In his first visit to Poland, still under Communist control, John Paul II prayed to the Holy Spirit before a huge crowd in Warsaw saying: “Renew the face of this land.” In Polish there is a difference between saying “this land” and “the land”. The faithful in Poland did understand and the Holy Spirit also understood. Eventually, Poland was freed from the oppressive grip of Communism. Soon after, the whole of Eastern Europe followed. History can change suddenly for the better. Think of Psalm 126:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negev.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
1 Samuel 30 contains one of my favorite stories about King David. After years of persecution by envious King Saul, David takes refuge among the Philistines. The future King of Israel accepts to be a vassal of a Canaanite warlord in exchange for protection and a place to live. David is given the city of Ziklag where he dwells with all his warriors and his families. When the time comes for a decisive battle between the forces of King Saul and the Philistine allies, David dutifully presents himself to battle but he is rejected. The Philistines do not completely trust David to remain loyal through the contest. David returns to Ziklag and finds it burned. A band of marauders had taken all his family and the families of all his men captive. Finding their d\families and possessions gone, the troops began to murmur against him.
David humbly asks the Lord what to do. After years of exile and humiliation everything appears to be lost. God asks him to pursue the robbers. Some of David’s men are simply too exhausted to continue and stay behind. While chasing after the Amalekite band they find a half-dead Egyptian slave …
In the open country they found an Egyptian, and brought him to David. They gave him bread and he ate; they gave him water to drink; they also gave him a piece of fig cake and two clusters of raisins. When he had eaten, his spirit revived; for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. Then David said to him, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you from?’ He said, ‘I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite. My master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. We had made a raid on the Negeb of the Cherethites and on that which belongs to Judah and on the Negeb of Caleb; and we burned Ziklag down.’ David said to him, ‘Will you take me down to this raiding party?’ He said, ‘Swear to me by God that you will not kill me, or hand me over to my master, and I will take you down to them.’ 1 Samuel 30:11-15
In spite of his urgency to find the robbers, David took precious time to help this Egyptian. Perhaps David remembered the words of Deuteronomy 23:7 “You shall not despise an Egyptian; because you were a pilgrim in his land.” In time mercy pays off and the former slave takes David to the marauder’s base. David not only recovers his family but he also gets to keep all the goods and cattle that the Amalekites had stolen. In only one day, the future King of Israel goes from poverty to affluence.
However, the good part of this story is not what David did but what the Lord did while David was busy recovering his family and possessions. Far away in Mount Gilboa the battle between Philistines and Israelites raged. King Saul lost the battle, his life, and the life of his heir apparent, Jonathan. The first dynasty of Israel was wiped out in only one day. The prophecy uttered by Samuel decades ago came to pass, and David was now the King of Israel. The Lord restored David’s fortunes in a powerful manner.
The lesson: no matter how bleak the present circumstances may look, faith and mercy can call grace to save the day. God is watching, God is in control, God is using our own circumstances to teach the wise.
I haven’t been too good at practicing this but I can preach it well: do not give in to despair and keep an eye for opportunities to be effectively merciful. Mercy on the rejected Egyptian was the means for the rejected general to become King of Israel. On the other hand, the unmerciful, envious, insecure Saul, died a coward’s death falling on his own sword. The day divine patience ended, Saul lost battle, crown, family, and soul.
The lesson: no matter how strong the proud may be, the hand of God can wipe them out without even staining the sword of the just with their blood. Wait and you shall see them fall.
Emitte Spiritum tuum, et creabuntur.
Et renovabis faciem terrae.
Send forth your Spirit and they will be created, and the face of the land will be renewed. Today, as we see the agents of darkness take refuge on the sacred hill, remember how Saul perished but also remember how David was exalted. God is about to change the fortunes of Zion.
But when you are invited [to a banquet], go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Luke 14:10-11.