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“Under the Tamarisk Tree”

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
May 17, 2024 4:00 am

“Under the Tamarisk Tree”

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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May 17, 2024 4:00 am

King Saul’s reign began with great promise and potential. The end of his story, however, was savage and undignified. So what can we learn from this tragedy? Join us on Truth For Life as Alistair Begg shares a warning, an assurance, and a challenge.


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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!


In the Old Testament, King Saul's reign begins with great promise and potential, but as we see today on Truth for Life, it has a not-so-great ending to the story. What can we learn from this Old Testament tragedy? Alistair Begg delves into this question as he concludes our study in 1 Samuel.

We're looking at chapter 31. Well, if, like me—and I know some of you are like me—you read obituaries, you know that the best of them are like mini-biographies. And I learn a tremendous amount—and so do you if you read them—about people in relatively short order. The saddest of them give to us the account of an individual whose life was brim full of promise and potential in the early days. And then, as we read on, we discover that that potential was never realized.

In certain cases, it was actually squandered, and in the end, the record is one of desperate sadness. Now, the life of Saul, I think, actually fits that description. It's quite a while since we were introduced to him. He was a handsome young man, no one more so. And from his shoulders upward, he was taller than any of the people.

So, a tremendous start. He received an anointing. He received a divine commission, and his divine commission was to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines. And we have to understand that he did want to do that.

But along the way, it has all gone terribly wrong. And by the time we reach this final chapter, we find him very different from standing head and shoulders above, but rather dying on the battlefield before those who he was asked to go and vanquish. I had just two pictures in my mind and triggered because of this reference to the tamarisk tree in verse 31. You will perhaps remember that one of the pictures not so long ago, in chapter 22, was of him sitting under the tamarisk tree with his spear in his hand and surrounded by his servants.

So, still with potential, still with a measure of authority, still heading forward. So there he sits under the tamarisk tree, and now, with his body burned, his bones are buried under the tamarisk tree. It's a fairly short chapter compared to many of them, and so we work our way through it. In verse 1, we have a summary of the Philistine victory.

Let's just understand this, that while this is happening in chapter 31, the events that we have seen in chapter 30 were happening simultaneously. So, while David is securing a great victory in chapter 30, Saul is now suffering defeat at the hands of the enemy. So the summary is in verse 1, and then in verses 2 through to verse 7, we have, if you like, the tragedy that describes Israel's loss. So the summary of the Philistines' victory is there just in a verse.

There they were scattered, vanquished, slain on the mountain, and now here we have it—the details. Now, I think ten points should be given to the three sons, and perhaps particularly to Jonathan, for rallying alongside their father in this battle. Especially when you think of Jonathan, the last time that we saw him was in chapter 23, where he's seeking to strengthen the hand of David, you will remember, and he says to him, "'Do not fear. You shall be the king, and I shall be with you,' or, "'I'll be at your right hand to help you.'"

But of course, that was not to be. And so here he dies alongside his brothers, as we see. Jonathan, Abinadab, Mal Kishor, the sons of Saul, are gone. The battle is pressing hard against Saul. You've got the picture of him fleeing. He's not going to be reached by foot soldiers, but he can be reached by the archers. They're firing at him. He takes a number of these arrows to himself, and now he is badly wounded.

And with the life, as it were, ebbing from him, he's still giving out orders. He orders his armor-bearer to draw his sword and kill him with it. And the armor-bearer, as you see from the text, refuses to do so. If this was a class, I would ask the class, And do you remember who was Saul's first armor-bearer? And some bright girl in the class would say, Yes, David was his first armor-bearer. And then I would say, And how did the first armor-bearer deal with Saul? Would he have taken Saul's life?

And then another bright button in the group would say, No, no, no, we saw that. We saw it in Engedi, and then we saw it at Ziph, when the armor-bearer, namely David, had the opportunity to take Saul out in that circumstance. And what did he say? Well, he said that it would be absolutely wrong. The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to the Lord's anointed. I would not put out my hand against the Lord's anointed. And so this armor-bearer, I think that explains his fear. Others have different perspectives.

I don't know. But Saul is now seeking to preserve his dignity, to save himself from mistreatment. And so the armor-bearer refusing to do this, Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And his armor-bearer follows suit. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell upon his sword and died with him. And then just in three words—look at those three words at the beginning of 6—"Thus Saul died." In other words, as we read this, we're supposed to pause and say, Really? Yes.

Along with him, his three sons, the men in his entourage, he dragged them all down with him. Now, I think it is only right that we pause for a moment on this. Let the picture sink into our minds, not out of a kind of morbid curiosity like onlookers at the scene of a car crash, but as mortals. We're not supposed to be able to pass over scenes of death unwittingly and unfeelingly, because we ourselves are mortal. Death is the destiny of every man, and the living should take this to heart. Because the tragedy of death in the Bible is a reminder that every death is a tragedy.

