Responding Rightly To Overwhelming Calamity
Sometimes it seem like things just cannot get any worse:
Simply looking at the morning newspaper headlines is enough to discourage most folks. We read of fatal accidents, of shootings, of house fires, of kidnappings, of child abuse, of business collapses, of wars and hostilities, and so on. And Christians of course are not immune from suffering, hardships, trials and heartache. Such is life in a very fallen world.
Have you ever wept until you could cry no more? Do some days seem to be one disaster after another? Are you seemingly in the midst of one continuous calamity? Does it seem like everything is going wrong and there is no end in sight? Does it sometimes seem like the bottom has dropped out, and you cannot handle another tragedy or calamity?
The Bible of course records stories like this – most notably Job. Imagine all the things he went through in one fell swoop. Most folks would not be able to survive such carnage and disaster. Yet Job remained strong in his faith despite hell breaking out all around him.
In my morning reading I read about another Old Testament example of this. It concerns David. As you know, he had a real rough go of things. He was told he would be king, but all he seemed to do was try to escape the wrath of King Saul and various enemies. He seemed to be much more like a forsaken refugee hiding in one place after another than God’s chosen leader.
Just before he was finally anointed King of Judah (see 2 Samuel 2) and then of Israel (see 2 Samuel 5), he had one of the roughest and most difficult periods of his life. We read about the climax in 1 Samuel 30:1-6:
Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
Wow, talk about having a really bad day! Dale Ralph Davis reminds us of a very apt passage from Amos 5:18-19 in this regard:
Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
Davis goes on to say this:
Here is a sobering and disturbing picture for God’s people. Are there not times when you think it cannot get any worse? And 1 Samuel says, yes, it can. There are times when you conclude that your present trouble is the last straw; you simply cannot take it any more. Then comes Ziklag, the last straw after the last straw. Sometimes you are tempted to add another line to Psalm 30:5: ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning’ – and disaster strikes next afternoon.
We have a disturbing text. God’s special servant, David, is overwhelmed with trouble. By implication we understand that this could be so for any of God’s servants. The text says that your distresses and troubles could intensify. Even this, however, does not leave us comfortless. For here is the realism of the Bible. Here is no hiding of truth and preaching of half-truths. Here is no false advertising. As the Lord’s servant you may be overwhelmed with troubles. You may receive more than you think you can even handle. But God in his word tells you this. You can trust a God like that; you can depend on a Scripture that tells you this. When Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation” [Jn 16:33], he didn’t reduce it to small print or hide it in a footnote.
Yep, things can just seem to go from bad to worse. Many of us have had days like that. While we may not go through things quite as bad and heavy-duty as David did, we all still need to respond as he did. What we find in verse 6 is something we must remember and apply: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”
That must be what all believers today rely upon – not our own strength or plans or ideas or schemes. When our world falls apart all around us, there is only one safe haven we can turn to. Our strength, security and peace must come from the Lord and him alone. Sure, we can ask friends to pray for us and to offer godly counsel, but at the end of the day God must be our true source of strength and comfort.
If you had been reading previous chapters in 1 Samuel you would be aware of all that David had been going through up to this point. And you would have seen that sometimes David took matters into his own hands. As Richard Phillips comments:
After all the deprivations of so many years – month after month of harassment, flight, and danger – David had now reached the end of his rope. . . . This blow was not only too much for David to bear, but was also the last straw for his weary men. . . . This was rock-bottom for David. He was separated from the people of Israel and the ordinances of saving religion. His desperate plans to buy time had brought disaster instead. The wives in which he had taken comfort were suffering unknown horrors because of David’s failure, and his men, having lost children as well as wives, were done with following him. David largely deserved their scorn, having incredibly left his base completely unguarded while he marched off with the Philistines, leaving the Amalekite raiders he had provoked for sixteen months free to strike and pillage.
Talk about dire straits. Talk about a helpless and hopeless situation. But still, David was at least some steps ahead of Saul. He too had known distress and turmoil. But the two had different responses. As John Woodhouse comments:
David’s “distress” was not his emotional state but the dangerous predicament in which he found himself. It is important to notice that David’s circumstances are described with the word Saul used at about the same time in his dark meeting at Endor: “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more . . .” (1 Samuel 28:15)….
