? Isn't he the one they sing about in their dances: "'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands'?"

12 David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. 13 So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.

14 Achish said to his servants, "Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? 15 Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?"

There is a Psalm that David wrote - Psalm 34 - invite you to turn to that and notice especially the heading. About that heading, I would like you to notice two things. First the name of the King appears different - that is because Abimelech can be regarded as a generic title for a Philistine king. For that reason - virtually all commentators regard this Psalm as arising in the context of the passage we just read from I Samuel 21. But at the same time most commentators interpret this Psalm as written after David's escape from Achish - whereas the heading of the Psalm clearly indicates that this Psalm was written in the process of the experience of being in Achish's hands - we might call it today a song of insanity - we will interpret it as something David composed in the middle of feigned insanity.

Psalm 34 (NIV)

Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.

  1. I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

  2. My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

  3. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

  4. I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

  5. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

  6. This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

  7. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

  8. Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

  9. Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.

  10. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

  11. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

  12. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,

  13. keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.

  14. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

  15. The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry;

  16. the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

  17. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.

  18. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

  19. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;

  20. he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

  21. Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

  22. The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.

    Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Teodore Kacynski, whom most of us know as the Unabomber challenged most of America's definition of insanity. That a person could by means of mail bombing take life after life - that by all means looked insane. But when the 232 paragraphs of Kacynski's Manifesto were published - all 35,000 words, it very quickly became clear that the Unabomber was very intelligent and trying to warn society of the dangerous abuses of technology. North America, his audience was not receptive - his perception of our technological society, was to the average American mind, skewed. Most Americans would regard him on some level to be insane. And since we regarded him as insane, we discredited or disqualified everything he had to say. Who here has read his manifesto? I guess we didn't need to - its the work of a madman - we hardly gave him the time of day.

What the case of Theodore Kacynski shows us though, is that insanity is a relative term - it is relative to culture, to a society's expectations, to a definition of rationality and responsibility. It could possibly be that in a radically different culture - Kacynski would have gotten an audience, respect, maybe even honor for his apparently intelligent words and violent actions.

It's been said "Honesty is the best policy, but insanity it a better defense." David could easily have written that saying. He knew he was at the mercy of Achish, the Philistine King of Gath. David had defeated Goliath, the Philistine, and Saul, the King of Israel out of jealousy now wanted David's head. So David fled to the enemy - the Philistines for protection. He knew that if Achish found out who he really was - he would be dead meat in a minute. And so his defense was insanity - he acted in ways that were regarded as mentally incompetent - placing marks on gate posts and letting saliva run down his beard. And David, in the presence of the enemies of the Lord, the title of the Psalm suggests also spoke, maybe sang out loud the words of this Psalm.

Picture David - surrounded by an army of soldiers and a king who daily worshiped idols and sacrificed children on burning altars - listen to how insane David's words would sound.

My soul will boast in the LORD.

If you were in an idols den, and the swords of your enemies were at your throat, enemies who have never heard of the concept of religious pluralism, it would be shear foolishness to boast about how wonderful your God is - unless you intend to look absolutely crazy. But David goes on, he invites his captors to join him in praising God...

Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.

Give up your religion - join me in mine... that doesn't even go over well in a pluralistic society...

David goes on to tell the King of Achish that he is seeing things...

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

You know what guys - you may have your swords at my throat - but you can't do anything to me - look over there - you see the angels - they've set up camp because I'm here - you can't do anything to me...

And then David presumes to teach his captors

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD

A madman teaching the sane ones what they do not know - treating them like children

And in that context - David says what would have rightly infuriated any Philistine

Taste and see that the LORD is good;

To the Philistine, humans were around to serve the gods, keep the gods happy so that they might get some return in prosperity and fertility. Before the gods, human lives were nothing - sacrificeable just to keep the gods satisfied. But David says Taste and see that the LORD is good; - as if God is someone to be enjoyed, cherished, loved. As if God is like the best of wines, the choicest of foods, the most fulfilling of choices, the most rewarding relationship, a love that is better than life. God serving us - to the point that he watches us and waits for us to call to him.... The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry;

Such irreverence would not be tolerated - except that it looked profoundly insane.

David caps off his song with some omens - we can see him threateningly squint as he looks into the eyes of his captors the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. in contrast to what the Lord will do for himself - A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;

David, by all rational understandings of the situation was cooking his own goose - except that in the Philistine culture his radical faith in a foreign God looked delusional, insane, out of touch with reality. In this context - David's feigned insanity was the better defense. His captors discredited him - certainly he could not be the one of which it was said

"'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands'?"

Even though insanity is the better defense - honesty is still the best policy. This Psalm is the honest truth - every one of its words are true to reality, a description of what really is for the child of God - David spoke the honest truth, the prophetic God given truth - to those idol worshiping Philistines it looked insane. David practiced the principle that Hosea many years later would write down

"Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac." (NIV)

Hosea 9:7

It strikes me as I reflect on David's wise strategy that I have often been very foolish - and maybe you too, have been foolish - this time I mean foolish in a sense that is truth to reality. I have been foolish because of the many times in my life when I was in a context where the people I was with were antagonistic to the Christian faith - and I did what would have been perceived as the rational thing to do - I shut up about my God, if I talked about God, I certainly did not boast about how wonderful God is - and in my reserved fear filled testimony was simply foolishness - real foolishness - because probably what those antagonistic to the gospel need to hear more than anything else is a passionate, excited, boastful witness to the wonder and saving power of God.

Think about that for yourself for just a few minutes - no maybe, think about that a lot today, as you go home - all the times that you did not say anything - or if you did you made sure it did not look to radical, to dedicated, things were said with care not to offend. In your apparently rational response - What did your neighbor really discover? - maybe that your faith is wobbly (can't stand on its on to feet, a push over), or that your dedication is deficient, more probably your neighbor came to the conclusion that your God is a wimp - hardly around and if he is, hamstrung - unable to truly help and change your life. Hardly a God worth turning too in the middle of trouble... That kind of witness though it may look rational is actually insane - it is not true to reality, it is dishonest at the core. Honesty is always the best policy....

Paul wrote

" For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

I Corinthians 1:18

In saying that - Paul is saying that the message of the cross - truthfully, honestly, boastfully, passionately presented is the power of God to save people and change their lives to peace with God and blessing in their future. We have the responsibility to present that gospel, that message of the cross, honestly, truthfully - knowing that we will look foolish, we may even be regarded insane, we may upset the boat, we may end up proselytizing, a dirty word in a religiously pluralistic society, an irrational behavior - that God wants.

Maybe I and maybe you, should be a little less concerned about how we look to others - and a whole lot more concerned about how God looks to others through us! Some may disqualify what we have to say for reason of our insanity - it reflects the state of their perishing hearts - others will hear in our words life - joy, peace with God - their deepest hungers satisfied - for them our foolishness will give them life.

Honesty is always the best policy - and insanity may become our defense - depending on our audience...

I Cor 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.(NIV)

I Cor 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (NIV)

*(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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