by William Michael
January 20, 2012
This morning, we read the acts of David prior to his ascension to the throne of Israel. What we find in David is a man who operates on a set of principles very different from most men today. Let’s consider the context of today’s reading and its importance for us.
If you read my article “What David Teaches Us” you will know that King Saul had sinned against God by trying to be religious instead of obedient and God told him that the kingdom would be stripped away from him. God then sent Samuel to prophet to anoint his next king–and it was the boy David, brought in from the fields where he was watching his father’s sheep. David then rose to fame in Israel by thrashing Goliath in a historic one-on-one fight that saved Israel from the Philistines.
What happened next was what brought great trouble to David. The women of Israel took the streets singing:
“Now when David returned, after be slew the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with timbrels of joy, and cornets. And the women sung as they played, and they said: I Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands. And Saul was exceeding angry, and this word was displeasing in his eyes, and he said: They have given David ten thousands, and to me they have given but a thousand; what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul did not look on David with a good eye from that day and forward. And the day after the evil spirit from God came upon Saul.”
David, knowing that Saul was mad and wanted to kill him, fled for his life, with his friends joining him. This period of life was a time of great suffering for David, wherein his reward for saving Israel was exile. He spent is days wandering in the wilderness and among pagan men as an exile, deprived of the only thing he loved in the world: worshipping God in God’s land.
Psalm 131 shows us that, despite his heroic deeds and courage, the Israelites remembered David for his meekness: “O Lord, remember David in his meekness.” Our Blessed Lord taught us the significance of this virtue, saying: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.” Indeed, we find God’s will fulfilled in the life of David, but not in the way men expect God’s will to be fulfilled.
In fact, our problem with living according to God’s will is that we don’t seem to understand in the modern world what God’s will is. We hear people constantly talking about “praying to know God’s will” or trying to discern God’s will in some series of events that has come upon them, but this is not what it means to live according to God’s will. If “finding God’s will” meant figuring out God’s mysterious plan for our individual decisions and actions, any places of Scripture would make no sense. For example, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray:
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Now, if I don’t know how events will shake out for me, it would seem that I couldn’t know God’s will. Moreover, how could Our Lord command men to do God’s will on earth (for our praying implies our doing) if it were such a mystery?
The truth is that God’s will is only a mystery to those who (a) don’t know God, (b) don’t know His commandments and/or (c) are not under the influence of the Holy Spirit as Christians. Many claim to know God, or to know His commandments or to be have the Holy Spirit, but these three must be possessed together for man to know God’s will. The confusion most Christians reveal is proof that something is wrong. A few years back, the WWJD? fad was popular, but they had it right. Every decision we make should flow from the question “What would God do?” The problem is that wearing a bracelet doesn’t give a man that knowledge and much of what is done in the name of Jesus would never be done by Jesus. Everyone with the Gospels open before them can know plainly that Jesus would never be playing professional football on Sunday afternoon or acting in an immoral movie or acting like a clown to try an win converts. Our Lord was religious, chaste and sober. Nevertheless, many such things are done “in Jesus’ name” because we are confused concerning what the will of God is.
First, knowing God’s will is knowing God’s mind. This, however, was impossible throughout ancient history. God said to holy Isaiah,
“My thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways.”
For the ancients, God’s mind was unknowable and full of mystery. God left men with creation, experience and reason to teach them for many centuries and slowly began to share His mind with them. He did so, however, in a mysterious way: through the inspiration of seers and prophets. God singled out men and spoke with them, sharing his mind and commanding them to share it with the people. This ministry of the prophets was very mysterious. At times, prophets were audibly spoken to by God, at other times, visited by angels, on occasion prophets were lifted into ecstasies and spoke things they themselves didn’t understand. God revealed Himself through the prophets in two ways, the first of which was through the delivery of spoken commandments or laws.
