God’s will

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had the distinct advantage of knowing exactly what God wanted them to do. God told Abraham, “Go from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). Later, God confirmed his covenant with Abraham and said, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-15). After the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, Exodus 13:21-22 tells us, “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” One of the provisions that God made for the people of Israel to receive instructions from him in addition to the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that led them along the way was by answering questions through the Urim and Thummim. The Urim and Thummim were a part of the breastpiece of judgment that the priest wore along with his linen ephod. Exodus 28:15-30 states:

“You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work. In the style of the ephod you shall make it—of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen shall you make it. It shall be square and doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth. You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold filigree. There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. You shall make for the breastpiece twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. And you shall make for the breastpiece two rings of gold, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece. And you shall put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece. The two ends of the two cords you shall attach to the two settings of filigree, and so attach it in front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod. You shall make two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. And you shall make two rings of gold, and attach them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, at its seam above the skillfully woven band of the ephod. And they shall bind the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, so that it may lie on the skillfully woven band of the ephod, so that the breastpiece shall not come loose from the ephod. So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly.”

This is the first reference in the Old Testament to the sacred objects called the ‘Urim and the Thummim.’ They were used by the priests to receive divine messages and were kept in the high priest’s breastplate. The mention of the ephod in connection with simple oracles (1 Samuel 23:6, 9-12) suggests that at times these objects may have been associated with the priest’s ephod. No one knows what the Urim and Thummim looked like or how they worked, but it appears that they provided only yes and no answers. Sometimes no answer was given at all. This would explain King Saul’s inability to get an answer from God on two different occasions (1 Samuel 14:36, 37; 28:6). The Urim and Thummim are not mentioned in the Old Testament between the early monarchy and postexilic times. This was the period of the prophets, when God revealed himself much more fully than in simple answers to questions posed by priests. Quite possibly the lack of description of the Urim and Thummim was deliberate, in order to prevent copies from being made” (note on Exodus 28:30). The Urim and Thummim were placed on Aaron’s heart. The Hebrew word leb (labe) is used figuratively “very widely for the feelings, the will and even the intellect…The heart includes not only the motive, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). The placement of the Urim and Thummim on Aaron’s heart was likely intended to represent the notion of his will being subject to divine influence so that God’s will would ultimately be carried out.

David’s encounter with Ahimilech the priest resulted in him being able to escape from Saul’s army and to gather together about 400 men who traveled with him from that point forward (1 Samuel 22:1-2). When Saul confronted Ahimilech about what he had done, Ahimilech answered the king, “And who among your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king’s son-in-law, and captain over your bodyguard, and honored in your house? Is today the first time that I have inquired of God for him?” (1 Samuel 22:14-15). It appears that David had made a practice of seeking God’s will before he initiated his military campaigns. 1 Samuel 23:1-5 states:

Now they told David, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors.” Therefore David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” Then David inquired of the Lord again. And the Lord answered him, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines and brought away their livestock and struck them with a great blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.

The Hebrew word that is translated inquired in this passage, shaʾal (shaw-alˊ) means “to ask” (H7592). The questions that David asked God required a simple yes or no answer and suggest that he was using the Urim and Thummim to inquire of God. 1 Samuel 23:6 tells us that “when Abiathar the son of Ahimilech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand.” Afterward, we are told that David requested that the ephod be brought to him, implying that he wanted to use Urim and Thummim to make his inquiry. 1 Samuel 23:9-14 states:

David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Then David said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will surrender you.” Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.

Saul was the reigning king over Israel and had the power and authority to kill David if he wanted to, but it wasn’t God’s will for him to do that. Saul’s will and God’s will were in direct conflict with each other and so, God helped David to escape from Saul’s army throughout David’s exile from his kingdom.

Psalm 63 provides some insight into what was going on inside David while he was in the wilderness of Judah (1 Samuel 22:5-23:4). David began by recalling the connection that he had with God when he was worshipping him in the sanctuary. David said:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:1-4)

David was used to praising God in the temple of the LORD, but after his exile, David realized that he needed to and could connect with God anywhere. David said, “So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:4, emphasis mine). The phrase, in your name had to do with David’s personal relationship with the LORD. You might say that David and God were on a first name basis, they knew each other well enough that David could talk to the Lord about his problems because they were used to speaking to each other on a regular basis. The Hebrew word that is translated lift up in Psalm 63:4, naçah (naw-sawˊ) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation (Exodus 28:12; Leviticus 16:22; Isaiah 53:12; cf. 1 Peter 2:24)” (H5375). This verse indicates that David knew the Lord as his Savior and in that sense, had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

David went on to say in Psalm 63:5-8:

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

David used the phrase shadow of your wings in other psalms that were about God protecting him from his enemies. In Psalm 17, which is titled “A Prayer of David,” David focused his attention on the reward he would receive for doing God’s will. David prayed to God:

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
    my deadly enemies who surround me.

They close their hearts to pity;
    with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
They have now surrounded our steps;
    they set their eyes to cast us to the ground.
He is like a lion eager to tear,
    as a young lion lurking in ambush.

Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!
    Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
from men by your hand, O Lord,
    from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
    they are satisfied with children,
    and they leave their abundance to their infants.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. (Psalm 17:8-15)

David expected to see God’s face and to be satisfied with his likeness when he awoke, indicating that David believed he would be with God in a physical sense at some point in the future. Jesus referred to death figuratively as sleeping when he told a crowd that was mourning the death of a Jewish ruler’s daughter, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping” (Matthew 9:24). When Jesus took the girl by the hand, Matthew tells us that “the girl arose” (Matthew 9:25) or in the Greek, egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro) which means “(through the idea of collecting one’s faculties) to waken (transitive or intransitive), i.e. rouse (literal from sleep, from sitting or lying, from disease, from death; or figurative from obscurity, inactivity, ruins, nonexistence)” (G1453).

Beholding God’s face (Psalm 17:15) was another way of David saying that he was going to be in God’s presence. “The reward of God’s people is often described as enjoying his presence (cf. Psalm 16:11; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 21:3; 22:3, 4). This is referred to as being with Christ (John 12:26), seeing Christ’s glory (John 17:24), and sharing in Christ’s glory (Romans 8:17, 18; Colossians 3:4). All saints will reign with Christ and sit in judgment even over angels (Daniel 7:22; Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6:3; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 22:5). This expectation of believers is called ‘an inheritance’ (Matthew 25:34; Acts 20:32, Romans 8:17; Hebrews 9:15) and is secure in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). This secure hope, which is an ‘anchor of the soul’ (Hebrews 6:19), ought not to lead one to complacency but rather should challenge one to press forward and endure hardships for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 2:1-5; Revelation 2:10). Christ will reward those who have performed distinguished service with incorruptible crowns of righteousness, life, and glory (1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4)” (note on Psalm 17:15). Even though David’s awareness and understanding of God’s will for him may have been limited, he seemed to realize that the kingdom that Samuel had anointed him to reign over was an eternal kingdom and that God’s goal for David’s life was for him to enter into a state of righteousness that would result in him being transformed into the likeness of God.

Jesus explained to his disciples that he had come down from heaven not to do his own will, but to do the will of his Father. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38-40). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated raise, anistemi (an-isˊ-tay-mee) is derived from the words ana (ah-ahˊ) which means “up” (G303) and histemi (hisˊ-tay-mee) which “means ‘to make a stand,’ means ‘to appoint’” (G2476). Histemi is translated fixed in Acts 17:31 where Paul explained to the men of Athens that God would judge the world based on Jesus having been raised from the dead. Paul used the inscription he found on an altar in the Areopagus to start the conversation. Paul said:

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)

Paul said that God had given assurance to all by raising Christ from the dead. The Greek word that is translated assurance, pistis (pisˊ-tis) refers to reliance upon Christ for salvation and as a technical term is indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)…Spoken by analogy of the faith of the patriarchs and pious men from the Old Testament who looked forward in faith and hope to the blessings of the gospel” (G4102). Pistis appears in Hebrews chapter eleven 25 times, which begins with the statement, “Now faith (pistis) is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation” (Hebrews 11:1-2), and continued, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:32-34).

David’s ability to do God’s will was based on his faith in a redemption that would not be made available to everyone until hundreds of years after his death. Psalm 54 records David’s thoughts about the outcome of his conflict with Saul when the Ziphites went and told Saul, “Is not David hiding among us?” (1 Samuel 23:19; 26:1) and explains to us why David was confident in spite of a serious threat to his life. David said, “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder my life” (Psalm 54:4). David used the proper name of God Adonay, which literally means “my Lord,” instead of YHWH the divine name of God, “which was held by later Jewish belief to be too holy to utter. This designation points to the supreme authority or power of God (Psalm 2:4; Isaiah 6:1)” (H136). Jesus was referred to as “the Lord” throughout his ministry, but “chiefly in the gospels before the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 21:3; 28:6; Luke 7:13; 10:1; John 41: 20:2, 13; Acts 9:5; 1 Corinthians 9:5). David concluded his song with the statement, “For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies” (Psalm 54:7) The he that David was referring to that would deliver him from every trouble was the Lord, Jesus Christ who is identified in the book of Revelation as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).

1 Samuel 24:1-7 tells us that David had an opportunity to kill Saul and eliminate the threat to his life, but David’s heart struck him and he couldn’t go through with it. It states:

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way.

After he left the cave, David called out to Saul and brought to his attention the fact that he had let him escape. David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed. See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it’” (1 Samuel 24:8-11). David concluded by stating:

After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. (1 Samuel 24:14-20)

Saul’s change in attitude was a result of David showing him kindness in spite of the harsh treatment that he had received from the king. Saul said of David, “You are more righteous than I” (1 Samuel 24:17). The Hebrew word that is translated righteous, tsaddiyq (tsad-deekˊ) appears in the Song of Moses as part of a description of Israel’s Messiah. Deuteronomy 32:4 states:

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just (tsaddiyq) and upright is he.”

David’s demonstration of the characteristic of tsaddiyq indicates that he was doing God’s will when he let Saul escape from the cave in the wilderness of Engedi. When David’s heart struck him (1 Samuel 24:5), he was likely being convicted by the Holy Spirit that he was about to commit a transgression or to cross over the boundary of right and enter the forbidden land of the wrong (H5674). The Apostle Paul addressed the issue of obedience to superiors and doing the will of God from the heart in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said, Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free” (Ephesians 6:5-8).

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