CHAPTER 15. —DAVID
In no case are the ways of providence more signally illustrated than in the case of David. We have already glanced at his boyhood. We will now look at him as a man, following a public career full of incident, chequered by vicissitude, and clouded with frequent perils and fears. A life beginning in obscurity on the hillside among the sheep, and ending on the throne, necessarily presents marked contrasts, bright lights and deep shadows, towering precipice and deep gorge. It was in all respects the opposite of a tame life: it was full of stirring scenes, and brimming with instruction in the ways of God.
To read the whole matter aright, let us ponder the key note struck by David in one of his last utterances. Speaking to Bathsheba, in his old age, concerning the succession of Solomon (for the moment placed in peril by Adonijah’s intrigue), he said,
“As the Lord liveth that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress, even as I sware unto thee by the Lord God of Israel, saying, Assuredly thy son Solomon shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne in my stead, even so will I certainly do this day” (1 Kings 1:30).
Here David acknowledges God as his deliverer in all the troubles he has experienced in the course of his life. When therefore we read the account of those troubles and the way David escaped from them, we are to remember that the process of deliverance, whatever we find it to be, was God’s process. The recollection of this will enable us to study David’s life with profit, and save us from the shallow and unenlightened views of the work of God which are nursed by many sincere people of orthodox training. For example, one of the most conspicuous features of David’s life is that noted in Saul’s remark to the Ziphites who came to Saul to report a place of David’s concealment:
“Go, I pray you, prepare yet, and know and see his place where his haunt is, and who hath seen him there: for it is told me that HE DEALETH VERY SUBTILLY. See therefore and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hideth himself” (1 Samuel 23:22).
David’s life certainly justified this report. He was distinguished by a ready resort to shift and ingenuity and stratagem, for the accomplishment of his ends. The lesson of this lies here: David’s reliance on God did not, in David’s estimation, release David from the use of what means and measures were at his disposal for the bringing about of what he might desire. And David, be it ever remembered, was “ a man after God’s own heart.” Furthermore David’s contribution to the achievement of results by the exercise of personal vigilance and wisdom did not, in David’s estimation, in the least interfere with his indebtedness to God for those results: whence there arises an obvious teaching of wisdom. First, if a man is indolent and supine because he trusts God, he is not making an enlightened use of his trust, because he is neglecting a part of the plan of wisdom, and he may have to learn his folly in the sharp thrusts of adversity. God is one in all His ways, and while He asks us to lean on Him, He desires us to employ to the full the means placed in our hands for the accomplishment of what is needful. Secondly, when a man by the utmost use of skill and energy has secured any result he may aim at, the door is shut against personal pride or boast, because of the fact brought under Belshazzar’s notice by Daniel when he said,
“God thou hast not glorified, in whose hand thy breath is and whose are all thy ways.”
An able successful man acts the part of a barbarian when he carries himself with arrogance and unmercifulness. Modesty, mercy to the lowly, and thanksgiving, are not only ornamental to prosperity, but they are the inevitable outcome of common reason. David was distinguished by all these in the midst of his highest successes, and in this respect is an example constantly to be studied.
It may be thought that David’s resort to “subtlety” detracts somewhat from the dignity that always attaches to simplicity and directness of procedure. This impression will be dissipated on a consideration of the means employed in the light of the objects aimed at. These may be discerned at a glance in Christ’s exhortation to his disciples, to be “wise as serpents, harmless as doves.” This was the character of all David’s movements. He was a merciful and just man. He did not scheme for other people’s destruction as Saul did; he schemed only for his own extrication from evil, and in this he employed “subtlety,” or serpentness. Both Jesus and Paul have exemplified the same thing. When the scribes and Pharisees sought to entangle Jesus in an avowal which would have given them a ground of action against him, he created a pretext for refusal to answer them by an adroit question about John’s baptism (Luke 20:1, 8); and in another case, by a question about a penny which left the principle in question untouched (Luke 20:24, 26). So Paul, when he perceived that his enemies could be divided by a party cry, proclaimed himself a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). Guileless artifice in fending off the assaults of evil is not inconsistent with the state of mind which God esteems righteous. Honour and truth are not sacrificed by measures designed only to catch a fish or scare a beast of prey. It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is to be execrated. A sheep may don the wolf-skin occasionally without the same subversion of principle. The Lamb of God as the Lion of the tribe of Judah will be the true benefactor of mankind, though the world at first will tremble at his roars.