“The king sent letters by the hands of messengers to Jerusalem, and to all the cities of Juda: that they should follow the law of the nations of the earth, And should forbid holocausts and sacrifices, and atonements to be made in the temple of God. And should prohibit the sabbath, and the festival days, to be celebrated. And he commanded the holy places to be profaned, and the holy people of Israel. And he commanded altars to be built, and temples, and idols, and swine’s flesh to be immolated, and unclean beasts.
And that they should leave their children uncircumcised, and let their souls be defiled with all uncleannesses, and abominations, to the end that they should forget the law, and should change all the justifications of God. And that whosoever would not do according to the word of king Antiochus should be put to death. According to all these words he wrote to his whole kingdom, and he appointed rulers over the people that should force them to do these things. And they commanded the cities of Juda to sacrifice.”
Now, this event revealed two different classes of Jews. One was like most modern Christians and the other very different. Many of the Jews began thinking, ‘What might this mean?” and they worked to put their own interpretation and spin on these events. “Maybe, by making friends with Greeks, our Jewish culture can easily spread through all the world! Maybe we should submit for the sake of God’s glory?” Maybe, maybe, maybe. Ultimately, however, this thinking flows from unbelief, disobedience and a desire for self-preservation. These Jews were called “wicked” in Scripture. The holy Jews were those who held fast to the spoken commandments–no matter what.
“The women that circumcised their children, were slain according to the commandment of king Antiochus. And they hanged the children about their necks in all their houses: and those that had circumcised them, they put to death. And many of the people of Israel determined with themselves, that they would not eat unclean things: and they chose rather to die than to be defiled with unclean meats. And they would not break the holy law of God, and they were put to death.”
That was the will of God–not that they should preserve their own lives, not that they themselves should be the world’s pastors and teachers, but that world history might receive the testimony of their own blood and be given an example of what holiness looks like. These, my friends, will be the men and women with whom we will be compared on the day of judgment. The will of God is known and we can see what men have given to keep it.
Second, God revealed future events through the prophets. As an example of this, He told Abraham that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan and live in freedom—in “their own” land. Thus, the Jews who were in Egygpt during the days of slavery were divided into two groups–(a) those who believed in God’s promise to Abraham and expected their deliverance and (b) those who didn’t believe in God’s promise and schemed to gain their freedom or at least their comfort by compromise. Those who believed prayed and never lost hope. God answered their prayers sending a prophet (Moses) to deliver them. Their prayers were answered for a time with increased toil and hardship–which revealed that many of them were losing hope. Yet they were led forth from Egypt into the wilderness for a time of purification and testing. Still, the promise of future events drove the faithful on, believing that every obstacle was nothing but a test of their faith in God’s ability to perform what He had promised”. The unfaithful interpreted obstacles and difficulties as “signs of God’s will” that were false. God’s will was already revealed and known, not to be discerned by changing circumstances.
Thus, in the ancient world, holy men ordered their lives to OBEY God’s will which was revealed and known. God’s will was clear. The question was whether a man obeyed it or not. The normal way in which God’s will was disobeyed was by pretending that God’s will was NOT revealed and known but to be discerned through events. Sound familiar?
Over time, God revealed Himself and His mind in greater and greater detail. As God reveals more, men are accountable to God’s latest revelation. A man living in 1000 BC cannot serve God acceptably by living like Abraham, who lived 800 years earlier and knew much less of God’s mind. This is what is most significant about David.
David’s life was lived according to a much higher moral standard than we would find among the Jews of Abraham’s time, or Moses’ time. The law of the Lord revealed to Moses was already established in Israel and had been reflected upon for hundreds of years. In David we find a man whose mind was steeped in two things: (a) the revealed laws of God and (b) the history of God’s works–both in Israel and in his own life.
What we NEVER find in David is confusion concerning God’s will. For example, when a lion attacked his father’s sheep, David fought the lion and saved his father’s lamb. He didn’t stand around confused, asking, “Well, would God want me to risk my life for a lamb or would God rather than I let the lamb die and save my own life, or is God trying to teach me something from this experience…?” No. David ran and killed the lion. He was a shepherd. That was his job. When Goliath stands before Israel, David doesn’t stand around wondering what God’s will might be for that situation. David ran and killed Goliath.
