Lessons from the Brook Besor

[Below is the text of a sermon I preached at our church on 12th August 2018.]


1 Samuel 30 and John 4

Sin versus Failure

What is the difference between sin and failure?

Is it possible to fail without that being construed as sin?

Can sin ever be regarded as anything but some form of failure?

How do you see the distinction between sin and failure?

I think that all sin is a failure, but failure is not necessarily sinful. And so sin is a subset of failure, a part of it.

Today I want us to consider this idea of failure and sin. One thing that failure and sin have in common is that there are often consequences. Sometimes failures or sinful actions can be extraordinarily damaging or even fatal so I’m not trying to whitewash or minimise failure and sin, but I want us to see that there can be grace, mercy and and forgiveness.

To help us do that I want to spend some time looking at a couple of different narratives or vignettes from the Bible that involve some form of sin or failure. We’ll see what they have in common and consider what they can teach us about how we can recover from failure.

Interestingly both of these narratives involves water.

The Brook Besor [1 Samuel 30]

The first of these is found in the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 30. But before we commence reading from there, I think it would be helpful to set some context.

Background to 1 Samuel

The broad story of 1 Samuel follows the lives of Samuel, Saul and David. It commences with Samuel’s birth and concludes with Saul’s death. The book comprises 31 chapters and comprises a part of the historical books of the Old Testament. Mid way through, in 1 Samuel 16 David is anointed as king to succeed Saul. He is biding his time, not seeking to undermine or usurp the crown but respecting God’s choice of Saul as king.

But Saul wasn’t so respectful and was seeking David’s life because of jealousy. 1 Samuel 23 recounts Saul hunting David but David escaping into the wilderness of Ziph, near Hebron. By this stage David had accumulated an army of about six hundred men (along with wives, children, households, flocks and herds).

This cat and mouse game between Saul and David and their respective bands continues for much of the second half of 1 Samuel. We see Saul slide into paranoia and fear, but interspersed with moments of lucidity and proper perspective.

Despite Saul’s threats and attacks against David, David refuses to raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed. David has several opportunities to kill Saul:

  • One one occasion noted in 1 Samuel 24 Saul was relieving himself in the very cave that David and his men were hiding in. David cuts off one corner of Saul’s robe.
  • On another occasion seen in 1 Samuel 26 David and Abishai go into Saul’s camp one evening when Saul and his men are asleep and steal a spear and a jug.

To escape Saul’s pursuit, we read in 1 Samuel 27 David approaches King Achish of Gath and asks for a safe haven away from Saul. King Achish grants David the town of Ziklag in the south of Judah near the Negev.

In 1 Samuel 29 David and his six hundred men leave Ziklag to go and offer to fight for Achish against the Israelites, but the Philistines won’t allow that and insist that David and his men return to Ziklag.

And here’s where we commence our narrative from 1 Samuel 30!

1 Samuel 30:1-25 from the New Living Translation © 1996:

Three days later, when David and his men arrived home at their town of Ziklag, they found that the Amalekites had made a raid into the Negev and had burned Ziklag to the ground. They had carried off the women and children and everyone else but without killing anyone.

When David and his men saw the ruins and realized what had happened to their families, they wept until they could weep no more. David’s two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel, were among those captured. David was now in serious trouble because his men were very bitter about losing their wives and children, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the LORD his God.

Then he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring me the ephod!” So Abiathar brought it. Then David asked the LORD, “Should I chase them? Will I catch them?”

And the LORD told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!” So David and his six hundred men set out, and they soon came to Besor Brook. But two hundred of the men were too exhausted to cross the brook, so David continued the pursuit with his four hundred remaining troops.

Some of David’s troops found an Egyptian man in a field and brought him to David. They gave him some bread to eat and some water to drink. They also gave him part of a fig cake and two clusters of raisins because he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for three days and nights. It wasn’t long before his strength returned.

“To whom do you belong, and where do you come from?” David asked him.

“I am an Egyptian – the slave of an Amalekite,” he replied. “My master left me behind three days ago because I was sick. We were on our way back from raiding the Kerethites in the Negev, the territory of Judah, and the land of Caleb, and we had just burned Ziklag.”

“Will you lead me to them?” David asked. The young man replied, “If you swear by God’s name that you will not kill me or give me back to my master, then I will guide you to them.”

So the Egyptian led them to the Amalekite encampment. When David and his men arrived, the Amalekites were spread out across the fields, eating and drinking and dancing with joy because of the vast amount of plunder they had taken from the Philistines and the land of Judah. David and his men rushed in among them and slaughtered them throughout that night and the entire next day until evening. None of the Amalekites escaped except four hundred young men who fled on camels. David got back everything the Amalekites had taken, and he rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing: small or great, son or daughter, nor anything else that had been taken. David brought everything back. His troops rounded up all the flocks and herds and drove them on ahead. “These all belong to David as his reward!” they said.