David’s first public appearance was as the assailant of Goliath. There can be no doubt that this was an entirely providential affair. We are too much accustomed to taking it as a matter of course. Let us realise the circumstances connected with it. David had been some time previously anointed by Samuel in private as the coming king of Israel. But how was David to be introduced to Israel? How was the way to be paved for David’s kingship becoming a matter of fact? David was a herd boy in one of the vales of Judea. He was in as complete an obscurity as any agricultural lad on a Devonshire farm at the present moment. God had purposed making him the head of His people Israel, and as this was to be accomplished by the consent of the people (2 Samuel 5:1-3), it was impossible the purpose could be carried out without “bringing out” David in some notable way before the people. How effectually this was done by the incident in question. War breaks out between Israel and the Philistines. The two armies meet in the valley of Elah. They each entrench themselves on a mountain with a valley between. In this secure position, little progress is made on either side. They face each other a good many days. The Philistines have a big man among them who daily offers to stake the result of the conflict upon an individual encounter between himself and any Israelite who may come forward. None of the Israelites dare encounter a man of ten feet, mailed from head to foot. David’s brothers are in the Israelitish army. David has been left at home to look after the sheep. By and by his father, getting anxious about his absent sons, sends David to see how they are and to take some acceptable contribution to the commissariat. On David’s arrival, the champion of the other camp sallies forth with his daily challenge. David had no command on the subject; but he listened with amazement to the unrepelled defiance of the God of Israel by an uncircumcised creature of pride. He asks if there is no one ready to go to meet him. Finding none, he finds himself inspired with the idea of offering himself. Saul expresses surprise that a youth should venture upon a conflict with an armed man. David’s answer reveals the secret of David’s apparently rash courage, and exhibits the class of feelings that prompted him to a course so opposed to natural considerations of prudence, and calculated at the same time to effect the very purpose which God was beginning to work out by him. The answer shows that it was not mere courage that impelled him, but an intelligent recognition of God’s relation to the house of Israel; in a word, faith.
“Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion and a bear and took a lamb out of the flock. And I went out after him and smote him and delivered it out of his mouth, and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and smote him and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. . . . The Lord that delivered me out of the mouth of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of the Philistine”
(1 Samuel 17:34).
His speech to Goliath himself is of the same order:
“Thou comest to me with a sword and with a spear and with a shield, but I come in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into my hand: and I will smite thee and take thine head off from thee, and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hand.”
Doubtless much of the zest of this prophetic speech was due to the Spirit of the Lord which came upon David on the day of his anointing, and abode with him from that day forward (1 Samuel 16:13). Still David did not act mechanically in the case. He came forward with a faithful individual courage and acted with heroic initiative in the circumstances to which he was providentially introduced by his father’s orders to visit his brothers in the army. He came and found God defied, and his zeal for God flamed up, and led him to dare great things. The Lord worked with David, but a working David was up and doing to be worked with. David’s faith-generated impulse was supplemented by the guidance of the Spirit and the cooperation of the divine hand; but if there had been no zealous enterprising God-believing David, there would have been no faith-generated impulse to supplement. The result introduced David to the notice of Israel and established him in their confidence and admiration at a single blow. Goliath falls before a skilfully slung pebble of the brook; Goliath’s own sword, in the hands of a supple God-directed lad, severs Goliath’s head from his prostrate body: and the astonished Philistines, first stunned, then panic-struck, flee at the sight of the bloody head of their champion held up in their presence by the radiant ruddy youth, whom but a moment before they had scorned; whom David’s brothers despised in envy, whom all Israel pitied as they saw him sally forth to the unequal conflict, but whom now they praise in ecstatic songs which awoke even the jealousy of Saul.
