Introduction — Looking at the chapter through the lens of verses 26-31
Before we leave this chapter I wanted to deal with one more theme – the theme of stuff. How do we relate to stuff? And Christians are all over the map on this one. There are some who are too preoccupied with stuff, and others who are too cavalier. There are people on both ends of the Socialist-Libertarian spectrum who are idolatrous in their treatment of stuff, and there are others who don't think about it as much as they should. There are Christian ascetics who seem to see stuff as the root of all evil and others who see stuff as the measure of their Christian success. Some measure success by the amount of stuff you own and others by the amount you give away. And of course, there are variations in between those positions. But even though this passage doesn't say everything that there is to say about stuff, it certainly introduces the main ideas. The whole chapter revolves around the swiping of stuff and the restoring of stuff.
Lack of stuff - Covetousness and envy reveals idolatry (vv. 1-3)
Covetousness (vv. 1-3)
And today's sermon is about how stuff can help us measure our hearts. We are going to be looking at lack of stuff, loss of stuff, and gaining of stuff. And we will start with the Amalekites who obviously thought that they didn't have enough. They have been taking advantage of the fact that all the Israelite and Philistine armies have gone north, and they have pillaged everything south of Bethel. And in verse 16 they think that they have it made. They are eating, and drinking, and dancing because of the great spoil that they had taken. And we have in these Amalekites an incredible picture of covetousness and envy.
If you know anything about the Amalekites, you know that they have been engaging in this kind of activity for many generations, but they can't quit; they never have enough. Covetousness is never satisfied. It's like a black hole that sucks in money and it disappears, and it's always looking for more. True story: a teacher of basic English for an International Studies program gave as a writing assignment, "What I would do if I had a million dollars." For thirty minutes the class was quiet as a pin as the students were writing down their dreams in English. Finally, one lady came up to the teacher's desk, and with obvious disgust threw down two pages of crossed-out and written-over figures. She said, "Not enough, teacher! I gotta have another hundred thousand!" And apparently she was serious. A million was not enough to satisfy her dreams. But of course, even if she had another million, it likely would not be enough.
And that's the way it was with the Amalekites, generation after generation. So why didn't they produce their own wealth rather than stealing the wealth from others? And the simple answer is that the very things that led to their covetousness guaranteed their lack of business success.
In our leadership conference some months ago, I used the acronym, GOES FARTHER to try to summarize the top qualities of successful businessmen – and especially of those business leaders who are able to keep their businesses successful over multiple generations. And the Amalekites were missing out on most of those eleven characteristics. But let me highlight three of them.
Future orientation is absolutely critical to the long-term success of a nation, family, or individual. And Amalek lacked that. Just like their ancestor, Esau, they were present-oriented. If they want it now, they have to have it now, no matter what the cost to the future. Remember that Esau sold his birthright inheritance (which he likely wouldn't get for another forty years – he sold that future stuff) so that he could eat some tasty food right now. That's the height of present-orientedness. And present-oriented people tend to be given to covetousness and envy.
Last week I pointed out a number of ways in which America is fast becoming an Amalekite culture. Well, this whole issue of covetousness and envy is yet another way in which many Americans are like the descendants of Esau. At its heart socialism is covetousness and envy, isn't it? And the foundation block of covetousness is present-orientedness. Present-orientedness is rife in our society. How do I know that? Because of the statistics on debt. A future oriented person will scrimp and save so that he can buy something with cash in the future. A present oriented person will keep buying stuff on credit that will burden him down in the future, and make the future miserable. But the future is a long ways off – he doesn't care about that. And by the way, we are not talking about business loans here which have the potential of generating income in a joint venture. We are talking about debt for consumption. We are talking about consuming the future; sacrificing the future so that he can have enjoyment now, just like Esau. Very few people buy cars, furniture, computers, TVs, and other day-to-day consumption items with cash. They are spending their future now by making monthly payments. If you do that, by definition you are present oriented. You can squawk all you want about it, but the likelihood is that you already have one of the characteristics of Amalek. And you look at the way national, state, and city governments operate on debt and you realize that our country is massively present-oriented. We are spending more than we can possibly pay in our generation. We have lost our Christian heritage and we are fast becoming an Amalekite culture on even economic issues. You might not think of yourself as a covetous person, but if you are present oriented with regard to debt, it's a hint that covetousness has probably already captured your heart. Could there be exceptions? Yes, but I think they would be pretty rare.