Now, David’s life takes an unexpected twist–he is punished and exiled for doing what he knew was God’s will by a man who spent his life trying to figure out God’s will. Saul did many evil things to David and tormented him for a long time. Finally (as we read today), Saul walked right into David’s hands.
What is God’s will?
What happened was quite amazing. David and his friends had hidden from Saul and his thousands of soldiers in a cave in the wilderness. Saul had no idea where David was. Yet, one day, Saul had to go to the bathroom. He commanded his army to stand still while he relieved himself…in a certain cave. Well, that was David’s cave.
As Saul entered the cave, David faced a decision: to kill or not kill? David’s men urge David–notice!–with religious words:
The servants of David said to him: “Behold the day, of which the Lord said to thee: I will deliver thy enemy unto thee!”
David, however, knows better. He isn’t trying to figure out God’s will every day. He knows God’s will. As a result, he knows what he should and shouldn’t do–even in an incredibly strange situation as this. David elects to sneak up and cut a piece from the king’s robe to serve as a proof of the opportunity he had, but avoided. What we learn of David after this is amazing:
“After David did this, his heart struck him, because he had cut off the hem of Saul’s robe. And he said to his men: “The Lord be merciful unto me, that I may do no such thing to my master the Lord’s anointed, as to lay my hand upon him, because he is the Lord’s anointed.” And David stopped his men with his words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul.”
Here, we learn David’s thoughts, and they are incredibly beautiful. While David was being urged to rise and kill Saul, the law in David’s heart prevented him. He knew that, regardless of any circumstances, no man should dishonor God’s anointed king. That was God’s will. Period.
But David had already been anointed king! Yes, but his hour had not yet come. But Saul was a wicked man! Yes, but he was God’s king nonetheless. But it would be so much better for a holy man to be king! Yes, but a holy man must act like a holy man. But maybe this was God’s doing and, as David’s men said, the means by which David’s kingdom was to begin? IMPOSSIBLE. God said “Honor the king.”
David’s heart struck him, that is, his conscience condemned him, because the law was clear and what he did–as small as it was–was dishonoring to the king. David confessed his error to his men and quenched, by that law, the selfish and reckless zeal of his friends. David teaches us, as he taught them, that God’s will is not to be discerned through the events of life, but through the clear knowledge of God’s commandments.
Today, however, we cannot live as David lived. He lived in 1000 BC and knew very little of God’s mind. St. John tells us that prior to the coming of Christ, “No man had ever seen God.” That seems to be wrong. Didn’t Moses see God? Didn’t Isaiah see God? Apparently not. The world knew God through commandments, whose interpretation was still quite difficult and inconsistent even among the best Jews, but the world before Christ, could not know God as we can know Him. As a result we are accountable to higher and more perfect standards. This is why Jesus said:
“I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
No, you can’t live as the Pharisees lived. More of God is known now than then. You cannot live as David lived. To whom much is given, much is expected, and we have been given far more than David was. David saw God through commandments and promises. The law is a revelation of God, for it is the revelation of God’s mind. This, however, is far less revealing than what has been made available to us.
Now, at this point, if you’re paying attention, your mind will probably be ready to run ahead and predict where this is going. “Ah, I know, he’s going to discuss the Incarnation and how Jesus’s life shows us God’s will.” Yes, you’re right. But I’m also going to show you more, so keep reading. :)
St. John told us that the Son of God’s life on earth, narrated in the Holy Gospels, is God’s greatest and fullest revelation. Jesus said, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” St. John explained to his audiences that the ministry of the Apostles was unlike any prophet’s ministry before:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon, and our own hands have handled, of the word of life: For the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared unto us: That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
The revelation of God is no longer limited to commandments and promises. It is a living man, like us, walking and talking in the world. We can study his every step, know his thoughts, see his demeanor, be sure of his priorities and concerns. There is no more mystery. We no longer need to form in our own minds an image of what God wants us to be. God has provided that model in the incarnate life of His Son. St. Peter explained this to his audience:
“He has given you an example, that you should follow in His steps.”