“Saul has slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.”
In this way God in His providence led David towards the position designed for him; but suppose David had been chicken-hearted and backward to avail himself of the opportunity brought within his reach of doing valiantly for God, how different the upshot would have been!
People look back at the case of such as David, and tacitly assume that it all came out in a miraculous matter-of-course way. They usually fail to realise how much of it depended upon the faith and courage of the individual men, and by what natural concatenation of providential circumstances the divine purpose with them was accomplished. The application of these considerations to our own day is obvious. We must cultivate individual enterprise in the ways of Go. While committing our way to God, and praying to Him to open our way and direct our steps, let us see to it that we are not lacking in measures of wisdom and deeds of courage. Do not let us sit down supinely like the Turks, and wait for God to do what He will never do. He brings things to a certain point and leaves men to do the rest. God works in His own way, and it is for us to find it out. Get into the groove of this, and God will work with us, and prosper our endeavours if it seems good to Him so to do. And an enlightened man will not wait till he can do a great thing. If a man waits till he can do a great thing, he will never do anything. Do the little things faithfully and these may grow to great. Things that are considered great are made up of many littles, and the man who scorns the little will never reach the great. It is like learning a trade: we must do apprentice work and make mistakes before we can reach proficiency. The man who will not put his hand to watchmaking until he can make a watch, will never make a watch at all. The comparison is scarcely applicable, still it contains the same principle to a certain extent. A man persevering in the way of duty will reach results unattainable to the slothful: first, because of the natural effect of keeping at it; and secondly, because God draws nigh to those who draw nigh to Him, and supplements their labour with His special assistance and direction.
Saul’s jealousy of David grew to a pitch that threatened David’s life. Michal, Saul’s daughter, David’s wife, apprised David of his danger which had become very imminent, for Saul had posted his emissaries outside David’s house during the night with instructions to kill him as he should be leaving the house in the morning. What did David do? If he had been artificial David of modern theological discourse, he would have sublimely appealed to heaven for protection, seated himself in heroic posture, and passively waited the issue of events with calm resignation. Instead of that, we see David in the undignified act of climbing through a window to get away (1 Samuel 19:12)—undignified only according to Gentile standards, for it is never undignified to do a sensible thing. It was a sensible and godly thing to flee before danger. It was what Christ himself recommended.
“When they persecute you in one city, flee to another.”
It is what Paul did when environed with deadly foes at Damascus.
“Through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped”
(2 Corinthians 11:33).
The lesson is that true men of God are men of sensible expedients. By a narrow way of looking at the subject, sensible expedients are made to appear as faithless acts. We have already glanced at this fallacy. David trusted in God and yet adapted his movements to the exigencies of the hour. Some say—Where is faith in such a case? Where is God’s guidance? The answer is, a man of faith interprets God’s intentions in providence by the facts surrounding him. We do not know from hour to hour what the will of God may be as regards particular circumstances. We have to act with wisdom towards them all as they arise. If escape is impossible, a man of faith resigns himself, and says, “The will of the Lord be done;” but, if, on the contrary, the way of escape is open, a wise man escapes, and thanks the Lord that escape was possible. God’s purpose in such things is so interwoven with and wrought out by surrounding circumstances, that a man of God—committing his whole way to God in prayer, thanksgiving, and obedience—takes the circumstances as the interpretation of the purpose, and acts freely within the latitude the law of God may allow in the given circumstances of each case. It is always lawful to escape from danger if we can do so without the sacrifice of duty. Indeed, it would be foolhardy and criminal to remain in it, in such a case. Nothing could be more censurable on this head than the rage for martyrdom that carried thousands voluntarily to the stake in the first and second centuries, through the false teaching of such weak and vain men as Ignatius. David by no means belonged to this class. He escaped danger when he could, and he was the type of the order of men that will surround his glorified son in the day of the establishment of his throne.
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