The Lord Has No Law Against Helping (Click to download the published version in PDF format)
1 Samuel 21:1-6
1 David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” 2 David answered Ahimelech the priest, “The king charged me with a certain matter and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about your mission and your instructions.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place. 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.” 4 But the priest answered David, “I don’t have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women.” 5 David replied, “Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s things are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!” 6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, since there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from before the Lord and replaced by hot bread on the day it was taken away.
David broke one of God’s laws. There’s no other way to look at it. The bread mentioned in our text was for priests only. The Lord said to the Israelites through Moses, “Take fine flour and bake twelve loaves of bread…. Set them in two rows, six in each row, on the table of pure gold before the Lord…. This bread is to be set out before the Lord regularly, Sabbath after Sabbath, on behalf of the Israelites, as a lasting covenant. It belongs to Aaron and his sons, who are to eat it in the Holy Place, because it is a most holy part of their regular share of the offerings made to the Lord by fire” (Leviticus 24:5-9).
David wasn’t a priest, but he ate the bread. Both David and Ahimelech knew that giving David and his men the consecrated bread was against the sanctuary laws. They knew God wrote those laws. But Ahimelech gave David and his men the bread anyway.
And Jesus commended them for doing what they did. Do you know why? It’s because The Lord Has No Law Against Helping. I know that sounds kind of elementary, but it’s harder to apply than you think! After all, our natural attitude toward God’s law is that it’s difficult and that it forces us to give up things that are fun and even helpful, right?
No doubt many who are meditating on this text with me are, at the very least, not so sure that I should say that so bluntly or that I shouldn’t make a blanket statement out of it. After all, a lot of people try to do what’s right in their lives, right? Some people who don’t believe in Jesus as their Savior work very hard to provide for their families and give back to their communities. Such people surely shouldn’t be described as being opposed to God’s law!
But what of the divorces in America? When people aren’t at one of those difficult patches in their marriages, a lot of them will say that divorce is wrong and that no one should do it. But when the sinfulness of one’s spouse begins to assert itself in painful ways that make it hard for a couple to live together, suddenly the idea of “no divorce” sounds restrictive and unhelpful, doesn’t it? Then people begin to say that God’s law is “hard on the children” or something.
Likewise, many people are willing to say that the Lord is correct when he tells children of God to keep the marriage bed pure (Hebrews 13:4) by not committing adultery (Sixth Commandment), and even by avoiding the very hint of sexual immorality, as he said through Paul in Ephesians 5:3. But offer free and lewd websites to men and suddenly sexual immorality is just a “marital aid.” Such impure lust is even called “adult” or “mature entertainment.”
Throw in some financial difficulties among young couples and a few lies told by society about what really makes a marriage successful, and suddenly fornication becomes the way that you “test a marriage out,” and living together before marriage becomes a “financial necessity.”
But these laws of God are intended to help. There are even studies today that bear this out. Sexual activity and living together before marriage do not result in more stable marriages. Divorce has not proven to be easier on children than sticking it out through rough times. The more objective science we do, the more the truth of God’s Word is borne out. These laws are intended to help us, not to make our lives harder. Yet even when science backs them up, people still don’t take them that way—at least, they don’t when they are tested.
Perhaps you are nodding your head in agreement right now because you’re thinking about how bad the world has become. You may or may not be surprised, then, that there are people in this very room who are not thinking about the world in general but about their own lives, thinking about how these sins I’ve mentioned have left them feeling accused, left them feeling that at times they themselves have thought of the law of God as less than helpful, something making their lives harder instead of better.
But I wonder if you know just how prevalent this feeling really is in our congregation. And I’m not talking about how many people have repented following a life of fornication, divorce, or even homosexuality. I’m talking about how many of us still see God’s will as restrictive, unloving or unhelpful.