When they reached Besor Brook and met the two hundred men who had been too tired to go with them, David greeted them joyfully. But some troublemakers among David’s men said, “They didn’t go with us, so they can’t have any of the plunder. Give them their wives and children, and tell them to be gone.”

But David said, “No, my brothers! Don’t be selfish with what the LORD has given us. He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the enemy. Do you think anyone will listen to you when you talk like this? We share and share alike – those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment.” From then on David made this a law for all of Israel, and it is still followed.

It’s been a fairly long reading but it’s important to read the entire passage if we’re to delve into the detail – otherwise we can get sidetracked.

It’s also important that we’re reading or listening to the Bible, not just someone’s opinions or interpretations on what it says. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the word of God. The value is not in hearing my opinions and views about the word of God. Preaching provides some context and commentary and application, but the value is inherently in God’s word, not the preacher’s!

1 Samuel 30 Exegesis

There is a depth of emotion and response in this chapter that we’ll try to plumb. People swing from despair to elation, from anger to joy, from frustration to jubilation.

Verses 2 through 4 read

They had carried off the women and children and everyone else but without killing anyone. When David and his men saw the ruins and realized what had happened to their families, they wept until they could weep no more.

The wives and children of David and his six hundred men have been taken as booty and their safe haven of Ziklag has been torched. There is clearly great sorrow but mixed with relief because no bodies have been found. All of their families are alive – for the moment.

That the men wept until they could weep no more is extraordinarily evocative. Men generally aren’t too good at weeping. But that emptying of sorrow makes way for anger and resentment and bitterness towards David. The men think his actions have brought about the loss of their families.

In something of an understatement we read in verse 6 that, “David was now in serious trouble because his men were very bitter about losing their wives and children, and they began to talk of stoning him.”

Disbelief turned to relief turned to sorrow turned to bitterness turned to anger!

Let’s take a time out to consider what may be a failure and what may constitute sin:

Had David failed himself and his men and his family? Perhaps he had failed by not leaving some men behind in Ziklag to defend it. Perhaps he had failed in seeking input from his senior advisers. Perhaps he had acted imprudently in some way.

Let me contrast that with his men who are so bitter they want to stone him to death. Would you consider it a failure to suggest that your commander, your anointed king be stoned to death? Fairly likely!

Strengthening

And how does David respond to this threat? Does he seek to defend his actions, justify himself, perhaps make claims that they weren’t very good followers and how difficult it was to lead such a group of miscreants? Did he ask them how good their decisions would be when you’re stuck in a cave or pursued by someone who wants your life?

No. 1 Samuel 30:6 tells us that “David found strength in the LORD his God.” Other translations put it a little differently. The KJV says, “David encouraged himself in the LORD his God”, and the NKJV says, “David strengthened himself in the LORD his God”.

The phrase “strengthened himself” is an interesting one. It appears about 10 times in the NKJV and only once does it include this idea of being strengthened “in the Lord”.

But what does it mean? I think it would encompass prayer, praise, reflecting on God’s activity and promises.

David had been anointed as king and so he could remind himself that God had anointed him to a purpose and that he would fulfil that Godly calling. But I also think some of the discussions between David and the Lord would have been quite frank – no sugar coating involved.

Many of the Psalms – which David wrote, are gutsy, down-to-earth, pull no punches, “what is going on here” type prayers! Indeed, a number of Psalms are noted as having been written by David when he was on the run from Saul – Psalms 57 and 63 are examples.

David Guzik, an American pastor and teacher puts it this way: “This wasn’t some kind of rah-rah cheerleader kind of positive thinking mumbo jumbo. This was the strength of the living God making itself real in the life and heart of a hurting man. This was strength for recognition, strength for brokenness, strength for repentance, strength for determination to win back what the enemy has stolen.”

Clearly this strengthening had its effect because in verses 7 and 8 we read that David called for the ephod (the priestly garment) and sought counsel from God. The Lord’s advice was to pursue the Amalekites for David would be successful in recovering everything that had been stolen.

This strengthening in the Lord gave legs to action.

Exhaustion

And so the 600 men set out to pursue the Amalekites. Verses 9 and 10 are fascinating. Let me read them again,

So David and his six hundred men set out, and they soon came to Besor Brook. But two hundred of the men were too exhausted to cross the brook, so David continued the pursuit with his four hundred remaining troops.

600 men set out to regain their families, their possessions and their dignity. But after some time they come to Brook Besor.