So future orientedness is the first key component of successful leaders, and its opposite (present orientedness) is a key component of an Amalekite culture. A second key component of success is deferred gratification. It may seem like it is the same thing because it is a sub-category of future orientedness. Future orientedness deals with planning, laying up an inheritance, getting out of debt, and things like that. It's the big picture key to success. But deferred gratification is a moment-by-moment ability to deny our desires if they don't fit the overall future plan. Deferred gratification is the ability to crucify unhealthy desires. Esau couldn't do that, and his descendants took this problem to the extreme. Lack of deferred gratification is fertilizer that causes covetousness to grow unchecked. And this too is rife in our nation. It is rife in the church.
The third thing that Esau lacked was a solid work ethic. And this laziness was passed on to the Amalekites as well. It's amazing the generational sins on all of these issues. And we see it in America too – generation after generation of Welfare recipients. It's a kind of plunder.
But Scripture clearly links laziness to coveting and envy. For example, Proverbs 13:4 says, "The soul of a lazy man desires" [there's the covetousness, or it is sometimes translated "craves"], "and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." Proverbs 21:25-26 says, "The desire of the lazy man kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous man gives and does not hold back." That inward covetous craving is linked tightly to laziness. A lot of people don't recognize that they are lazy because they can work hard in certain circumstances. I'm sure it took a lot of work for these Amalekites to steal all their plunder. It took work for Esau to hunt, which was his favorite pastime. It takes a certain degree of creativity and energy to look busy at work when you really aren't working. In fact, I knew one guy who probably expended more energy trying to look busy without doing his job than he would have if he had done his work in the first place. So let me clarify what laziness is and is not.
Laziness is not lack of activity. Most lazy people I know have some things that they are very active in. But laziness is a failure to embrace responsibility. That's laziness. It is procrastinating responsibility for a more pleasant activity. It could involve a failure to finish a project. It could involve stopping something because we are too tired or it is no fun anymore. It almost always involves a lack of self-discipline. But I would define laziness as "a disinclination to responsible actions despite having the ability to engage in them."
Anyway, those three characteristics were true of Esau, and they contributed hugely to his well-known covetousness. And these patterns were passed on to the children, and to children's children, until at some point, it led the Amalekites to a constant lifestyle of theft. We need to evaluate where our kids are at on this continuum. Our goal should be that they have stewards' hearts. But they won't have that if they don't have at least future orientation, deferred gratification, and a solid Protestant work ethic. There are other important issues that we looked at in the leadership course, but these are key.
Envy and Resentment (vv. 1,3)
The second characteristic of Amalek was envy or what Schlossberg calls ressentiment. This differs from covetousness. Covetousness desires something that belongs to someone else. But envy and ressentiment not only wants what that other person has, but is willing to destroy what the other person has if they can't get it. They may even hate that person if he has more than they have. They certainly will resent the fact that you have something they don't have. This is the root of the socialistic ideas in America. This is at the root of the Occupy Movement. If everybody can't be rich, let's at least pull the rich down. We see this in the Amalekites burning Ziklag to the ground. That is just spiteful. Why would they do that? They had already taken everything that they could move, so why didn't they at least leave the buildings standing? Why did they torch them? Envy wants to destroy anything that it can't get. Envy has led more than one beautiful woman to disfigure a woman she considers to be more beautiful. Why would she do that? Because she has never crucified envy. The cries to soak the rich in America make no economic sense whatsoever. It's simply class envy. Taxing the rich higher will not make even a tiny dent in the deficit, but there are people who want to do it anyway – almost as a punishment of people who have succeeded too much. They don't care that raising the corporate tax will drive businesses out of America and harm the poor in the process. It's an irrational envy. Colossians 3:5 says that all forms of covetousness and envy are idolatry. It's irrational and demonic in its origin.
And if we sense even the slightest degree of either covetousness or envy in our heart, we need to flee from it. It will destroy you as it destroyed Amalek. If you envy people's intellect, crucify that desire and ask God to make you content with who you are. If you envy the financial wealth of others, crucify that desire and ask God to replace that envy with a future orientedness, a deferred gratification, and a work ethic that God will be pleased to prosper. Godliness with contentment is great gain, says Paul, but covetousness and envy reveal a heart given over to idolatry.
