Envy at En-Gedi

John David Clark, Sr. - September, 1994

We stood near the place where the spring of En-gedi bubbles out of the mountainside. Far below us to the east, the unforgiving Dead Sea stretched out majestically for miles, tranquil and inviting in the blistering summer sun. Pondering over biblical tales related to this place, I contemplated the harsh reality of it. This beautiful azure sea gives no hint of its viciously poisonous nature. And to weary travelers who brave the brutal heat of these barren desertlands, the water's beauty seems to mock human thirst, for to drink of the cruel water of the Dead Sea would mean certain and painful death.

Ascending the mountain at En-gedi, we watched the sea become wider, longer, and more breath-taking by the minute. Another Israeli patrol jet, like the one we earlier looked up to see, flies along the shoreline again. But by this time we have reached such a height that we have to look down to watch it fly by, a toy-sized jet from here.

As high as we are, however, there are craggy cliffs immediately to the west, rising like forbidding walls above the whole scene, including the mountain we are on! The Dead Sea is the lowest point below sea level on the earth, but it doesn't take long for the earth to recover from this dismal abyss, rising in sheer cliffs thousands of feet from the valley floor. Atop those cliffs to the west is the famous Wilderness of Judah - miles and miles of dreary, barren wasteland.

We came upon an ancient worship center, now just rubble. Built on a prominent rise overlooking the pretty, poisonous sea, it is just a few meters from where the fresh water spring of En-gedi brings life to the side of this rock-strewn, dusty mountain. You can tell where to find these rare springs in the desert: just look for something green. Where we live, one can see greenery all year long. I never knew how much joy the mere sight of water, and the greenery it supports, could cause in the heart of a man. Out here in the desert, springs of fresh, drinkable water can stir deep, even poetic, feelings in the heart, and they can inspire men to believe in the goodness of God.

En-gedi. If a man wants solitude, he should look for such a place. He can survive here, with its caves and good water (there were in ancient times, and there still are, vineyards here). A man can meditate here. Inspiration is easily and abundantly supplied by the broad, awesome vistas from these hills. He can consider his future and his past without interruption. He can even, by desert standards, be pampered here, by the waterfall which splashes down from the powerful and faithful fresh-water spring. In the summer, rains never come to the bleak wilderness around En-gedi. But the spring is always here. Life is here.

Long ago, a desperate young man named David was falsely accused of treason and sought refuge at the spring of En-gedi. There was a huge price on his head. But there was love and faith toward God in his heart. During that time, an unnamed person who travelled through this area climbed the winding, steep roads leading out of the valley and went to Gibeah, to report to the king that he had seen this young fugitive and his small band of friends at the spring. The king, named Saul, quickly gathered 3,000 of his finest soldiers "to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats" (1Sam.24:2). And when he entered into a certain cave for a rest, King Saul came much closer to capturing David than he realized, for unknown to him, David and his friends had taken refuge from the king's approaching army in that very same cave and they were now cowering in the cave's shadows, at one point within arm's reach of the unsuspecting king.

"Kill him, David!" urged one of his men in whispered tones, "God has given your enemy into your hand!" But David could not.

"How can I lift my hand against a man upon whom God's anointing oil has been poured?" responded David. "God forbid that I should do harm to God's anointed."

So, David allowed the man who was seeking his life to escape unharmed. David's respect for the anointing of God saved him from sin, because it kept him from avenging himself. David would not try to save himself. He would not yield to the appealing spirit of self-preservation. He put his trust in God. King Saul attempted to murder David on several occasions, although David was Saul's bravest and most loyal officer. Now, he was pursuing David wherever he could find him. But why?

To find out, we must go back a few years to the victory parade which the people gave to King Saul and David, after David had slain the Philistine giant, Goliath. There was cheering, celebration, music and dancing that day in Israel, as the soldiers returned from the battle with all sorts of booty. The oppressors were driven away! Israel was saved!

The happy citizens of Israel had every right to be as joyous as they were. But it was along the route of the victory parade that Saul's heart was bitterly turned against young David, and it was caused by something over which David had absolutely no control. Along the roadside, beating their tambourines, happy women - excited that the Philistine giant had at last been killed - sang in joyous tones, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands."

"And Saul was wroth, and the saying displeased him. And he said `They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands. And what can he have more but the kingdom?' And he eyed David from that day and forward. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul...and David played [music for the king] as at other times. And there was a javelin in Saul's hand. And Saul cast the javelin. For he said, `I will smite David even to the wall with it.' And David avoided out of his presences twice."