This Brook Besor in some other translations is rendered as Wadi Besor. It means a gully or watercourse and it must have been flowing for 200 men to declare that they couldn’t go on. They couldn’t cross the brook and so they literally sat down and cooled their heels at the Brook Besor.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for these 200 men? Imagine the first one to say “I just can’t go on, leave me here”. Your wife and children have just been abducted by a band of pagan thugs. And yet you come to Brook Besor, collapse in a heap and have to tell your boss that you just can’t take another step.

I’m sure many of us have felt like that on occasions – just not wanting, not able to do the next thing. Perhaps not to the same extent as these 200. But there is hope!

But imagine, if you will, the looks of the 400 other men as they cross the brook to try to find your wife and children. I think it would have taken a huge amount of fortitude and exhaustion to admit that you just can’t take another step.

Accusation and Indictment

I want to skip ahead to verse 21.

In verses 11 through 20 David and his 400 advancing troops find a slave who has been discarded by the Amalekites. This slave agrees to lead David and his men to the Amalekite encampment in exchange for care and safety. David and his men locate the camp, kill the Amalekites and recover all of their families and stolen possessions. This is the PG version.

And now we’re at verse 21. David and his 400 men return to the Brook Besor with their recovered wives, sons, daughters, flocks and possessions. Verses 21 and 22 read,

When they reached Besor Brook and met the two hundred men who had been too tired to go with them, David greeted them joyfully. But some troublemakers among David’s men said, “They didn’t go with us, so they can’t have any of the plunder. Give them their wives and children, and tell them to be gone.”

Some troublemakers amongst David’s 400 state that the 200 men shouldn’t share in the spoils. Can you understand where these men are coming from? Their complaint is that they’ve been off fighting while these 200 blokes have been lying about at the Brook Besor. As a result, they claim, these 200 blokes have no entitlement to the recovered goods. They can have their wives and families back, but that’s it!

Advocacy, Protection and Vindication

David’s response is telling, informative, and very helpful. In verses 23 and 24 we hear him say,

But David said, “No, my brothers! Don’t be selfish with what the LORD has given us. He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the enemy. Do you think anyone will listen to you when you talk like this? We share and share alike – those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment.”

In these couple of verses we see David coming to the aid of his 200 exhausted men who have been waiting at Brook Besor. David’s role is of advocate – he comes to the defence of men who have silently been accused of being weak and ineffective. He not only defends them but indicates that they will be allotted their portion of the recovered items. They will be reunited not only with their wives and children, but their households, flocks, herds and reputations.

Here we see 200 men who are about to have their lives turned upside down by 400 others and David steps between them, advocates for them, and then essentially vindicates them when he adds that “we share and share alike – those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment”. These 200 men who were exhausted have been promoted from exhausted shirkers to honourable equipment guardians.

David displays grace, forgiveness and understanding as he advocates for, supports, protects and vindicates his 200 exhausted men.

Does that description of David as displaying grace, and advocacy, and forgiveness and protection and vindication remind you of anyone else?

Kingdom Principle

I want to wrap up this section by making an observation about verse 25. It says, “From then on David made this a law for all of Israel, and it is still followed.” This principle – that we look after the least, that we share in the spoils, that we not pursue selfishness, that those guarding the supply lines are as valuable and honoured as those on the front line became a kingdom principle that day.

Equally, those who turn up to this church during the week for different programs and activities are as valued and valuable as those who are here on a Sunday. Those who are exhausted are as important as those who are full of energy. Those who can’t pray two words together are valued as much as those who can pray for hours. Those who read their Bibles once a month or less can appropriate the same grace as those who read it daily.

We all need to pause at the Brook Besor every now and again to rest, to recover, to find grace and receive mercy.

And this principle reminds me of a story that Jesus told. It’s recounted in Matthew 20 where He describes a group of men who are hired to work in a vineyard. Some men are hired at the beginning of the day and others are hired progressively through the day, and some are taken on for just the last hour of work. When it comes time to settle their wages, they all receive the same wage – and it was what they had agreed to receive.

Those who worked longest felt aggrieved that those who only worked for the last hour received the same wage, but Jesus in Matthew

20:13-14 quotes the landowner who hired the men as

‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you.

It’s interesting that sometimes it’s easier to applaud and welcome generosity – as long as we’re one of the recipients.

The Well and the Woman [John 4]

I now want to turn our attention to another story, this time from the New Testament and, as I’ve mentioned, also involving water. It’s Jesus’ meeting the woman at the well in John 4.

If you’ve been around churches for any length of time you will more than likely have heard this passage preached on – probably more so than the Brook Besor.

