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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

God's Heroes Have Courage

As we think about Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who gave their lives to serve and defend our country.  They were brave and courageous men and women who did their duty even though it was tough and even scary.  Perhaps John Wayne described the meaning of courage best when he said, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” 
The brave men and women we remember on Memorial Day displayed great courage.  We could all use more courage.  Couldn’t we?  That’s what I want to share today as we consider the character of God’s heroes.  God’s heroes have courage.
            Last week we learned about a man named David that God anointed to be the king of Israel.  David, like all of God’s heroes, had a good heart.  In fact, the Bible says he was a man after God’s own heart.  And even though a man with a bad, disobedient heart named Saul was still king of Israel, David grew more famous.  King Saul became jealous and tried to kill David.  Since David was unwilling to fight against his king, he fled for his life taking a group of 600 faithful warriors with him.
            On a personal note, when my wife and I were choosing names for our third child, we wanted a Biblical name.  We liked the name Abigail, but I wanted to check to make sure the Abigail of the Bible was a good person.  (You don’t want to name your child after a bad person.)  I was delighted to find that the Abigail of the Bible was a very good, wise, and courageous woman.   Let’s look at her story together.  It is quite a long passage, but it’s worth the effort to read.

1 Samuel 25:1b- 39
Then David moved down to the wilderness of Maon. There was a wealthy man from Maon who owned property near the town of Carmel. He had 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, and it was sheep-shearing time. This man’s name was Nabal, and his wife, Abigail, was a sensible and beautiful woman. But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings.

When David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep, he sent ten of his young men to Carmel with this message for Nabal: “Peace and prosperity to you, your family, and everything you own! I am told that it is sheep-shearing time. While your shepherds stayed among us near Carmel, we never harmed them, and nothing was ever stolen from them. Ask your own men, and they will tell you this is true. So would you be kind to us, since we have come at a time of celebration? Please share any provisions you might have on hand with us and with your friend David.” David’s young men gave this message to Nabal in David’s name, and they waited for a reply.

10 “Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. 11 Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?”

12 So David’s young men returned and told him what Nabal had said. 13 “Get your swords!” was David’s reply as he strapped on his own. Then 400 men started off with David, and 200 remained behind to guard their equipment.

14 Meanwhile, one of Nabal’s servants went to Abigail and told her, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, but he screamed insults at them. 15 These men have been very good to us, and we never suffered any harm from them. Nothing was stolen from us the whole time they were with us. 16 In fact, day and night they were like a wall of protection to us and the sheep. 17 You need to know this and figure out what to do, for there is going to be trouble for our master and his whole family. He’s so ill-tempered that no one can even talk to him!”

18 Abigail wasted no time. She quickly gathered 200 loaves of bread, two wineskins full of wine, five sheep that had been slaughtered, nearly a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 fig cakes. She packed them on donkeys 19 and said to her servants, “Go on ahead. I will follow you shortly.” But she didn’t tell her husband Nabal what she was doing.

20 As she was riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, she saw David and his men coming toward her. 21 David had just been saying, “A lot of good it did to help this fellow. We protected his flocks in the wilderness, and nothing he owned was lost or stolen. But he has repaid me evil for good. 22 May God strike me and kill me if even one man of his household is still alive tomorrow morning!”
23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed low before him. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say. 25 I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the young men you sent.
26 “Now, my lord, as surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, since the Lord has kept you from murdering and taking vengeance into your own hands, let all your enemies and those who try to harm you be as cursed as Nabal is. 27 And here is a present that I, your servant, have brought to you and your young men. 28 Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles. And you have not done wrong throughout your entire life.

29 “Even when you are chased by those who seek to kill you, your life is safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch! But the lives of your enemies will disappear like stones shot from a sling! 30 When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel, 31 don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance. And when the Lord has done these great things for you, please remember me, your servant!”

32 David replied to Abigail, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! 33 Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. 34 For I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal’s men would still be alive tomorrow morning.” 35 Then David accepted her present and told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.”

36 When Abigail arrived home, she found that Nabal was throwing a big party and was celebrating like a king. He was very drunk, so she didn’t tell him anything about her meeting with David until dawn the next day. 37 In the morning when Nabal was sober, his wife told him what had happened. As a result he had a stroke, and he lay paralyzed on his bed like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck him, and he died.
39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise the Lord, who has avenged the insult I received from Nabal and has kept me from doing it myself. Nabal has received the punishment for his sin.” Then David sent messengers to Abigail to ask her to become his wife.
Why Was David Angry?
            David had some serious problems.  First of all, he was running for his life.  Even though David had done nothing wrong and had only been loyal and good to King Saul, the king was jealous and wanted to kill David.  So David was on the run.  He refused to fight Saul.  Even though David had several opportunities to kill Saul, He refused saying it was not right to kill Israel’s king.
            Another problem—perhaps just as big—was what to do with the 600 men who followed David.  These were not just any men.  These were fighting men.  They were ready to fight for David, but he would not let them fight.  How do you keep 600 fighting men out of trouble when they have nothing to do and are constantly on the run?  How do you keep them fed and provisioned?  David had an answer.  He decided to use them as an unofficial security force for Nabal.  This would give his men something productive to do and hopefully build good will with Nabal who might return the kindness to David’s men.
By worldly measures, Nabal was a great man. He was rich, powerful, and in charge of many people.  People look at outside appearance.  They see things like wealth and power and property and think that a person is good if they have all these.  However, God looks at the heart and we see that Nabal was a fool because he had a bad heart.  He was selfish, ill-tempered, rude and insulting, and a drunkard.
Nabal probably had a great year with his flocks.  There were always bandits out in the countryside willing to steal and plunder business men like Nabal.  Anyone today who has a lot of wealth and property understands if you’ve got a lot of stuff, you better have some good locks and maybe some security cameras to keep it all secure.  If you have a lot of stuff, there’s always plenty of people out there who will try to take it from you. 
It would have been the same for a man like Nabal, but David and his 600 warriors kept Nabal’s property and shepherds safe.  No bandit could steal from Nabal with David’s security force keeping everything safe.  As Nabal accounted for his extra profits that year, he should have realized his great fortune was due largely to David’s protection.  Less theft and losses in the fields meant greater profits at shearing time, but Nabal presumed all his prosperity was due to his own efforts.  He had no gratitude for David’s help in the matter at all.  Furthermore, he even insulted David—basically calling him a no count, run-away slave who deserved only scorn.
Now, David was a man after God’s own heart, but David was not perfect.  And we see in this instance, David let his anger get the best of him.  He was on the run from Saul, hungry, up to his ears trying to keep his loyal men fed and out of trouble.  All he’s done so far is try to do the right thing and now even the good he has done for Nabal has been ridiculed.  David has had it.  He’s going to kill Nabal and every man in his household.  Talk about an over-reaction!  Even a man with a good heart can lose it sometimes.  Our imperfect hearts get the best of us when we don’t let God’s Holy Spirit direct us.  David was not following God’s spirit and was about to commit a great atrocity. 