Now, it seems that this would be enough, but it isn’t and wasn’t. God has given us even more. When Christ ascended into Heaven, one thing yet remained to be done in the history of God’s revelation to man. God revealed this final phase of revelation long ago, through the prophet Jeremaiah:
“Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Juda: Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: the covenant which they made void, and I had dominion over them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: Know the Lord: for all shall know me from the least of them even to the greatest, saith the Lord.”
I will give my law in their bowels and I will write it in their heart.
The final stage of God’s revelation is what St. Paul called “the renewal of our minds”. He explained this ancient mystery to the Corinthians, saying:
“For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God.”
This single verse can transform our minds forever! The mind of God had been unknown to man for all of world history except for where God revealed it and where God’s spirit could be understood through the things that He made and did. The Jews said, “Secret things to the Lord our God: things that are manifest, to us.” Today, however, the same Spirit that created the world, gave the Law, inspired the prophets and influenced the life of Our Lord…is given to us.
How, then, can there be all this confusion in modern Christian circles regarding “the will of God”? Twenty year old men sit around wondering if they are “called” to religious life. Men sit in confusion trying to figure out “what God wants them to do” in their lives and businesses. Mothers sit around unable to discern “God’s will” for her children and her own life. Churches gather to pray to know “God’s will” for their church and community.
Uh, what are we talking about here?
God’s will cannot be any more clearly revealed than it already has been. I will gladly tell you all what God’s will is:
- Obey the Ten Commandments
- Perform the Works Mercy
- Keep the Precepts of the Church
- Pray according to the Lord’s Prayer and Psalms (hint: Liturgy of the Hours)
- Study and follow the examples and doctrine Holy Scripture
- Study and follow the examples of the Saints
Everything else will take care of itself when these duties are taken care of and they will direct our decisions, define who we are, order our lives. They will give us the criteria by which we answer, “Yes.” or “No.” to any question or opportunity that arises. Our decisions will all be made according to our moral duties once they are known. This is why Abraham left Mesopotamia. This is why Moses returned nine times to Pharaoh. This is why David spared Saul’s life. This is why the widow gave Elijah the last bit of food she had. This is why the holy Jews in the days of the Maccabees gave their lives. This is why Jesus ate with tax collectors and was silent before Pilate. This is why the Apostles were all put to death or imprisoned. This is why St. Polycarp threatened the Roman authorities with damnation at the expense of his life. This is why St. Sebastian refused to serve in the Roman military. This is why St. Francis forfeited his inheritance and lived in poverty. This is why St. Anthony said no to knighthood and worked in the streets of Padua instead. This is why St. Ignatius gave up his career in the military. This is why St. Aloysius Gonzaga died of the plague and St. Damian of Molokai died a leper. This is why Mother Theresa left the classroom for the streets.
They knew God’s will and it had nothing to do with the details of their circumstances, times or place of life, condition of the Church in their day, or the relative holiness of the people around them. God’s will was absolute and clear and the only question was whether or not they would do it.
Therefore, surrounded by whackiness and confusion on every side today, let us not be whacky or confused. God’s will is clear. The question for us today is whether or not we are doing it and promoting it. David’s example to us is wonderful. Do not try to interpret the meaning of the events of life: just do what you know is always God’s will. We must simply live as we pray, and Jesus taught us what we ought to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
That prayer, set into action, is God’s will for you and me today and every day: God’s name, God’s kingdom, God’s will, work and community, mercy, holiness, salvation. Period.
William Michael, Director
Classical Liberal Arts Academy
P.S. These are daily reflections, not any kind of polished, professional articles. If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything in this reflection, please comment or contact me by e-mail. Thanks.