So the first point illustrates that just because you lack something will not automatically make you godly. Jesus didn't side with the poor, as Ronald Sider claims. He sided with the poor in heart, and only God's grace can make someone poor in heart. Don't buy the socialist idea that God sides with the poor. Some of the most materialistic, covetous, and envy-filled people in the world are poor people in underdeveloped countries. They can be just as envious as the rich in our country. The twin sins of covetousness and envy are equal opportunity destroyers – they will destroy both the poor and the rich.
Loss of stuff - Our losses can reveal the state of our heart (vv. 3-17)
But there are some lessons we can learn from losses as well. And verses 3-6 show massive losses. Martin Luther once said, "I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands that I still possess." That's the mystery of stewardship. Stewardship clings to nothing, and yet it enjoys the possession of all things. Let me read Luther's statement once again, because I think it reveals a marvelous stewardship attitude: He said, "I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands that I still possess."
Let's test our stewardship attitudes on three levels. And all three of these levels deal with the second point - our attitudes toward losses of stuff – and in this case, the loss of almost everything.
Bitterness (though not pain itself) reveals a heart that is still not properly aligned
The first level is given in verse 6, and it is dealing with our hearts. "Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved" [And that is literally, "was bitter." That's the problem. But look at what they were bitter over:], "every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." That "But" indicates (amazingly) that David was not bitter over the loss of his sons and daughters. Instead, David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. Even though he lost the same things, his focus helped to keep him from bitterness. We talked a lot about that verse a few weeks ago, but one interesting point that I missed is that these men weren't bitter over the loss of things. I have met a lot of people who have gotten bitter over lost money, lost houses, and even lost opportunities. That's not a good sign. But David's men weren't bitter over the loss of things. To that degree they were stewards. They were able to relinquish their things to God. However, they were bitter over the loss of their family.
We can certainly understand their bitterness. We can sympathize. It would be easy for any of us to do the same in their shoes. But bitterness is a sure sign that we don't fully have a steward's heart like Job did in Job chapters 1-2, or like David did in this chapter. Both Job and David wept; that's an appropriate emotion. Job had anguish of heart; that's an appropriate emotion. But Job did not get bitter when God took his children away. Why do I tie this bitterness together with lack of stewardship? A steward says with Job, "The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." That's almost identical to what David said. He may say it with tears in his eyes and a breaking heart, but he will still mean it when he says it.
I think the hardest prayer I ever learned to pray was the prayer of St. Ignatius, who prayed, "Take, Lord, and receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To You, O Lord, I return it. All is yours. Dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for this is sufficient for me."
As stewards, we don't see anything as our possession. And that doesn't make us a passive doormat. David was anything but a passive doormat. About the end of verse 6, he is crying out Psalm 69, seeking action from God, and calling down God's curses upon the Amalekites. That's taking action. Then in verse 7, he seeks guidance from God to see if there is any hope. Because he is a steward of his wives, children, and property, he is not giving up until God gives a definitive "No." And he hasn't heard a "No," yet. So a steward is not a doormat. But a stewardship attitude will look to God in faith and submit if God makes regaining something impossible, but will aggressively defend God's property when people attack it. A steward does not cling to things as rights, but instead pursues the same things as a responsibility. It may seem a subtle difference, but they are poles apart.
If the compass of our life is properly magnetized, everything in us will point north to God. If it is not magnetized by God's grace, the needle on the compass will point south to self. And negative emotions are the symptoms that our life is not properly magnetized – that we have stopped being stewards. Or to change the metaphor, when a doctor pokes around and he finds a spot that you wince at, he knows that there is something wrong inside. And these negative emotions are the wincing that exposes the fact that our hearts are not properly aligned. And by the way, bitterness is not the only negative emotion that gives us a clue that we need to rededicate everything to God. There are lots of negative emotions.
Righteous anger can morph into bitterness. A proper sense of guilt over sin can morph into an unrighteous sense of worthlessness if we don't have our eyes fixed on Christ. A righteous feeling of being heartbroken can slide into a hopeless sense of being betrayed by God. A righteous sense of being tired and worn out can slide into the unrighteous sense of apathy. A righteous disappointment with having lost a battle (and who wouldn't be disappointed) can slide into an unrighteous feeling of helpless defeatism. Confusion can easily become cynicism. Concern can become fear. Pity can become condescension.