Abigail’s Courage
            Then we meet Abigail (the woman who is my daughter's namesake).  Abigail had a courageous heart.  When she learned of Nabal’s foolish behavior and the impending disaster, she gets right to work.  First of all, she took personal responsibility for Nabal’s foolish behavior. 
We might wonder at this.  It was Nabal who acted so foolishly, not Abigail.  However, Abigail knew her husband was prone to foolish behavior.  If that had been your spouse, you would probably be extra careful to watch what they did and keep them from dragging you down with them.  Besides, Abigail was sort of like second in command for the household.  So she was largely responsible for whatever happened in the household, even if it wasn’t directly her fault.
            At any rate, the tact she took with David was both courageous and brilliant.  It took courage, because it put her at great risk.  What if David decided to punish her, taking her life?  The cowardly approach would have been to place blame on others.  But Abigail chose to courageously accept personal responsibility.  Her actions were brilliant because her confession moved David to have mercy.
            People tend to respect us more when we take responsibility—even when we have made a mistake.  It only makes people angrier when you try to blame somebody else.  Think about the recent United Airlines incident where they dragged a passenger off a flight.  Someone videoed the altercation and it went viral.  Then United Airlines came out with an apology that wasn’t really an apology; it was not received well by the public.  People had the perception that the airline was not really sorry and was avoiding responsibility for their actions; it only made the public even angrier. 
When we make excuses, it only angers others, but when we take responsibility, we learn from our mistakes and others tend to respect us and be more forgiving.  It worked for Abigail.  David had compassion and showed mercy.
            Abigail’s courageous actions also helped David avoid a great sin.  Her words showed David what he was doing was wrong.  He was overreacting in a moment of anger.  Abigail’s courageous actions stopped David in his tracks and made him think about what he was doing.  It saved him from making a terrible mistake that would have hurt many people and ruined David’s reputation and destroyed his conscience. 

Our Precarious Condition
            Although this story took place roughly 3,000 years ago, it has another important application for us today.  It is a warning that we should not be fools like Nabal.  Although some would argue we would never act like Nabal, we do it all the time when we take our blessings for granted.
            Those of us who live in America think we have it pretty good.  We are relatively safe and secure.  No foreign nation threatens to invade us.  We are very prosperous.  Even the poor among us are vastly better off than the majority of the world outside our nation.  We have very little to worry about.  And if we aren’t careful, we will take it for granted.  We will forget those who have paid a tremendous price to win and secure our freedom and prosperity.  As we eat, drink, and are merry, we may be tempted to think we are the ones who have made our fortunes.  We might forget that God has been working behind the scenes in human events to bring us to where we are today—even blessing us with the opportunities we have as a nation and as individuals to prosper and live freely.  And yet, how often are we like Nabal—the fool—who rudely disregarded what David had done for him.  We disregard what God has done for us.  He sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins.  However, we rudely ask, “Who is Jesus?  What has he really done for me?  Why should I concern myself with him?”
            Meanwhile, because of our sin, we are in danger of eternal punishment.  Jesus came to our world once as a peaceful, helpless baby.  However, Jesus is coming again and this time he will come as a conquering King.  Like David, who strapped on his sword and came ready for war, Jesus may be strapping on his sword right now, along with all the mighty armies of heaven.  Jesus will come to destroy all those arrogant people who have rebelled and continue to rebel against the God of Heaven.
            So what will you do?  Will you go on like the fool, Nabal, eating and drinking and thinking everything is just fine while destruction fast approaches?  Or will you be like Abigail, who had the courage to rush out to find the king, fall on her knees and beg for forgiveness and mercy?  Will you plead, for yourself, for your family, for your community, for you country, for the world?  Or will you pretend like nothing is wrong?
            Don’t be afraid to plead with Jesus for mercy.  Have courage!  Accept responsibility for your sin.  Don’t blame someone else.  It’s your sin.  Own it!  And ask Jesus for mercy.  He will listen and he will forgive.  Jesus will accept you back as his loyal subject if you ask for forgiveness and repent of your sin.  And you will live with him in glory forever.
            I invite you to have courage today.  Get your heart right with Jesus.  And have the courage to warn others when they are going astray too.

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