Foul Mouths and Jesus’s Message

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is a lie. Words have, many times, done more damage than sticks and stones. There are some major sins that have to do with our words. As we have walked through the story in 1 Samuel the last couple of weeks, we have been led to have a few Law conversations. This morning is a continuation. The text leads us to consider sins of the tongue—how we break God’s law by what we say. Before we dive into the text, let me remind you. Law conversations are never in isolation from Gospel conversations. After considering the Law, we will also consider the Gospel.

Up to this point, Saul has been trying to kill David. David has asked Jonathan to consider the evidence, evaluate his father’s heart, and report back. Jonathan has promised to do so.

1 Samuel 20:18-29

Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed because your seat will be empty. When you have stayed for three days, you shall go down quickly and come to the place where you hid yourself on that eventful day, and you shall remain by the stone Ezel. I will shoot three arrows to the side, as though I shot at a target. And behold, I will send the lad, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I specifically say to the lad, ‘Behold, the arrows are on this side of you, get them,’ then come; for there is safety for you and no harm, as the Lord lives. But if I say to the youth, ‘Behold, the arrows are beyond you,’ go, for the Lord has sent you away. As for the agreement of which you and I have spoken, behold, the Lord is between you and me forever.”

So David hid in the field; and when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. The king sat on his seat as usual, the seat by the wall; then Jonathan rose up and Abner sat down by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty. Nevertheless Saul did not speak anything that day, for he thought, “It is an accident, he is not clean, surely he is not clean.”

It came about the next day, the second day of the new moon, that David’s place was empty; so Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

Jonathan then answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem, for he said, ‘Please let me go, since our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to attend. And now, if I have found favor in your sight, please let me get away that I may see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”

Jonathan’s plan (v. 18-23)

Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed because your seat will be empty. When you have stayed for three days, you shall go down quickly and come to the place where you hid yourself on that eventful day, and you shall remain by the stone Ezel. I will shoot three arrows to the side, as though I shot at a target. And behold, I will send the lad, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I specifically say to the lad, ‘Behold, the arrows are on this side of you, get them,’ then come; for there is safety for you and no harm, as the Lord lives. But if I say to the youth, ‘Behold, the arrows are beyond you,’ go, for the Lord has sent you away. As for the agreement of which you and I have spoken, behold, the Lord is between you and me forever.”

There isn’t much to say here in the area of exposition, much like the previous two passages. Jonathan makes a plan and asks David to hide behind a stone wall. Upon researching the stone Ezel, I found that it was probably simply a mound of stones on or near Saul’s property. There were a couple sermons I found that majored on the mysterious stone Ezel. It’s very important that we not major on a minor, here, and take the obscure details of Scripture and try to expound on them. Too many people already do that; Perhaps its easier because one can make the Scriptures out to mean anything he or she desires. The stone Ezel was probably the mound David ran to hide behind on that eventful day, the first time Saul threw his spear at David (18:11).

Jonathan tells David how he will relay the information about Saul’s intentions. The servant will retrieve the arrows of Saul does not have ill intentions; He will leave the arrows if Saul desires to kill David.

Saul’s inquiry (v. 24-27)

So David hid in the field; and when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. The king sat on his seat as usual, the seat by the wall; then Jonathan rose up and Abner sat down by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty. Nevertheless Saul did not speak anything that day, for he thought, “It is an accident, he is not clean, surely he is not clean.”
It came about the next day, the second day of the new moon, that David’s place was empty; so Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has the son of Jesse not come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

Saul misses having David at his table during the appropriate feast. In Numbers 28:11-15, we see that were to begin the month with a sacrifice. This type of sacrifice was followed by a feast (Cf. Leviticus 7:15-17). It was a celebration of God’s work. Jews today refer to this time as Rosh Chodesh, the “head of the new moon.” Since the Jews used a lunar calendar, each month was heralded by a new moon. According to the Law, it was to be a sacred day of worship. This may be why Saul, who is still trapped in his works-based religion, considers David’s cleanliness. It only took one day for a person to become clean (Cf. Numbers 19:21). On the second day, there was no excuse. Saul asks Jonathan why David is not present as is expected.