In each of those illustrations the godly emotion was present when our focus was that of a steward before God, and the negative emotion arose as we started becoming self-focused. I don't have the time to develop this fully – I cut about three pages of material out, trying to explain this. But just realize that when you poke around and start wincing with the pain of bitterness, you may need to daily pray the prayer of St. Ignatius.
What they were willing to endure revealed their most cherished stewardship. They would not have taken that risk for goods, but for family, yes.
But the next point indicates that when you are a steward, you are going to fight hard to honor your stewardship when Satan tries to rob it from you. I see it as a good thing that these men were willing to endure unbelievable risk and unbelievable exhaustion for their family. It shows that they valued people more than they valued things. And that's good because God values people more than He values things. I doubt these men would have gone to these lengths simply to retrieve their goods. But they valued their families more than their lives. God doesn't tell us to lay down our lives to rescue our favorite guitar when the house is burning, but he tells us to lay down our lives for our wives and children. And during tragedies we can see the degree to which we value something. Does it correspond to what God values? Too many men say that they value their families, but their priorities show that they value stuff more.
I read about a robbery that took place in London. Armed men broke into deposit boxes in a London bank and stole valuables estimated to be worth more than seven million dollars. One lady, whose jewelry was appraised at $500,000 was crying and saying, "Everything I had was in there. My whole life was in that box." My whole life was in that box? That shows idolatry. I trust that we would not say that about our houses if our houses burned down. In Luke 12:15 Jesus said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." So stewardship involves proper value put on stuff.
When you have lost everything, can you still be generous? (vv. 11-12)
The third measure is seen in the generosity of these men toward the half dead Egyptian man. They had practically lost everything that they owned in this world, but then they realized that there was a man who had lost more than them. They at least had food. And they shared it with him. And as a result of rescuing his life, they stumbled on information that made them a fortune.
In fact, it reminds me of how the original Waldorf Astoria Hotel was started in New York City. It's a rather fun story. In the late 19th century, an elderly man and woman came out of a horrible rainstorm and approached the registration desk of a small hotel in Philadelphia. The man asked if there was any room for them that night. And the woman added that they had been to some larger hotels, and they were all full. They needed a place to stay.
Well, there were no rooms. The clerk who was working that night was George C. Boldt. He explained that there were several conventions in town and that he doubted there were any rooms available anywhere in any hotel in Philadelphia. But he went on to say, "I wouldn't feel right about turning you out on such a nasty night. Would you be willing to sleep in my personal room?" The couple was taken aback at the generous offer, and didn't quite know how to respond, but he insisted that he would be able to get along just fine if they would use his room.
The next day as the elderly couple was checking out, the old man told the clerk, "You are the kind of man who should be the manager of the best hotel in the country. Maybe someday I'll build one for you." They all smiled at the little joke, and then the clerk helped them carry their bags out to the street and load them in the car. And he forgot about the incident.
But it actually wasn't a joke. It just so happened that this elderly man who had come in from the rain was the wealthiest man in the world at the time – William Waldorf Astor. And that night he decided to build the original Waldorf-Astoria hotel. And he did it because of this clerk. Two years later he surprised the clerk by giving him the job of being manager. He had gone the extra mile, and William Astor noticed.
David went the extra mile because God's law called him to. God's law made him a steward of the stranger suffering in their midst. And we looked at that last week. Of course, David could have thought up all kinds of plausible excuses as to why he couldn't stop to minister to this man: 1) He was in a desperate hurry, 2) this was interrupting a critical task, 3) I have my own problems. But even though those things were true, he showed compassion to a dying man. And because he once again demonstrated a good stewards' heart, God blessed him with more.
I am often amazed at the generosity of poor people in India, China, and Ethiopia who are willing to bless you out of their poverty, and serve you a meal that they can barely afford, and find joy in doing so. And I am equally surprised at how stingy some rich people can be.
But a real measure of our hearts is how generous we can be when we have lost everything. And so we have seen that the losing of stuff is a great test of our hearts on three levels.
