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The Biblical Guide to Resisting Tyranny

by Pastor Andrew Isker

In our passage today, Saul continues his war against David and this war spills over to his own household. And in this passage, we see how a legitimate authority acting as a tyrant can be resisted faithfully. 

Listen to this sermon here.

19 Now Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David; but Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted greatly in David. 2 So Jonathan told David, saying, “My father Saul seeks to kill you. Therefore please be on your guard until morning, and stay in a secret place and hide. 3 And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak with my father about you. Then what I observe, I will tell you.”

4 Thus Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father, and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant, against David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his works have been very good toward you. 5 For he took his life in his hands and killed the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great deliverance for all Israel. You saw it and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood, to kill David without a cause?”

6 So Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan, and Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be killed.” 7 Then Jonathan called David, and Jonathan told him all these things. So Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as in times past.

8 And there was war again; and David went out and fought with the Philistines, and struck them with a mighty blow, and they fled from him.

9 Now the distressing spirit from the Lord came upon Saul as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing music with his hand. 10 Then Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away from Saul’s presence; and he drove the spear into the wall. So David fled and escaped that night.

11 Saul also sent messengers to David’s house to watch him and to kill him in the morning. And Michal, David’s wife, told him, saying, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through a window. And he went and fled and escaped. 13 And Michal took an image and laid it in the bed, put a cover of goats’ hair for his head, and covered it with clothes. 14 So when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.”

15 Then Saul sent the messengers back to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16 And when the messengers had come in, there was the image in the bed, with a cover of goats’ hair for his head. 17 Then Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me like this, and sent my enemy away, so that he has escaped?”

And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go! Why should I kill you?’ ”

18 So David fled and escaped, and went to Samuel at Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and stayed in Naioth. 19 Now it was told Saul, saying, “Take note, David is at Naioth in Ramah!” 20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David. And when they saw the group of prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as leader over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 And when Saul was told, he sent other messengers, and they prophesied likewise. Then Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also. 22 Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?”

And someone said, “Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23 So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

1 Samuel 19:1-24 NKJV

The Lesser Magistrate: Jonathan Protects David (19:1-9)

Saul orders Jonathan and all his servants to kill David. But Jonathan loves David and, if you’ll remember, has made a covenant with him. It seems he has done this because he has figured out that God delights in David and has made him the replacement for Saul. So he tells David that his father seeks to kill David. He arranges to have David hide in a secret place so he can overhear the conversation between Saul and Jonathan.

In that conversation, Jonathan promotes David to Saul and rebukes his father, saying he should not sin against David because David has not sinned against Saul. And not only that, he has done great works, such as killing Goliath, and has ministered to Saul faithfully. He asks his father why he would sin against innocent blood.

That last part is vital because sinning against innocent blood is a very significant charge in the Law. The Law demands that anyone who sheds innocent blood be put to death because that sin pollutes all of Israel. Jonathan is not only protecting his father but his father’s kingdom. Saul relents and swears an oath that David shall not be killed. Jonathan relays this information to David and brings David back into the court.

But it was not to last. David goes to war against the Philistines (what Saul should be doing) and wins a great victory (that Saul should have won himself). And just then, the distressing Spirit from Yahweh returns. Instead of going out to war with a spear, Saul sits in his house with a spear and attacks David as he ministered to him. But like his heir, Jesus, many centuries later, David was able to slip away from those who meant to kill him miraculously.


Deceiving the Tyrant: Michal protects David (v. 10-17)

After David escaped Saul, he sent messengers to watch David’s house and kill him when he went out the following day. But Michal, David’s wife, knew of it and told him to flee. She lets David down through a window. This should remind us of Rahab helping the spies escape Jericho in Joshua 2. But there is another earlier biblical story with obvious parallels to this one. Michal took a household idol. (where she got this or why the king’s daughter had one are important questions that foreshadow the future of Israel’s kings). And what did Michal put on it? Goat’s hair. That’s a curious detail to include. Details such as these are never random, there is usually a purpose to them. Who else had a woman cover him in goat’s hair to deceive a tyrant abusing his authority? Jacob. Whose wife used a household idol to deceive another tyrant? Jacob. Who escaped a tyrant and was pursued by that tyrant? Jacob, who fled from Laban. Saul asked his daughter why he had been deceived, just as Laban asked Jacob and Rachel why he had been deceived. Just as Rachel lied to her tyrant father without sinning, so did Michal, who said David had threatened to kill her. The Biblical types from the very beginning chapters of Genesis, The Bride, the Chosen Seed, and the Seed of the Serpent are all represented here.

This passage presents David to us as a new Jacob, the Chosen Seed, who wrestled with the tyrants God placed in his path, and Michael as the Bride who turns the Serpent’s weapon (deception) back against the Seed of the Serpent, her father, King Saul.


The Triune God Intervenes: The Holy Spirit Protects David (v. 18-24)

David fled to Samuel at Ramah and told him that Saul wanted to kill him. They both then fly to Naioth. Spies report this to Saul, and he sends his messengers there to get David. But as soon as the messengers get there, they see Samuel prophesying among the prophets, and the Spirit comes upon them, and they begin prophesying. Saul sends a second group of messengers, and the same thing happens to them! Saul sends a third group, and the same thing happens a third time! Finally, Saul goes himself and the same thing happens to him. Despite the Spirit departing him after he had grieved the Spirit, Saul is overtaken by the power of the Holy Spirit and no longer in control of himself. He begins prophesying. Upon reaching Samuel, he strips off his robes and appears naked before him. And we should note here, as has been said before, Saul’s robe being stripped of him is very important symbolically. The Spirit is taking away Saul’s authority as king. It isn’t just that the Holy Spirit is making Saul act like a lunatic. The Spirit is shaming him by the removal of his royal robe. He was made naked like Adam in the Garden and removed from kingship.