Jonathan’s reply (v. 28-29)

Jonathan then answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem, for he said, ‘Please let me go, since our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to attend. And now, if I have found favor in your sight, please let me get away that I may see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”

Though David is hiding behind a stone mound, Jonathan tells his father that David went to observe Rosh Chodesh with his family in Bethlehem—a lie David asked Jonathan to tell in verse 6. Here, we again see a contrast between David and Saul. Saul is doing everything he can to observe the Law. David, the one with whom the Holy Spirit abides (16:13), is not. He is not observing Rosh Chodesh and is instructing others to tell premeditated lies. Yet, Saul is God’s enemy, and David is God’s elect king. Considering this text, there are four considerations I want to make: (1) The purpose of the Law, (2) keeping Jewish festivals, (3) sins of the tongue, and (4) unconditional grace.

(1) The purpose of the Law; Saul has established a pattern of reading the Law like a checklist, whereas David desires to know and glorify God (Cf. 17:26, 30, 37, 45-47). In this narrative, we are reminded that the Law is a mirror, not a checklist. God does not depend on our keeping of His Law to choose us, save us, or use us according to His will. The Law reveals our unrighteousness and God’s righteousness. Those who use the Law as a means to become righteous err because they exalt themselves rather than honor God, the only righteous one.

(2) Keeping Jewish festivals; There is an interesting movement in our day insisting that Christians should keep the Jewish festivals. The Jewish civil and ritual Law was given as a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews, not with Gentiles (Cf. Exodus 19:5-6). The New Testament condemns the Judiazer teaching that Gentiles must first come under Jewish Law in order to become Christians (Cf. Acts 15:1-29). So, it is not a requirement for Christians to keep the Jewish festivals; Neither is it a sin if Christians desire to keep the Jewish festivals. God did not even count it against David when David skipped Rosh Chadesh and lied about doing so—David was Jewish. Even for the Jews, the Law is a mirror and not a checklist.

(3) Sins of the tongue; In today’s passage, David and Jonathan are caught up in a premeditated lie—blatant disregard for God’s Law (Cf. Leviticus 19:11). There are other sins of the tongue to be aware of including, but not limited to, demeaning others, gossiping, unwholesome talk, malice, slander, and perpetuating fake news. Of the tongue, James will write:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh (James 3:1-12).

Notice that James will not command Christians to gain control of their tongues. He will simply make an observation. The tongue is untamable. If anyone has control of his or her tongue, he has attained perfection—being fully sanctified and coming into the full degree of wisdom. In James, the most works-oriented book of the New Testament, our words and works are still seen as the fruit of a regenerate heart, not the root. The more we know Jesus, the less our tongues lash out against others in a sinful way. We understand that imperfect people will lash out with their words because no one can tame the tongue. We resolve to forgive and bear with one another for Christ’s name’s sake and for the good of His bride, the church. Many people have forsaken the church because of things that have been said. They are hurt. They now lash out against the church with their own tongues. No one is exempt from the tongues deadly poison (whether in voice or writing). May we seek forgiveness. May we understand that only perfect people are able to control their tongues in perfect wisdom. It is unlikely that any of us are perfect.

(4) Unconditional grace; David fails to keep Rosh Chadesh and lies about where he is, even asking Jonathan to lie on his behalf. Yet, God will never hold this trespass against His Law against David. God’s grace upon His elect is such that He passes over their sins unconditionally (Cf. Romans 3:25). That’s the Gospel conversation that any Law conversation causes us to consider. If no one can tame the tongue, what hope do we have?

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

Through our sin, God is revealed as the only righteous one. In Christ, God passes over the sins of those for whom Christ has atoned. He is just and the justifier. All of this is through faith, not works. We see the juxtaposition of faith and works in the story of David and Saul. No matter how foul your mouth, how sinful your tongue, we want to invite you to the throne of grace. We desire to show one another the same type of unconditional grace God shows His elect in Christ. Grace is overlooking, passing over, much for the sake of Christ’s name and the good of Christ’s bride—the church.

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