Gaining stuff – Our gains can reveal the state of our hearts (vv. 18-31)
Pain can make us value stuff more
The last thing we will look at is the incredible way that our gain of stuff can be a tool to reveal the state of our heart. Are you getting the idea that stuff is a pretty important instrument in God's hands? It really is. Lack of stuff, loss of stuff, and the gaining of stuff can all be a means of growth if we respond rightly, or all three can destroy us.
For some people, the more God blesses them, the more their hearts turn away from Him. Why? Because Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 both say that covetousness is idolatry. If you feed covetousness, you are feeding idolatry, and automatically you are going to be turning away from God. Covetousness cannot exist side by side with faithfulness to God. It's idolatry. It's not the stuff itself, but the love of stuff that is the root of all kinds of evil. And unfortunately, we parents in America do a good job of training our children to think that it is OK to covet. But 2 Peter 2:14 says, "They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children." Wow! Do you want your children to be permanently cursed by God? Then train them in covetous practices. Ephesians 5:5 says that no covetous person, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. Ephesians 5:3 says that covetousness, like uncleanness, should not even be named among us. We shouldn't even joke about it. It should not characterize the church of Jesus Christ. So when I speak of the gaining of stuff as a blessing from the Lord, it is only a blessing if we are stewards. And I'm going to just very quickly highlight a few thoughts from verses 18-31.
God could have given the stuff, the wives, and the children back to these men in a much easier fashion. But often we value what we have worked and labored over much, much more. One of the development organizations in Africa complained that everything they made for various villages seemed to go to pot. For example, they got rid of the filthy water and sewage in one village, and put in a water system and sewage system, and were gratified to see a number of diseases eradicated overnight. A few months later when they went back to inspect, the water system was broken, sewage was backed up and wasn't working, and things were back to where they started. It was filthy. When the humanitarian workers asked why they would tolerate that filth when a bit of maintenance would keep the clean water coming, the chief explained that they didn't own the equipment and couldn't be expected to fix it. They couldn't value what was free.
So the organization promised to rebuild the water and sanitation on two conditions: 1) that the villagers would pay for the water and sanitation, and 2) that a group of villagers would become contractors whom they would train to maintain the system, and who would be paid out of the fees. It worked like a charm. If stuff does not come easy to us, we tend to value it more. And I'm sure that at least partly factored in to why God did it this way.
False generosity #1 - Hero worship as a substitute for stewardship (v. 20b)
Verse 20 is rather interesting. It says, "Then David took all the flocks and herds they had driven before those other livestock, and said, "This is David's spoil." The translation is not super clear here. It's not David who is saying "This is David's spoil." In fact, we will see that David had other ideas for this extra plunder. In the Hebrew, it is, "they said, ‘This is David's spoil." In the Hebrew, the word "said," is in the plural.
Let me back up a bit and explain what the "other livestock" was. There are at least two groupings here. In fact, when you read later in the passage, there are really three groupings of plunder. There is the stuff that was stolen from Ziklag. Every person in Ziklag got back what was stolen. They didn't distribute that equally. They simply returned it to the owners. Then there was the stuff taken from the Philistines, and this was divided up between the 400 and the 200. And the law specified what proportions each would get. And then there was the stuff that was captured from Israel. That's what David was driving ahead of the other loot. He was planning to return it to the Israelite towns that it had been stolen from. But the 400 men (using King Saul thinking) "generously" gave David that stuff that had been taken from the Israelites. They gave what wasn't theirs to give and wasn't David's to keep. And this false generosity was more hero worship than it was a lawful approach to the plunder. And it's easy to be generous with other people's money. By the way, these same people who are so exuberant with hero worship of David here, were about to stone David to death one day before.
Selfishness sandwiched in between (v. 22a)
But the same people who show this false generosity to David show incredible selfishness to the 200. Verse 22 says, "Then all the wicked and worthless men of those who went with David answered and said, ‘Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered…" And by the use of the term "recovered," they are making clear that they won't give back to these men even the stuff that had been stolen from their homes.
It's so easy for us to become possessive of newfound wealth that God has given. "Finders keepers, losers weepers." And it reveals a bad heart. Abraham Lincoln one time had two of his four sons in tow, and both were crying at the top of their lungs. And one of his friends asked him, "What is the matter with your boys?" Lincoln said, "Just what is the matter with the whole world! I have three walnuts and each boy wants two." You've probably seen the same thing. Some people become more possessive, the more they get.