Take, for instance, two hot-button issues in any WELS church these days: The principles of church fellowship or the roles of men and women. I’ve counseled enough people on these issues to know that there are many among us who have blamed the doctrines of church fellowship and the roles of men and women for losing people or for making it hard to bring in new people.
For some it’s lack of understanding. Many times I have heard these doctrines described as “WELS teachings,” rather than biblical teachings. Often I can study Genesis 2, Matthew 7, Romans 16, 2 John, 1 Corinthians 14 and other sections of Scripture with a person, and they then see that these are not teachings of men, but teachings of God. Other times, there will be some personal relationship with Scouts or a lodge, or some familial relationship with someone in another synod or church body, or there may be some bitterness about the roles of men and women that will prevent someone from agreeing with that Word, and they turn away from the truth.
Do you see what that attitude is? It’s thinking that the Lord did not institute these doctrines for our good. It’s thinking that we somehow have a better way than God’s way, when all along even these doctrines were established to help us and benefit us!
On the other hand, think back to our text again. David and Ahimelech (or Abiathar, as Jesus says; the names were interchangeable elsewhere in Scripture, too; cf. 2 Samuel 8:17 and 1 Chronicles 18:16 and 24:3,6,31) participated in the breaking of one of God’s special laws for the Israelites, and Jesus commended them for it. Jesus even said that the Pharisees had something to learn from this story that they had previously missed. What was the lesson? “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-28). In other words, the Lord has no law against helping. His laws were written to help us. All his laws are for our benefit. They are not there to deprive us of blessings but to help us, provide for us and keep us from harm.
I could build that lesson straight off of the text in front of us, but I am instead going to illustrate it first off of a few words that don’t occur in our text, and we can go from there. What are those words?
I forgive you. That’s right. In Jesus’ name, I forgive you all your sins. Whatever the immorality, whatever the stubbornness, whatever the rebellion, with these words I wipe them from the record books of heaven. And when I say that I forgive you “in Jesus’ name,” I’m telling you that it’s not just me saying this. It’s as though God himself had said it. I’m saying that he has given me the authority to say this in his stead—not because of some special power he has given to me and me alone, but by virtue of the authority that he gives to all his children, and, in particular, his children who belong to this congregation, whom I represent by my call. You are forgiven.
And these words are more than peace, my friends. They are more than peace and they are more than a burden lifted off of your shoulders. They are all that and more because, well, do you know why God’s children can say that a person’s sins are forgiven and know it to be true? It’s because Jesus’ death was God’s way of taking every word he ever spoke against sin seriously while still allowing you into his mansions in heaven, where he wants you to live with him forever.
Get it? The Scriptures say, “Repent!” because God does take sin seriously, sin does hurt people, and sinners do belong in hell for making this life hard on everyone involved. That’s our fault and God’s not going to stand for it! But it also says, “Repent and believe the good news!” because the Good News is that Jesus already suffered the full punishment our sins deserve, and through this news God grants a new life!
You see? This Good News of sacrifice and forgiveness is the ultimate revelation of God as a Helper of Sinners, as a Savior of Sinners. In Jesus, all God’s rightful wrath against all the sinners of the world, from the least sinner to the worst of them all, was poured out and satisfied, so that you yourself, despite your fall into sin, could live with him forever—free for you, but at the ultimate price for him. How much more clearly could he prove his nature as a Helper?
David and Ahimelech were excellent examples of men who got this, as Jesus noted. The point of the Old Testament ceremonies was not that men should sacrifice themselves to benefit God, but that they should understand that God would ultimately sacrifice himself to help them. When it came, then, to choosing between the great need of David and his men and the regulation about giving the show-bread only to priests, mercy to David and his men won out.
And, with God, mercy won out for you, as well. Mercy has won out for your forgiveness, and forgiveness is the key to creating a merciful heart inside of you. Through forgiveness, the Holy Spirit works to bring you new life, to help you, to save you, to teach what David and Abiathar knew: There’s no law against helping. Amen.