David found strength that was simply no longer available for Saul. Saul turned, in his distress, to the medium and the forbidden world of necromancy, but David’s response to his troubles could not have been more different: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (6b).
This is what Jonathan had helped him do on an earlier occasion. Jonathan had “strengthened [David’s] hand in God” by speaking God’s promise to David (1 Samuel 23:16, 17). Here David found strength again in the one who had promised that he would be king over Israel. The strength David found was trust in God’s promise. It was what we call faith.
We need not a great faith in God, but faith in a great God. When we feel overwhelmed and deep down in the pits, we must strengthen ourselves in our God. David did it and so can we.
Hmm, halfway through penning this piece I noticed that I already had written an article on this same passage of Scripture four years ago. I guess great minds think alike! Oh well, it offers further commentary and insights, so both pieces might be of use to you: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/04/07/and-you-think-youre-having-a-bad-day/
4 Replies to “Responding Rightly To Overwhelming Calamity”
I was re-reading ‘Edmund Burke’s Battle With Liberalism’ by Samuel Burgess this morning and found a neat definition of political liberalism, versus conservatism.
In trying to make sense of the very real situation that you describe in this post, I find it helpful to have some coherent definitions of what we’re facing.
To quote Burgess, “secular liberalism arbitrates upon judicial, political and social questions, according to a rule of equality and right… that society should be ordered according to an understanding of man as a free, equal and autonomous person’, i.e., the individual takes precedence over community, whereas conservatism ‘is characterised by an awareness of man’s fallen nature, a belief in the importance of inherited wisdom and aged institutions and an insistence on the necessity of duty and natural affections. Most importantly it is an approach to politics rooted in the Christian faith.’
Natural law has fallen out of favour in modern times, but society will rue ignoring its social purpose.
In regard to the Liberal Party, once known as conservative, the loss of Aston has been reported as largely due to a younger group of voters. Most are educated and aware of the culture wars, but I doubt if many could tell you the difference between secular liberalism and conservatism, much less why there needs to be a difference.
Former PM Robert Menzies, generally credited with founding the Liberal Party and a conservative was a man of his time. There were no Land Rights laws at the time and he, like Joh Bjelke Petersen, former Queensland Premier, were cavalier with awarding mining rights on Aboriginal land without involving the Traditional Owners.
In these days of an Indigenous Voice referendum and proposed changes to the Constitution, the definitions referred to above are timely.
More so, perhaps, in the area of transgender rights where ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ assume that religious rights are inferior, bringing those claims to ‘inequality’, i.e., some are more equal than others.
These questions have vital importance for freedom, both in this life and the next. Younger voters deserve better than to be the blind being led by the blind leaders of secular liberal politics.
Thanks for this Russell:
“To quote Burgess, “secular liberalism arbitrates upon judicial, political and social questions, according to a rule of equality and right… that society should be ordered according to an understanding of man as a free, equal and autonomous person’, i.e., the individual takes precedence over community, whereas conservatism ‘is characterised by an awareness of man’s fallen nature, a belief in the importance of inherited wisdom and aged institutions and an insistence on the necessity of duty and natural affections. Most importantly it is an approach to politics rooted in the Christian faith.’”
I might be a bit thick, but to me, these two seem to be complementary rather than contradictory.
@ Bill Purcell.
Well, I guess the proof is in the pudding. If we take the example of the Leader of the Victorian Liberal Party and his woke, secular liberalism in relation to his decision to suspend Moira Deeming, his fellow MP, for nine months for raising the issue of biological women’s rights (the Nazi association was a furphy), we see that it opposes the definition of conservatism given by Burgess, who notes that it is rooted in the Christian faith and community over individual rights.
This is the basis of democracy, which is tilting left under the weight of secular liberal policy. So while complementary in terms of all men are created in the image of God, although many political conservatives would dispute this, the outcome is contradictory.
Contradiction, confusion hypocrisy are three major traits of the progressive, virtue-seeking, politically correct, woke, identity politics promoted by secular liberalism. You can see this quite easily in their comments and behaviour.
There are many other social issues and policies littering the Western landscape that are a result. They all have their source in the Fall from Grace and alienation from Christ. From that point of view, I fail to see how you can make a complementary comparison.