The last line is also crucial as it is a bookend for the Spirit’s interaction with Saul in 1 Samuel. Easrlier in 1 Samuel, when the Spirit was with Saul, he prophesied and was faithful, and the people said of him sincerely “is Saul also among the prophets?” That phrase, as it is used in this chapter, now takes on a mocking tone since Saul had gone mad and had the kingdom taken from him. Saul’s madness, from this point on, spirals out of control. Sin has completely taken hold of him.


Conclusion

Very few passages in the Bible are more directly relevant to God’s people in 2023 than these. The faithful have not had a coherent political theology for the last century. Much less have we had a theology of political resistance. Have you ever heard, in your entire life, a pastor preach about resisting tyranny? Yet this was a ubiquitous subject for Christians from the 1500s to the 1700s. You can find all sorts of sermons on justified resistance to oppressive authority from the Reformation Era, Puritans, or early colonial America. But since the 20th century, pastors have been seemingly forbidden from preaching on this subject. The only political theology we are allowed is rooted in the postwar liberal democratic consensus. It all just boils down to argumentum ad hitlerum. “The Nazis were terrible, so resisting them is okay, but any political act by anyone who fought the Nazis is ipso facto legitimate (because they are not Nazis); therefore, opposing that in any way is therefore immoral.”

But the Postwar Liberal Consensus is not the Bible or Christian theology. It is instead a particular flavor of secular humanism. God’s Law is the standard of right and wrong, not “whatever liberal democracies think is okay.” And we have seen the most egregious examples of tyranny in our lifetime just in the last few years. The idea that you would be forbidden from going to work to feed your family if you didn’t participate in a medical experiment is something out of the Soviet Union or North Korea. It should astonish us that this was even attempted in a “free country.” Much less locking everyone in the country in their homes for months. The tyranny we experienced over the last two years is something our forefathers would have rightly revolted against. But we do not have the tools for such resistance. Chiefly, we lack the spiritual tools to empower us to fight tyrants.

So with that in mind, look at how we can apply the lessons from this passage. Jonathan rebuked his father, the king, so that he would not commit abominable sins against his nation and his God. We should not fear to criticize our leaders, especially from the pulpit. Those who are ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ have a duty to declare to kings and those with political authority what God says is good and evil, just like the prophets of old. It is to our everlasting shame that the typical pastor in America is not a herald of Christ’s righteousness in the public square, but reduced to a hireling chiefly concerned with effectively marketing his church.

Further, Jonathan did not simply rebuke the tyrannical king as our spiritual leaders ought to be doing, he rebuked him from the position as a prince with his own authority in the kingdom. In Protestant theology there is a concept called “the doctrine of the lesser magistrate.” This is where the concept of nullification and secession had their origin. The lesser political authority has a duty to stand in the way of the tyrant if and when he is able to, and in doing so he is not committing the sin of rebellion, but rather is fully justified in the sight of God. Jonathan was acting as a “lesser magistrate” here as well.

And suppose you are not able to persuade them by your rebuke, or do not have the political power to fully resist the tyrant. In that case, deception is on the table as well. Particularly if it is a grave sin that they are committing, such as depriving you of employment for refusing a dangerous medical experiment. You have to look at life in America today as not the country you love that you grew up in. You are living in something much more like the Soviet Union than you realize. In some ways even worse! And if you lived in the Soviet Union, forging papers, bribing officials, passing samizdat, etc., was simply a way of life required for survival. I’m not saying Michal’s courageous action justifies cheating on your taxes so you can buy a bigger boat. “Well he’s a tyrant so I can lie to him about anything” is not supported by this passage. But instead, if the circumstances are truly grave, if it is a matter of life and death or the potential of severe harm, deceiving tyrants is absolutely on the table.

Lastly, the Spirit of God was the most important weapon against the tyrant Saul. We have Him at our disposal as well, and he can pierce the hearts of the tyrant, or He can drive them mad. This kind of war is not merely against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and the dark hosts of the heavenly places. You can see clearly in this passage the Holy Spirit acting and the demon who afflicted Saul. Ours is a spiritual war; victory is found through faithful worship on the Lord’s Day and regular prayer, fasting, and singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

God has placed us in a momentous time. We live in the time that we do for a reason. And the reason is this: to faithfully wage war against tyrants just as the saints of old did. So pick up your spiritual weapons and go to war. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!


Andrew Isker is the pastor of 4th Street Evangelical Church in Waseca, MN. He is a graduate of Minnesota State University and Greyfriar’s Hall Ministerial Training School, and he has served churches in Missouri, West Virginia, and Minnesota. He is the author (with Andrew Torba) of Christian Nationalism, and the author of the forthcoming book, The Boniface Option. Andrew, his wife Kara, and their five children reside in his hometown of Waseca, MN. He can be found on Gab @BonifaceOption.