“Those who attack you will surrender to you” – or so said the prophet Isaiah in 54:15. In Saul’s case, it could not have been more vivid. One moment he was the chief persecutor of Christ’s church; the next, he was the most effective apostle the world has ever known.
The light from heaven blinded him, and the voice rebuked him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”, it said. It must have come as an almighty shock to Saul that not only was Jesus the true Messiah and Son of God, but Saul had been fighting against him all this time! By persecuting the church, Saul had been attacking its Head – Jesus Christ. This echoes what Jesus himself had said previously: “Whatever things you did to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40)
Whilst the still-blind Saul was recovering in Damascus, nearby a faithful disciple, Ananias, was praying. He was clearly a good listener too and he distinctly heard the Lord saying to him: “Go and pray for Saul of Tarsus”. How would we feel if we were asked today to make a trip to Syria, Sudan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, or certain parts of Pakistan and to preach Christ, and to pray for an evil dictator!!! Nevertheless, very bravely, Ananias did exactly that. The Lord had shown him that He was in charge and that He had sovereignly chosen to save Saul for a much greater purpose.
Barnabas was another person who was prepared to stick his neck out for Saul, trusting that God had done a saving work and paving the way for Saul to take up a leadership role in the church. Without Barnabas, Saul might have remained an isolated maverick preacher, opposing the Jerusalem church and accidently promoting schism within the community of believers. Barnabas took a risk with his own reputation and judgment because he saw in Paul the grace of God at work. It is all too easy to be risk-averse in today’s church, but it stifles the development of many valuable ministries. Furthermore, we need more encouraging Barnabas types in our day too!
Peter, meanwhile, was not idle. He travelled around Israel, preaching the good news, and doing some stunning miracles, including raising a woman called Tabitha from the dead. Many people believed in Christ as a result.
2 SAMUEL 22 and 23
The fear of death was like the act of drowning to David; it is a very deep-seated emotion in the human psyche and something that is in the most fundamental sense ‘unnatural’ to us humans. We were never created to die at all – ever – and the introduction of death into the world was both a judgment and a travesty! So 2 Samuel 22:5-7 describes the proximity of death like being swamped by huge waves, like a flooding river coming towards you, and like a boa constrictor coiling itself around your neck. “In my distress I called to the Lord…”, David says. Like a Superman, God dives down from the heavens and rides on the clouds and the wind, flinging lightening and scattering the sea and its waves as though it were a vast monster to be slain. Reaching down he held the Psalmist and raised him out of the danger altogether, up to a dry and spacious place and into his presence.
As Isaiah 25:7 declares: “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever”. 2 Timothy 1:9-10 adds that “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”.
The words of 2 Samuel 22 are almost exactly the same as Psalm 18, with both including the delightful phrase ‘a spacious place’. David credits God with empowering him with victories in battle and security in peacetime. He ends the chapter / psalm with: “The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Saviour!” Someone who has removed the ‘teeth’ of Death is someone who can be relied upon for everything in life!
2 Samuel 23 begins as “The last words of David”. If you read the first few chapters of 1 Kings, you will read some more words of David, so it is evident that the Samuel passage means the last poetic psalm of David, rather than his last utterance on earth. David paints a picture of the ultimate King – either God himself or the Messiah who was fully submitted to God. Jesus fulfilled every word of those verses, of course.
David’s mighty men, his valiant warriors, were grouped into two Threes and a Thirty, plus Abishai, the chief of a Three who was not included as one of them (confused yet?). That made a total of 37 in all. Everyone was a valiant fighter who did some incredible acts of courage and power; and it is noticeable that Uriah the Hittite was counted amongst the Thirty. Are we willing to do similar valiant (and risky) exploits for Jesus, our commander in chief? Will we be listed amongst Christ’s Mighty Men? We certainly have that opportunity!