CHAPTER 16. —DAVID (CONTINUED)
The last chapter brought us to David’s escape into exile. His life in exile, as a hunted fugitive among the fastnesses of Israel’s mountains, would be very interesting and profitable to follow. It would be inconsistent, however, with the aim of these chapters to indulge in the tempting pursuit. We are not dealing with the life of David in a biographical sense. We merely look at it, as at the life of others, for reliable lessons on the ways of providence. We have already seen several.
We pass over the days of his exile with a single reflection as to these days as a whole. Why was David subjected to exile at all? They were dreadful days to David. They were days of discomfort, days of hardship, days of despair. He did not hope to emerge in safety from them. He said:
“I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Samuel 27:1).
In the light of what came after—deliverance out of all trouble and promotion to the highest honour and wealth—we probably fail to estimate correctly the darkness and bitterness of the preceding years to David in the absence of any certainty on his part as to how events would come out. Some of the most sorrowful of the Psalms were doubtless written at this time, and owe their character doubtless, in the first instance, to the circumstances of the moment. For example:
“Be merciful unto me, O God, for man would swallow me up: he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up, for they be many that fight against me, O thou Most High” (Psalm 56: 1-2).
“My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me” (Psalm 55: 4).
“Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God; defend me from them that rise up against me. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men. For, lo, they lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; not for my transgression, nor for my sin. They run and prepare themselves without my fault: awake to help me, and behold” (Psalm 59: 1-4).
“I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head” (Psalm 69: 3-4).
Though these words are intended by the Spirit in David as a foreshadowing of the sufferings of David’s greater son, they are unquestionably the expression of David’s own strong feelings in the first place, and reflect to us the bitterness of the time he spent in the wilderness of Ziph and other desert regions in Judah, while “driven out from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord” (1 Samuel 26: 19). The question for consideration is, Why was “a man after God’s own heart” subjected to this rough experience? Why was the possession of the crown, so solemnly guaranteed by the hand of Samuel, the Lord’s prophet, preceded by a season of such cruel banishment from the dwellings of men, and of the bitterest humiliation it was in the power of Saul to inflict? The answer is to be found in David’s own words:
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”
Experience is necessary to ripen goodness of character: and to be a ripening experience, it must be an evil experience. Prosperity enfeebles: adversity braces up and purifies. This is a lesson a man almost learns for himself, but it wants the addition of divine instruction to see it rightly and clearly. It is only up to a certain point that adversity acts beneficially. When is that point reached, and how is adversity then to be arrested? Natural discernment can throw no light here. That God knows and that God regulates the operation, we could never know as natural men. We require to be told it. We have been told it. The thing told has been written, and we may read it in the Scriptures in many and divers forms.
The thing revealed to us is this, that—
“Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6);
And that in such cases—
He “will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to bear, but will with the temptation also provide a way of escape that we may be able to bear it”
(1 Corinthians 10: 13).
The lesson is conveyed to us, not only in the form of express declaration, but in the form of illustration in many instances. Joseph and Moses have been before us as signal examples: now it is David. What we have to realise in his case is, that it was of God that he was suddenly driven from a position of honour and comfort while yet a very young man, and sent out among the rigours of an outlawed life, for the perfecting of his character, for his preparation for the unbounded exaltation and blessedness that awaited him as a victorious wearer of Israel’s crown. Yet though of God, it was brought about in a perfectly natural way. This is the point of the case. Saul became jealous of him; and after intriguing against him, threw off the mask and gave open effect to his enmity, and compelled David to flee for his life, and remain in concealment among the mountains.
The lesson is obvious (and the study of scriptural matters is vain if it bring not with it a lesson that is “good and profitable unto men”): our troubles may come about in a perfectly natural way, and yet may be of God who knows how to regulate human speech and action (without interfering with human will), as to bring about results that shall be His own contrivance, while apparently the issue of human purpose merely. In this there is comfort for all who may be in distress, who fear God and do His commandments. There is no more important discernment of the ways of providence than this.
One incident, bearing in another direction, deserves notice, before passing on to the consideration of David’s uprise to prosperity. In the course of his wanderings before the face of Saul, David came with his men to Keilah. It was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. Saul rejoiced at the fact, considering that after long eluding pursuit, David had at last put himself in a trap by taking refuge in a walled town. Saul prepared to go and surround Keilah and catch David. David heard of Saul’s preparations and of his intentions. The question was, What should David do? Should he remain in Keilah or make off into the open? This depended upon whether Saul would really come, and whether if he came the men of Keilah would stand by him or give him up to Saul. By the hand of Abiathar the priest, David made enquiry of God on the subject. David said,
“O Lord God of Israel Thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah to destroy the city for my sake; will Saul come down as Thy servant hath heard? And the Lord said, He will come down. Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the Lord said, They will deliver thee up” (1 Samuel 23:10-12).