Now, we need to think this out, and we won't delay on it, but I want to say a word or two. Because it is perfectly common to hear the view espoused in our day that death is simply the end of life. It's just what happens. It is the cessation of existence. It is a natural part of things. Many who are well-meaning in end-of-life affairs are constantly telling people in the final embers of their day simply to breathe in and embrace it. Now, the Bible challenges this in its entirety. Because the Bible says that death is not the cessation of existence.

In fact, the very reverse is the case. Jesus, 12 of Luke, I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear. Fear him who, after he is killed, has authority to cast into hell.

Yes, I tell you, fear him. The Bible knows nothing of death as the cessation of existence. In the Bible, you will find no indication that death is inherent in creation—that it is part of creation's grand design.

No. Genesis chapter 2 makes it clear. God speaks to Adam and Eve in the garden, and he tells them, In the day that you disobey me, in the day that you do what I'm telling you not to do, you shall surely die. And people say, Well, you know, that's that stuff at the beginning of Genesis.

Well, I'll leave that comment aside. But when Paul, who is a mighty intellect and a man of God, reflects on that, he gives it to us in Romans chapter 5 and verse 12, and this is what he says, Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men, because all men sinned. Now, back to the text. We're told that the impact of death on the men on the other side of the valley, there beyond the Jordan, it brought them down as well. They said, Well, if Saul's gone, his sons are gone, we might as well be gone. And so we're told that they abandoned their cities.

And as had been the case before in the story, they became occupied territory. And thus Saul died. Disobedience. Downfall. Death. Disgrace.

But, you know, credit where credit is due. He died in the context where he was trying to be the king. You will be the one that vanquishes the Philistines. He tried.

He failed. Now, in verse 8, we see in 9 and, what, 10, you see the brutality of the Philistine army, the brutality of these people. The mopping-up operation begins, and in the process they come on Saul, and they find his sons.

What a prize! The head of Saul. The very same Saul who had called for the head of Goliath.

And in the pictures that we sometimes see of war movies, the victors moving across the scene where the battle has ensued, and they're picking up bits and pieces, weapons. And there, the picture is so graphic that scattered across the hillside are those who had lined up alongside Saul and his sons, and their uniforms are removed, and their weapons are taken away, and they're stripped down in the ignominy of it all. Well, now we see him—decapitated, disgraced, disfigured, and displayed. Payback time for the Philistines. So they cut off his head, and they stripped off his armor. In Chronicles, where you have parallel passages to this, it actually says in 1 Chronicles 10.10, and they put his armor in the temple of their gods and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.

You ever think about that for just a moment? They're still smarting from the Dagon incident back in chapter 5. You remember where Dagon falls down, and he smashes in pieces, and now they said, Yeah, you might have been able to topple our Dagon, but we have toppled your king, and we have put his head in there to testify to the fact that we have won, that the God of Israel is vanquished. You see, this is not about the defeat of Saul. This is about the enemies of Israel saying, We know how to run life. We know how to win.

And that's the picture. A toppled idol is nothing compared to your toppled king. And you can see that in this humiliation and degradation, there is a total disregard for not only life but also for death. There is a right way to deal with death and dead bodies. It's not time for the discussion.

But I'm telling you, these are the forerunners of the people who, in magazines that are easily found when you're flying or sitting in a doctor's office, who are suggesting that the wonderful way to think of dealing with grandpa is to turn him into compost. The enemies of God have no concern for life in its origins and life in its endings. It is a distinctive of biblical Christianity.

It is not mirrored in Hinduism or in Islam, anywhere at all. It is absolutely unique. And this testimony remains in Scripture to their brutality. And their brutality—the actual physicality of it—is only matched by their message. They have a message, and they're gonna get the message out as loudly as they can. They sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the gospel.

You see that? To carry the good news. You see, the enemies of God have a gospel. They have their own good news. They had a message to proclaim.

There's no shame there. It's the Philistine gospel. They're carrying it to the house of their idols.

They're bearing it so that the people may celebrate it. Now, as I said, I'm not a poet, and I surely can't write songs, but as I was studying this week, I said, This is the absolute opposite of See what a morning gloriously bright. And I just wrote down, See what an evening, horribly dark, With the triumph of death in Goeboah. Naked the king hangs, suns nailed beside him, As the message sounds out to the nation, Love is dead, death has won, hell has conquered.

That's what they're saying. And loved ones, that is what the world outside of Christ is essentially saying. It is the conflict between light and darkness. John Woodhouse captures it wonderfully in just a sentence or two. He says, Every mockery of God and his people, every expression of scorn toward the Lord Jesus and his followers is a version of the Philistine gospel.

