Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)

Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ

Sunday, November 19, 2017

by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter

A Thanksgiving Message: “The Hand of Comfort”  

1 Samuel 18:1-4

The Thanksgiving Holiday is drawing near.  For most of us it is a festive time.  A time when family and friends gather together by offering thanks to God for the good things He provides for us.  When families come together we’re mindful, too, of that old expression, “Blood is thicker than water.”

But on these festive occasions it’s not at all uncommon for sibling rivalries!  This applies not only to children, but to grownups.  Family members will sometimes bicker over the silliest things such as: the seating arrangement at the dinner table, or grabbing for that last succulent turkey leg!  Even the most close-knit families find themselves squabbling over petty matters.

When quarrels arise, it might be wise to remember [that]: “You don’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.”  The writer of Proverbs made us painfully aware of that fact where he writes: “A man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” [Proverbs 18:24].  In other words, a person who makes friends too easily, or indiscriminately, does so at his own peril.  Conversely, a friend who is chosen wisely can prove to be more loyal than even kinfolk.

Why even a perfect stranger can minister to us with a “hand of comfort”!  Let me illustrate.  ‘The patient is combative,’ the nurse penned on her chart.  But what this nurse failed to realize was that the patient was having an allergic reaction to the anesthetic in recovery after undergoing a lengthy surgery.  Meanwhile, the nurse’s assistant stood by the patient’s bedside.  Intuitively, she reached down and held the patient’s hand.  Her touch was soothing…reassuring.  Soon the patient’s body began to relax.  All this patient needed was ‘a hand of comfort’.  Sometimes pain medication simply isn’t enough.  There are times when all that is needed is a gentle touch.  As if to say, “You’ll be fine.  You’ll get through this.” [1]

Comfort is a powerful tool in the hands of a devoted ‘care-giver’.  And the best ‘care-giver’ of all is the “God of all comfort” [2 Corinthians 1:3-5].  Our God extends comfort to His children.  And He does so at just the right time, and in just the right way.  God also comforts us so that we, in turn, can bring comfort to others.

Bringing comfort to someone is what friendship is all about.  My father once told me: “Son, if you can count on one hand the number of true friends you’ve had in this life, then consider yourself fortunate.”  Years passed before I realized that my dad was right.  Someone said, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”

And such was the friendship between Jonathan and David.  Both left memorable footprints.  But theirs was the most unlikely of friendships when you considered the difference in their ages, as well as their status.  Jonathan was King Saul’s oldest son.  Thus, he was heir to the throne of Israel.  David was a lowly shepherd boy; the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons.

But David’s life was about to dramatically change.  This occurred when Samuel, Israel’s esteemed priest and prophet, anointed David with his horn of oil.  The anointing with oil signified that David was God’s chosen successor to Israel’s throne.  This ceremony was held privately.  Only David’s father and brothers were present.  This was to ensure David’s safety and protection by preventing word of this reaching Saul’s ears.  And on this solemn occasion we’re told that: “…the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” [1 Samuel 16:10-13].

Perhaps David’s anointing helped to bolster his courage because in the next chapter, David confronted the mighty Philistine giant, Goliath.  A giant from the Philistine city of Gath who struck fear in the hearts of Israel’s warriors.  For days he had taunted Saul’s army.  He even made a vow that if an Israelite came forward and was able to kill him, the entire nation of Philistia would become the servants of Israel.

After David miraculous feat, Saul summoned this young ‘whipper-snapper’!  A mere boy who had armed himself with only a sling shot and a few stones.  From that day David was not allowed to return to his father’s house.  For David’s music and his harp soothed the troubled soul of Saul.  Thus, David became like a “hand of comfort” to his king.

Our passage begins with these words: “Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.”   Notice the wording.  “…the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.”  This was no casual friendship.  This was to be no mere acquaintance!  Jonathan and David mutually sensed a “kindred spirit.

 One commentary noted: “The friendship between David and Jonathan is one of the deepest and closest of relationships recorded in the Bible.”

There were notable characteristics about their relationship.  A friendship like no other.  The first distinction had to do with their mutual LOVE for one another.

This was not a brotherly kind of love (phileo).  Their friendship involved a selfless, a sacrificial, kind of love (agape).  A love which can only be described as God-given.  For not once, but twice (verses 1 and 3) our passage says: Jonathan loved him as himself.”  A love like few of us will ever know!

Secondly, Jonathan takes the initiative by enacting a: VOW.  In verse three, it says: “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.”  Most translations use the word “covenant”.  In Hebrew, the word for covenant is “berith” which literally means to “cut”; as in the shedding of blood.  Therefore, only God can initiate a covenant.  Just as He did with: Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, etc.