On receiving this information, David left the place with all speed;
“And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah, and he forbare to go forth” (verse 13).
The noticeable feature lies in the fact that Saul did not go down to Keilah after David had been divinely informed that he would do so. This might appear contradictory if it were not recognised in its true character as an illustration of the reasonable nature of all divine statements. According to some popular conceptions on the subject, the answer “He (Saul) will come down,” was the inflexible fiat of destiny which nothing in heaven or earth could interfere with. People in general would treat it as an absolute statement—that the coming down of Saul was a matter of fixed futurity—whereas it is evident that like many statements we hear, it contained an unexpressed condition, taken for granted as a matter of course. “He will come down”—if you stay here. “The men of Keilah will deliver you up”—if they have the chance.
There is more than one illustration of this in the scriptures.
“Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed;”
Jonah was made to say: but the Ninevites humbled themselves, and Nineveh was not destroyed at the end of forty days, though Jonah patiently waited out the time to see the event. An unexpressed condition was bound up in the proclamation:
“Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed”—if they repent not.
So in Paul’s shipwreck (Acts 27), though angelically assured of the safety of every man in the ship (22-24), Paul told the centurion that if the sailors deserted the ship, the lives of the rest could not be saved (31); from which it follows that Paul understood the divine intimation that he had to be subject to the employment of the right means:
“God hath given thee all them that sail with thee”—if proper measures be adopted.
This association of implied condition with apparently positive statement is expressly enunciated in Jeremiah 18:7:
“At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.”
We must now look at David as he steps from adversity to the throne. We watch the process in the light of the following intimation subsequently addressed to David:
“I (Jehovah) gave thee the house of Israel and the house of Judah”
(2 Samuel 12:8).
The bestowal of the throne on David was a divine act. Therefore in observing the circumstances by which David passed to that position, we observe a divine procedure, and learn a lesson in the ways of providence. Some of those circumstances we have already looked at. It remains for us to note him at Ziklag, to which he and his men had been assigned by Achish, king of Gath. They hear that war is on the point of breaking out between Israel and the Philistines. They repair to the scene of coming conflict in the character of a Philistine contingent—with what purpose (whether to fight against Israel or the Philistines) is not stated, though the Philistines suspected the latter. Achish, who had also mustered to the fray, forced David to return to Ziklag, and take no part in the battle. On arriving back at Ziklag, David and his 600 men who were expecting to join their families where they had left them, found Ziklag in ashes, and not a living soul in the place. A band of Amalekites had attacked and burnt the place in their absence. They gave themselves up to a transport of grief—each man for his wife and family (1 Samuel 30: 4, 6). Looking upon David as the indirect cause of their misfortune,
“They spake of stoning him,” “but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”
Never were David’s prospects darker than at this moment. Yet he was on the verge of day-break. When the power of weeping had been exhausted, the question what was to be done pressed itself. Pursuit of the marauding band was suggested by David and sanctioned by God. Pursuit resulted in capture and in the recovery of the stolen families. David’s troubles were nearing an end. In the midst of the joy of domestic reunion, tidings came of the battle between Israel and the Philistines, the discomfiture of the former, and the death of Saul and his sons in battle. When the mourning natural to such news was over, the question presented itself, What was the wisest thing next to be done in the circumstances? David had adopted the prudent measure of conciliating the heads of the tribe of Judah. He had sent them a present out of the stuff taken from the Amalekites who had burnt Ziklag, during his subsequent pursuit of them, saying,
“Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.”
Quite a long list is given of the places to which these presents were sent (1 Samuel 30: 27-31). This was a discreet paving of the way—not in the nature of bribery, but a legitimate though politic predisposing of the situation for what had been divinely appointed and was evidently impending—the choice of David as Saul’s successor. It was an instance of what Saul referred to when he said he was told that David dealt “very subtilly.”
The way was not quite open though Saul was dead, for Saul had left a son—Ishbosheth whom Abner, Saul’s commander-in-chief, proclaimed king in his stead. The course to be pursued must have been a hard problem for David to decide. Should he remain in the enforced exile with the practical freedom and independence of a minor chieftain’s life? or should he attempt to return to his country at the peril of his head under Saul’s successor? He asked counsel of the Lord. Here David enjoyed a privilege denied to our day. It may be said we have as much liberty to ask the Lord’s direction as David had. Ay, but what about the receiving of an answer? here is where the difference lies.
Saul “enquired of the Lord,” but “ the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” (1 Samuel 28:6).
