Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Place of Softening (1 Samuel 23)

The passage heading reads "David Hides in the Wilderness".

Saul is chasing him. He fears for his life. The previous chapters tell us that Saul has been afflicted by a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear. (A spirit that the scriptures say was sent by the Lord - because that concept doesn't raise a whole other slew of questions. But that's a different post....) Saul is jealous and angry - out for David's head, and David is staying one step ahead of imminent death only because "God didn't let Saul find him."

David is wandering and hiding in the hilly wilderness of Ziph.

I once heard a sermon on this passage in which the pastor told us that the word Ziph means "place of softening" in the Hebrew. I've never been able to confirm that, but it has stayed with me, working at moments in my heart.

It came back to me just now, as I find myself again wrestling with my thoughts, having a conversation with a dear friend about pain and numbness, about feeling things deeply.

But the image it brought with it this time wasn't the usual idea of a gentle softening - like pouring sweet smelling liquid into the load of laundry, and having fragrant, fluffy towels emerge at the other end.

The image was one of meat being tenderized, softened. Have you seen a meat tenderizer? A small, harsh metal mallet, it's face covered in protruding spikes. And you don't use it gently. You pound with it. Slamming it over and over into the meat with a force that thins and softens. A force that may ultimately produce a tasty result, but is violent and harsh at moments in its application

There is no question in my mind that the wilderness seasons in my life have often been "places of softening." And, while gentle isn't exactly the word I'd use, those seasons have rarely been as harsh as the one I find myself in just presently.

I pray that it truly will be a place of softening. That the result will be beautiful. I can certainly feel the blows.

I am thankful, at least, for this: The NIV translates verse 16, "And Saul's son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God."

In the midst of the wilderness, the son of the one who seeks his death, comes to David to "help him find strength in God." In that, at least, there is something hinting at hope.

There have been those moments, though few, and brief, where I have been shored up by friends who have found me in the wilderness. Friends who have helped me to see God again, amidst the turmoil. And for those moments I am deeply thankful.

And there is something challenging, too, in that friendship, that trust. David was running for his life, and yet he allowed his location to be revealed to the son of his sworn enemy. He chose to trust the relationship more than the strength of the evil spirits that had so overtaken Saul.

These days I find it difficult to trust in even the most intimate of relationships. I'm not sure how I would handle it if in the midst of the brokenness, in the midst of feeling as if I'm running for my very life, for the ability to be who Jesus has made me, a close relation of the "enemy" sought my friendship. I don't know that my heart would be open, even at the prompting of God, to allow them in enough to bring renewed strength and faith.

I am challenged by David tonight. By this "place of softening" in the presence of those from the enemy's camp.