In Langdon Gilkey's book, Shantung Compound, he talked about Japan's invasion of China and the interment of western foreigners in an old church encampment. It wasn't quite a P.O.W camp, but it was the equivalent of a minimum security prison. When Christmas came around, a Red Cross vehicle arrived loaded with packages. And you would think that the distribution of care packages would have been easy – especially since there were 1200 care packages and 600 residents. But this no brainer of giving two packages to each person turned into a major problem. The Americans argued that since these care packages came from the American Red Cross, that they were intended for American residents. They said that if any American wanted to share his own packages, that was his prerogative, but the whole truckload should go to the Americans. So that was a situation where provision in plenty turned into total possessiveness. It's an amazing thing. But you see it everywhere. These men were being stingy despite the fact that they had massive amounts of loot.
False generosity #2 – reluctant giving (v. 22b)
I've labeled point D as "false generosity #2" because of the way the second half of verse 22 is worded. They act like they are being reasonable when they offer to give the wives and the children back to the two hundred, and let them leave. They said that they wouldn't give them anything "except for every man's wife and children, that they may lead them away and depart." That implies that is within their rights to give or withhold the women and the children. Even their pretended generosity was stingy. Not all the 400 said this – only a few. And you probably know of people who give, but they give stingily, or they extend hospitality, but they look like they hope you won't eat too much. You wouldn't think that rich people would worry about that, but they do. Let me read you Proverbs 23:1-3. It's describing being invited to the house of an incredibly rich man.
Proverbs 23:1 "When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you;"
Proverbs 23:2 "and put a knife to your throat If you are a man given to appetite."
Proverbs 23:3 "Do not desire his delicacies, For they are deceptive food."
He is saying that the rich man can be stingy in heart while being forced to appear generous outwardly. He says, "Don't be fooled. You will regret it if you eat too much." He goes on to describe this miser in verses 6-8.
Proverbs 23:6 "Do not eat the bread of a miser, nor desire his delicacies;"
Proverbs 23:7 "for as he thinks in his heart, so is he. "Eat and drink!" he says to you, but his heart is not with you."
Proverbs 23:8 "The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up, and waste your pleasant words."
Why? Because getting generosity from a miser is no fun. You feel beholden to him. You know the miser feels taken advantage of. He feels that you now owe him. Everything you eat is his precious possession. A steward does not have that attitude. It's fun to eat at the house of a steward.
True stewardship (v. 23)
And in verse 23 David explains his own stewardship attitude – that everything comes from God and belongs to God. "But David said, ‘My brethren, you shall not do so with what the LORD has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us." He is pointing out that even though they had all made enormous sacrifices, it would have been impossible to get what they had gotten apart from a miracle from God. It was God who prospered their way, and all this stuff must be seen as belonging to God and having been entrusted to them. When you see everything, absolutely everything, as being from the hand of a loving God, it is easier to make wise stewardship decisions.
True generosity (v. 24)
Point F: David's generosity was not self-centered or reckless. It was governed by the law of God. Verse 24 says, "For who will heed you in this matter? But as his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike." So not only will these men get back what was robbed from their homes, but they will get some of the other plunder. And the way verse 24 is worded, David is implementing what the law of God had already indicated was the proper proportion. And the translation here is misleading. It was not equal. The word "alike" is not in the Hebrew: "as his portion [should be] they shall divide," would be a better translation.
Implementation of God's law (v. 25)
But then verse 25 has David making his first kingly edict. David's edict is an implementing of the law of God, something Saul had failed to do. "So it was, from that day forward; he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day." David is acting in a kingly fashion by giving statutes and ordinances. But since he is a steward, he doesn't make these statutes and ordinances up. Commentators point out that his statutes are based squarely on the law of God. And this too is critical in stewardship. It is God's Word alone that can judge and guide how we handle stuff. Saul had made up his own rules as he went along, and had ignored the law of God when it came to plunder. But David as a steward related everything to God and to God's law. And I think the proper translation of verse 24 backs that interpretation up.