We ask, but we do not receive an answer in the direct and satisfactory way David did.
“David enquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the Lord said unto him, ‘Go up’ (a short reply—two words: but of what value compared with a whole volume of human disquisition). And David said, Whither shall I go up? And He said, Unto Hebron.”
Two words again, but what a world of strength and comfort in them to David. Of what unspeakable consequences a single word of recognition and guidance would be to us in our dark and deserted day. Have we no guidance then? Yes, but not of this sort. God has not changed: the testimony remains true that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and that His ears are open to their cry: that our heavenly Father knoweth what things we have need of, and will direct our steps in the attainment of them in the way best suited to our needs as His children. But the day of open communication was suspended for a time, when, after the final word by the hand of the Lord Jesus, the apostasy came in like a flood and submerged the light in darkness. It was a day spoken of beforehand, that it would come when there would be a famine, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord,” when men should run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord and should not find it (Amos 8:11-12); when there should be “no answer of God” (Micah 3:7). If it be said that in this God has changed—that whereas He answered before, now He answers not—the objector has only to be reminded that before David was born, there had been a similar period of silence because of Israel’s sins. It is testified that in the days of Samuel’s childhood,
“The word of the Lord was precious in those days: there was no open vision”
(1 Samuel 3:1).
For everything there is a season and a time. There is a time to speak, and there is a time to be silent. This is true of God as well as man. He has spoken much in times past, “at sundry times and divers manners”: now He is silent, and His very silence is indicative of His estimate of the state of things at present prevailing on earth. Before sin entered into this world, intercourse with Him, through the medium of His glorious angelic representatives, was a daily occurrence. After sin had entered, Adam was expelled from this privileged relation, and could only approach Him suppliantly through sacrifice before the austere cherubic symbol. From that day to this is a long stride in the development of godlessness upon earth, and explains the dead silence characteristic of these times of “darkness covering the earth and gross darkness the people.” In the day of restoration, the tabernacle of God will be with men, and He shall be their God, and they shall be His people. Joy and honour, and light and gladness will accompany this communion with God. Meanwhile, it is ours only to pray, and in faith commit our way to Him who seeth in secret; it is not our privilege to receive the direct and explicit guidance that David received in the case before us. It is cruelty to ourselves to imagine what is not. Our wisdom is to recognise the exact measure of our privileges; embrace them and wake up to them in full, but not to assume that we are in David’s position and get answers where we get none.
It may be suggested that David’s privilege in this respect precludes our use of him as illustrating the ways of providence. In truth the opposite view is the more logical one. If we find that in the case of the man after God’s own heart, who enjoyed almost the honour of Moses, in speaking face to face with the Almighty One of Jacob; David had to act his part in the process by which God accomplished His purpose concerning him; and that God accomplished that purpose by working with David in a perfectly natural way; obviously it is much more binding on us (if there be any difference) to act with a similar practical wisdom in our ways, and to recognise that God does not act toward us independently of natural circumstances, but by means of, or in cooperation with them, when they are used in the spirit of fear before Him, faith in Him, and submission to all His revealed requirements.
Having received so direct an answer as to which city of Judah he should repair to, “David went up hither to Hebron.” Arrived there, the men of Judah, whom David had propitiated in the way already referred to, “came and anointed David king over the house of Judah” (2 Samuel 2: 4). His jurisdiction at first was very circumscribed in comparison with the position promised to him as “captain over Israel”—the whole twelve tribes. He was the king of Judah only, while Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, was “king over Gilead and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel” (2 Samuel 2: 9). Here we have to ponder the gradualness of the divine operations, and the faith required of those who are the subject of them. David had been anointed by Samuel as king over the whole house of Israel. It would not have been an unnatural view of this anointing to suppose that it meant the instantaneous installation of David, when the moment arrived for giving it effect, into the full possession of the throne of Saul. Instead of that, David was first the popular head of the army, then the king’s son-in-law, next an exile under royal disfavour, next a mountain chieftain, next a Philistine auxiliary, then the accepted monarch of a small section of the kingdom of Israel, before the full development of the divine purpose was reached. And each step in the process was the natural outcome of David’s action in the one going before. This ought to give us an enlarged view of the ways of God in all matters, —whether as to our own individual affairs, or as to the development of the glorious purpose of God upon earth at the coming of Christ. As Dr. Thomas used to say, “God is never in a hurry: He has plenty of time.” There is but little of the flash-of-lightning order in His works in the past, and this is the lesson for the future.
David’s patience was tried, and David’s faith was rewarded. His star rose steadily in the eastern sky, shining with a brilliancy increasing every moment:
“David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker;”
Until at last the kingdom of Saul collapsed, and David’s authority was established in all the land.
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