Well, that puts it in context, doesn't it? We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. So the summary in verse 1, and then the tragedy in 2–7, and the brutality in 8–10, and then the finality in the context of kindness. But when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard, the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead had reason to be thankful for Saul, because back in chapter 11, by Saul's intervention, they had been rescued. And so now a number of them must have said to one another, You know what? The best thing we could do in this circumstance is go and rescue him.

We could repay his kindness. And it is in this context that we realize that the brutality of these men in relationship to the body of Saul had extended to the bodies of his sons. They not only nailed Saul up against the wall in Bethshe, but they nailed up the three boys beside him.

And so they come. I don't know how they pulled it off, but they did it. They must have been valiant. All the valiant men. Well, wonderful, isn't it? And they came to Jabesh and burned them there.

That is so incongruous, because this is distinctive. I can only assume that the dissolution of the body had set in so significantly that the putrefaction of the body was such that the only right thing for them to do in the interests of health and everything else would be to do something that wasn't normal for them to do. But you will notice that there's no compost-making here. They do not burn it down to nothing. No, they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh.

And as a mark of respect, they observed Shiva, and they fasted for seven days. Our time is virtually gone, but we dare not miss the folly of placing our hopes in human power, whether they're pastors or prophets or priests or presidents or kings. Look at the scene. The burial site does not signal the failure of God's purpose. Eli is gone, Samuel is gone, Saul now is gone. Well, the people are able to say, We have David up next. But wait! He's gonna be gone too.

Why? Because the whole of the Old Testament, in its unfolding story—whether it is in the picture of the prophet, as in Samuel, or the priest, as in Eli, or the king, as in Saul, or even in David—is longing for the fulfillment, for someone who will come. I remember 1972 in Dallas at EXPLOS 72 with Campus Crusade, just feeling so stirred as some musical band played up on that football field, and they would sing out into the evening. There were a hundred—I don't know many—a hundred thousand people there, and they used to sing out, Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above him, there's no other, because Jesus is the way. I remember thinking as a twenty-year-old, you know, that is the message. And here I am.

I'm saying the same thing. Because it's what the Bible says in the face of political chaos, social disintegration, the inevitability of death. We need to take ourselves by the hand. We need to consider what the Scriptures have to say. And I want to end as I ended last time, giving Peter the stage in his sermon on the day of Pentecost. And as he speaks about the plan and purpose of God, he reaches the person of David. And in verse 25 of Acts chapter 2, he's talking about the fact of the resurrection of Jesus.

It wasn't possible for death to hold Jesus. Because Jesus triumphed over death, behold, the sinless Savior dies," and so on. And then he says, For David says concerning him… This is what David says concerning Jesus. And then he quotes David in the sixteenth Psalm. And then Peter picks it up, and he says, Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.

Being there for a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ. Now, what does he mean by that? He means Psalm 16 verse 11. In your presence there is fullness of joy. At your right hand there is pleasure forevermore. He will not abandon my soul to Hades.

You will not let your holy ones see corruption. That's what, says Peter, he's talking about. You know the phraseology, The king is dead, long live the king. And if you know the source of that, then it is simply the transition that is recognized in the British monarchy. It was in Elizabeth's line, of course, The king is dead, long live the queen.

But we can say that today. The king is dead, Saul, long live the king, Jesus. Are you in his army? Is he your hope and your consolation?

Those are vital questions for all of us to be thinking about. Are you in Christ's army? You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life. Today's message wraps up our study in 1 Samuel, but let me remind you this series makes an excellent study for you to go through on your own or with a small group. Transcripts of these messages are available online. You can use those to create discussion outlines. The transcripts are located right beneath the audio player for each message and you're welcome to print them out.

Use them however you find helpful. You can search on our website for a study in 1 and 2 Samuel. Again, the website Next week, we're starting a series called Parental Priorities and to go along with this series, we want to recommend to you a small practical book titled Parenting Essentials, Equipping Your Children for Life. Ask for your copy of the book today when you donate to the Ministry of Truth for Life online at slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. By the way, if you're interested in combining spiritual enrichment with some beautiful views, join Alistair on a seven-day cruise along the New England and Eastern Canadian coastlines. This is a tour that departs from Boston, Massachusetts on September 21st and makes stops in Nova Scotia, Rockland, Maine, Quebec City, other ports of call. To find out more, visit I'm Bob Lapine. You may have heard new parents lamenting the fact that their baby didn't come with an owner's manual. Next week, we'll begin a series that makes it clear that there are spiritual essentials for Christian parenting found in the Bible. I hope you can join us. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-17 08:09:26 / 2024-05-17 08:17:43 / 8

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