Using stuff for kingdom purposes (vv. 26-31)
Point H says that rather than using the stuff to enrich himself, or to manipulate others, as Saul had done, David sacrificially restored some of the losses that the Israelites had experienced in the circled area that I have drawn on your map of Israel. Commentators point out that David didn't even take his own spoil. He returned what appeared to be Israelite stuff to Israel, and also gave his portion of the spoil from the Philistines to Israel as well. And what I understand by this was that David was using stuff for broader kingdom purposes. It's not as if he couldn't have used it to be more comfortable. But as a true shepherd of Israel, he wanted to bless those who were hurting. Some commentators cynically believe he gave this stuff to buy or curry favor so that these southern areas would enthrone him as king. Who knows, there may have been some of that involved. But I take it that David had a kingdom vision, and God rewarded that kingdom vision.
Remembering those who have blessed you (v. 31b)
But there is one last motive that is hinted at in the last part of verse 31. It speaks of David sending gifts "to all the places where David himself and his men were accustomed to rove." Those places had stood by David when he was fleeing from Saul, and David now returns the favor by blessing them. And this shows sharing of resources between believers in need.
And all of this shows to me that stuff had not become an idol to David. He used stuff, and he valued it to a degree because God valued it. But stuff was ultimately a gift from God's hand and must be used for God's glory. I believe David exemplified Christ's call to us in Matthew 6:33 - "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." There is nothing wrong with stuff. He will add it to us, but only as our goal in life is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, will it do us any good.
Let me conclude by reading you a pretend dialogue between Jesus and a Christian. This is found in Juan Carlos Ortiz' book, Call To Discipleship.
So when man finds Jesus, it costs him everything. Jesus has happiness, joy, peace, healing, security, eternity. Man marvels at such a pearl and says, "I want this pearl. How much does it cost?"
"The seller says, "It's too dear, too costly."
"But how much?"
"Well, it's very expensive."
"Do you think I could buy it?"
"It costs everything you have -- no more, no less -- so anybody can buy it."
"I'll buy it."
"What do you have? Let's write it down."
"I have $10,000 in the bank."
"Good, $10,000. What else?"
"I have nothing more. That's all I have."
"Have you nothing more?"
"Well, I have some dollars here in my pocket."
"I'll see: Thirty, forty, fifty, eighty, one hundred, one hundred twenty -- one hundred twenty dollars."
"That's fine. What else do you have?"
"I have nothing else. That's all."
"Where do you live?"
"I live in my house."
"The house, too."
"Then you mean I must live in the garage?"
"Have you a garage, too? That, too. What else?"
"Do you mean that I must live in my car, then?"
"Have you a car?"
"I have two."
"Both become mine. Both cars. What else?"
"Well, you have my house, the garage, the cars, the money, everything."
"What else? Are you alone in the world?"
"No, I have a wife, two children..."
"Your wife and children, too."
"Yes, everything you have. What else?"
"I have nothing else, I am left alone now."
"Oh, you too! Everything becomes mine -- wife, children, house, money, cars -- everything. And you too. Now you can use all those things here but don't forget they are mine, as you are. When I need any of the things you are using, you must give them to me because now I am the owner."
Brothers and sisters, there may come a time when God tests your stewardship compass to see if it has any magnetism left. It may be only one thing that he takes away – perhaps an investment. And your response to that claim upon your life may determine whether you are a steward whom He can trust with more. Does the compass point true north? Or He may test your compass by taking away a loved one. When you are able to worship and serve God as Job did in Job chapters 1 and 2, and when you are able to pray a blessing upon fellow believers who have one hundred times more than you do, just as Job did in chapter 42, it will be clear that stuff is no longer dangerous to you. In fact, it will be a tool that you can use effectively in His kingdom. And when it is time for us to go to heaven, God will pour into your lap such bounty to use for His glory as will take your breath away. Let's be a people who use stuff to His glory. Let's be stewards. Amen.
Resentment is defined as an attitude that "begins with perceived injury that may have a basis in fact, but more often is occasioned by envy for the possessions or the qualities possessed by another person. If the perception is not either sublimated or assuaged by the doing of some injury to the object of the feeling, the result is a persistent mental condition, stemming from the repression of emotions that are not acceptable when openly expressed. The result is hatred and the impulse to spite and to say things that detract from the other's worth… This phenomenon differs from mere envy or resentment because it is not content to suffer quietly but has a festering quality that seeks outlet in doing harm to its object." Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), pp. 51-52. ↩
Juan Carlos Ortiz, Call to Discipleship (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975), pp. 42,43. ↩