I don’t want to go into the details of how it was the middle of the day, of how Jesus compatriots wouldn’t talk to a woman on her own, let alone a Samaritan one at that!

I want to focus on the woman and her failure and see that what Jesus offered her was similar to what David offered his 200 exhausted men waiting at the Brook Besor.

Please turn with me to John chapter 4. I don’t want to read all of this passage because there’s already been a deal of Scripture to take in from 1 Samuel. Instead I’ll read selected parts and fill in the rest with my abbreviated paraphrase.

Jesus and His disciples are travelling through Samaria. Samaria was part of what had previously been the northern kingdom of Israel and they were travelling back to Galilee. They come to a town called Sychar and the disciples leave Jesus by a well while they go into town to buy food.

A woman comes along and Jesus asks her for a drink. This surprises the woman because Jewish men culturally and religiously don’t associate with Samaritan women. Reading from verses 9 and 10:

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

So here’s our water connection.

The woman then asks Jesus how He can obtain this water because He doesn’t have a rope and bucket – very literal, very pragmatic!

In verses 13 and 14 Jesus replies:

Jesus replied, “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

We see what Jesus can offer, but how does that meet this Samaritan woman’s need? In verses 16 through 19 Jesus asks the woman to get her husband. She replies that she has no husband. Jesus already knew that because He says she has had five husbands and that she isn’t married to the man she is currently living with.

Hold on. She’s had five husbands and is living with another man where they aren’t married—I think we’ve just met her point of need.

I don’t think I’d be taking any licence with the text to suggest that her life in many ways had been a failure. During her life she had been searching for love; but, as the song goes, looking for it in all the wrong places.

We don’t need too much imagination to understand the years of frustration and shame and estrangement and rejection that this Samaritan woman has endured.

She was looking for love, and she was thirsty. Until Jesus came along she hadn’t known where or how to find it;and she certainly didn’t expect both could be fulfilled in one conversation.

But like David at the Brook Besor who offered his 200 men grace and mercy and protection and vindication, Jesus offers this Samaritan woman exactly the same.

She had failed and we all know it. She needed grace, and she found it. She needed mercy, not condemnation, and she found it. She needed understanding, not lectures, and she found it. She needed a Messiah, and she found Him.

Let me read verses 25 to 26 of John 4:

The woman said, “I know the Messiah will come – the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”

Scripture doesn’t tell us any more about this woman, but history does. My wife and I only heard this for the first time a couple of weeks ago when we were listening to some talks on a recent trip.

Apparently this woman’s name was Photini and she became a great evangelist and apostle. She was instrumental in the conversion of hundreds of people including Emperor Nero’s daughter.

Finding Rest

As we wrap up this morning, the 200 men at Brook Besor were exhausted and in need of rest. Not only did they get rest, but they also found mercy and grace. The woman at the well was seeking rest and she, too, found mercy and grace.

I’ve read the Scripture from 1 Samuel 30 a number times in the past but only recently have I begun to see some of the richer and deeper truths in it.

A couple of years ago I was reading a book by Eugene Peterson who was the creator/author/translator/perpetrator of The Message translation of the Bible. In his book entitled Leap Over a Wall he speaks about this chapter from 1 Samuel and notes that one of his friends who writes him letters will occasionally sign one of them “From the Brook Besor”. He never asked her about it, but understood its significance.

The Brook Besor is not somewhere you can stay permanently. It’s a temporary residence for days or weeks.

It’s OK to stay there for the short term, but we need to be seeking mercy and grace in addition to rest. The 200 men found it in David. The Samaritan woman found it in Jesus. We, too can find that same rest and mercy and grace through Jesus at our Brook Besor or Samaritan well.

It reminds me of some of Jesus’ more famous words from Matthew 11:28-30:

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”

Closing Prayer

Let me pray:

Heavenly Father,

We’ve all been to Brook Besor. We’ve all come to the well in Sychar.

We’ll all found times when we just needed to collapse, to rest, to recover.

But more than that, Father we find grace and mercy at Your hand.

All believers share in Your mercy. All believers share in Your spoils of victory.

If we’re thirsty, may we come to You for the water You offer that can satisfy us for eternity. We all need to drink.

If we need strengthening, may that be in the Lord as we pray, praise and remember Your promises and Your presence.

If we are weary and carry heavy burdens then may we come to Jesus.

In so doing may we find the rest that we both need and want.

If our burdens are heavy or we are weary then we’re still carrying our own burdens, not yours Jesus for You say Yours is light.

So may we come to You and leave our burdens and cares and instead take on Your yoke and Your burdens for Your yoke is easy and Your burden light.

And we pray all these things in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen!

 
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