What was Saul really after? David? That is certainly what Saul believed he was chasing. But even David found that difficult to believe (1Sam.24:14). What was the point in killing David? Saul believed that if he killed David, he would be secure on the throne of Israel. But the truth was that as long as God wanted Saul to be king, there was no power on earth that could remove him from the throne. And, on the other hand, if God was displeased with Saul as king, there was nothing that could keep him on the throne, even the death of the man God had chosen to replace him. Saul had forgotten God, and was selfishly, foolishly trying to save himself. King Saul had continually displeased the Lord until, at last, the old prophet Samuel told him that God had rejected him as king. Rather than repent before the God of mercy, however, Saul sensed that David was the man whom God had chosen to replace him, and he was determined to stamp out the young man's life.

What a foolish notion! Saul was trying to kill David in order to prevent the word of God from coming true. In this instance, Saul could no more succeed in killing David than he could succeed in proving God to be a liar. David was hidden within the gates of God's word, and all that poor Saul could do was circle that figurative city, uttering vain curses - and threats which he could never carry out, though neither he nor David fully realized it yet.

This is what envy is and this is what envy does. It is hatred for those whom God has loved, and it attempts to destroy what God has built. It seeks to preserve self, without realizing that "safety is of the Lord." It senses who it is that carries the blessing of the Lord, and it conjures up plausible-sounding reasons to turn others against them. It is deceived and deceives others. It is cruel and implacable. It is, as Solomon said, "as rottenness in the bones".

"Where envy and strife is," wrote James, "there is confusion and every evil work." Confusion, because envy forgets that it is only by the hand of the Almighty that any man is any thing. When some tried to stir up envy in John the Baptist against Jesus, he responded, "No man can receive anything, except it be given to him from above. He [Jesus] must increase, and I must decrease." John trusted God. Where envy is, there is also "every evil work" because envy knows no bounds. The man who succumbs to envy will find himself doing things and saying things against innocent people that he never dreamed that he would do. At the end of this age, Jesus said, the spirits of envy and strife will so fill men's hearts that "brother shall betray brother to death, and the father the son. And children shall rise up against their parents and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake."

The envious soul does not understand that the motivation for their conduct is envy, because Satan supplies their minds with reasons which "make sense" to the envious heart. Satan himself, the biggest fool in heaven's history, fell through envy. So, when he speaks to an envious person, his thoughts and his feelings make perfect sense, though they are as twisted and evil as can be. Satan envied the love and respect which was given to God by His creatures. He was not mindful, nor thankful, of the exalted position for which he was created. "Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth", wrote Ezekiel. "Thou wast upon the holy mountain of God. Thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire." Now, I don't know what "the stones of fire" in heaven are, but you can be certain that whatever they are, no one can walk on them, as Satan once did, unless he is anointed with power from God to do so. Satan was created, as Ezekiel tells us, "full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty". Yet, he envied God's glory and was cast out of His presence. So honored in creation! An exalted cherub in the holiest places in heaven, and yet destroyed by the silly spirit of envy. How sad!

Satan's envious spirit has infected and poisoned relationships among men to such a degree that there is no hope of recovery. All is lost. The human condition is hopeless. "The spirit that dwelleth in us, wrote James, "lusteth to envy." That is why Jesus suffered and died. An entirely new way of life had to be created. Man was ruined by embracing Satan's ways, and man had to be remade - not on the outside, but on the inside, where it really mattered. His heart came to be "desperately wicked", and it had to be cut out. It was set like stone against the right ways of the Creator and had to be replaced by the tender heart of Jesus (Ezek.11:19-20).

Repeatedly, through the prophets of old, God promised that there would be a day when the misery of man's vain life would be changed, that he would be offered a new heart, a clean spirit, and a godly mind. How those old saints longed to see that day! There were even hints as to how this new life would come. Zephaniah (3:9) prophesied that when it happened, God would pour out upon man a new, pure language, and that this blessing would enable us to live and work together in peace. This is obviously a reference to the outpouring of the holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In other words, the only hope for healing from Satan's envious spirit is to be filled with the Spirit of God. And how very thankful all wise men are that this opportunity is being given to us today! We are living out the fondest dreams of a thousand ancient prophets! We are "the people that shall be created" and "the nation that shall be born in one day". Praise God! A thousand times praise Him!

Yes, one can meditate on many things on the mountainside by Dead Sea. Its poisonous nature is the result of its inability to send out its water. Everything flows into it, but nothing flows out. It is a selfish sea, hoarding all that it takes in, except for what the sun bakes out of it, yet never satisfied and always wanting more. In a sense, it is trying to "save itself". Life-giving waters flow in abundantly, but the selfish nature of the sea changes those good waters into death-dealing beauty. Satan is like that. King Saul grew to be like that. Indeed, Satan's self-seeking, envious spirit has deceived and corrupted the entire human race, transforming the creatures who were blessed to be made in the image of God into the kind of creatures who would kill him when "he came unto his own". But "God so loved the world" that He made a way, through the death of His Son, to deliver us from our own selfish ways and to give us eternal life.

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