A vow pales in comparison to that of a covenant.  A vow is usually thought of as a compact between two parties, or individuals.  But a vow is also sacred.  It involves a promise or pledge made before God.  Once a vow is made; it should never be rescinded.  When a man and woman exchange their wedding vows, they are promising to love one another until death.  Thus, in the eyes of God, they become as one flesh.

Regrettably, vows are not always kept inviolate.  Some people take them too lightly as though they are: forsaken and forgotten.  I recently came upon another reminder of what constitutes a lasting friendship where it said: “Friendship consists not in the number of things friends can discuss, but in the number of things they need no longer mention.”

Thirdly, the friendship between Jonathan and David involved numerous: TRIALS.  They endured fiery ordeals which would have destroyed most relationships.  Such things as: stature, title, and family ties.  Neither which hindered, nor weakened their bonds.  Indeed, their friendship was strengthened because they persevered!

Both here and elsewhere in 1 Samuel, we learn much about the person and character of Jonathan.  As heir to the throne, Jonathan held titles and stature.  But, despite his rank and authority, Jonathan earned the respect of his fellow “men-in-arms” [1 Samuel 14].

David’s early life held little sway as a lowly shepherd boy.  But like that of Jonathan, David also earned the respect and admiration of his fellow countrymen.  After David slew Goliath, the entire nation gained stature and notoriety among their neighboring nations.  He became like a “folk hero.”  When this handsome young warrior was paraded through the streets of Jerusalem, young maidens danced, and with tambourines they were heard chanting: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” [1 Samuel 18:7].

This outward display of affection for David outraged the king!  Jealousy and rage consumed his heart.  Despite David’s sworn allegiance to his king, Saul made several desperate attempts to kill his loyal servant.  As time passed, Saul’s hatred only intensified.  On one occasion, Jonathan spoke on his friend’s behalf.  Whereupon Saul cursed at his son; hurling not only insults at him, but a spear [1 Samuel 20:30-33]!

Jonathan boldly proclaimed his unwavering friendship for David before his father’s entire household, which put his own life in peril.  He then warned David of his father’s diabolical scheme to have him hunted down like a beast of prey.

Yes, sometimes even family members can be harmful to one’s health and well-being!  The fictional character, Jack Taylor, by author Ken Buren, is portrayed as an Irish drunkard who was dismissed as a police detective for disorderly conduct.  In one episode, Taylor remarked: “No matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen your family, nor how much distance you’ve put between them, they always know how to push your buttons…because they’re the ones who put them there.”

But, above all else, there’s one more that stands out about this endearing and enduring friendship.  The reason being is that their friendship was orchestrated by: GOD’S PROVIDENCE.  At some point during their relationship, Jonathan realizes he was not destined to become Israel’s next king and that his friend, David, was God’s anointed one!

Unlike his father, Jonathan accepted God’s sovereign choice as to who would be Israel’s next king.  There is nothing to indicate that Jonathan harbored any jealousy towards his trusted friend.  Jonathan willingly abandoned any personal ambition rather than forfeiting, or jeopardizing his loyalty to David.  Make no mistake.  This was not a symbolic gesture on Jonathan’s part.  And I say this because when they were nothing more than fellow compatriots, Jonathan bestowed his own blessing upon David.  Our passage closes with these endearing words: And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.

It appears that Jonathan somehow knew this young boy was destined for greatness!  And perhaps he also had an inkling about his own fate.  At the close of this book, David and his trusted men were off fighting the Amalekites.  Meanwhile, Jonathan, along with his father and brothers, were slain by the Philistines on Mount Gilboa.

When David was told of his friend’s death, he grieved deeply, wept mournfully, and fasted.  But not even death could separate their bonds.  For just as it says, “The cord of three strands is not easily broken” [Ecclesiastes 4:12]. David took it upon himself to extend “the Hand of Comfort” to Jonathan’s sole surviving son, Ishbosheth.  A man, crippled from childhood, was privileged to dine at the king’s table!

In death, loved ones are separated only for a little while.  We part company but our memories live on.  Elizabeth Foley offered these keepsake words: “The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”

And this is so true of our Lord’s love and devotion towards us.  Christ’s death did not separate us.  Just the opposite!  It was because of His death that we can be drawn ever closer to Him!  Someone put it so eloquently: “I don’t know how I could miss someone so much that I’ve never met.”

Have a blest day and a memorable Thanksgiving!  Let us pray…

[1]     Our Daily Bread” Devotional, dated Friday, November 10, 2017.