The Life of David
Chapters 9-16 (P2 of 12)
AW Pink (1886–1952)
Copyright – Public Domain
External links are for reader convenience only, neither the linked web sites, its advertising content or its comments are endorsed by Late Night Watch. Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.
LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.
LNW: As a personal note to this book by A.W. Pink on King David, I found it very helpful in so many different ways. Unlike many commentaries of today, A.W. Pink wrote with true insight from the Spirit and appropriate application of that insight to life’s daily encounters and challenges. I think you will find this book a most revealing and helpful tool in your walk (wise decision making) and growing in Christ to lead a holy life before God and man.
Chapter Nine-His Flight to Ziklag
1 Samuel 21
There are times when God’s tender love for His people seems to be contradicted by the sore testings which He sends upon them, times when His providences appear to clash with His promises; then it is that faith is tested, and so often fails; then it is also that the superabounding grace of God is evidenced by delivering the one who has given way to unbelief. These principles are illustrated again and again on the pages of Holy Writ, especially in the Old Testament, and one of their chief values is for us to lay them to heart, turn them into earnest prayer, and seek to profit from them. God forbid that we should “wrest” them to our destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). God forbid that we should deliberately sin in order that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1, 2). And God forbid that we should take the failures of those who preceded us as excuses for our own grievous falls, thus endeavoring to shelter behind the faults of others. Rather let us seek grace to regard them as danger-signals, set up to deter us from slipping into the snares which tripped them.
To Abraham God promised a numerous seed (Gen. 12:2), but His providences seemed to run counter to the fulfillment. Sarah was barren! But the sterility of her womb presented no difficulty to Omnipotence. Nor was there any need for Abraham to attempt a fleshly compromise, by seeking a son through Hagar (Gen. 16). True, for a while, his plan appeared to succeed? but the sequel not only demonstrated the needlessness for such a device, but in Ishmael a bitter harvest was reaped. And this is recorded as a warning for us. To Jacob God said, “Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred, and I will be with thee” (Gen. 31:3). During the course of his journey, messengers informed him that Esau was approaching with four hundred men, and we read that “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Gen. 32:7). How human! True, and how sad, how dishonoring to God! What cause for fear was there when Jehovah was with him? O for grace to “trust in Him at all times” (Ps. 62:8).
Learn, dear brethren and sisters, that faith must be tested—to prove its genuineness. Yet only He who gives faith, can maintain it; and for this we must constantly seek unto Him. What has just been before us receives further illustration in the subject of these chapters. David was the king elect, yet another wore the crown. The son of Jesse had been anointed unto the throne, yet Saul was now bitterly persecuting him. Had God forgotten to be gracious? No, indeed. Had He changed His purpose? That could not be (Mal. 3:6). Why, then, should the slayer of Goliath now be a fugitive? He had been appointed to be master of vast treasures, yet he was now reduced to begging bread (21:3). Faith must be tested, and we must learn by painful experience the bitter consequences of not trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, and the evil fruits which are borne whenever we lean unto our own understandings, take matters into our own hands, and seek to extricate ourselves from trouble.
Concerning Hezekiah we read that “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31). None of us knows how weak he is till God withdraws His upholding grace (as He did with Peter) and we are left to ourselves. True, the Lord has plainly told us that “without Me ye can do nothing.” We think we believe that word, and in a way we do; yet there is a vast difference between not calling into question a verse of Scripture, an assenting to its verity, and an inward acquaintance with the same in our own personal history. It is one thing to believe that I am without strength or wisdom, it is another to know it through actual experience. Nor is this, as a rule, obtained through a single episode, any more than a nail is generally driven in securely by one blow of the hammer. No, we have to learn, and re-learn, so stupid are we. The Truth of God has to be burned into us in the fiery furnace of affliction. Yet this ought not to be so, and would not be so if we paid more heed to these Old Testament warnings, furnished in the biographies of the saints of yore.
In our last chapter we saw that, following the murderous attack of Saul upon him, David fled to Naioth, But thither did his relentless enemy follow him. Wondrously did God interpose on His servant’s behalf. Yet, being a man of like passions with ourselves, and the supernatural grace of God not supporting him at the time, instead of David’s fears being thoroughly removed, and instead of waiting quietly with Samuel to receive a word of Divine guidance, he was occupied with his immediate danger from Saul, and after vainly conferring with Jonathan, took things into his own hands and fled to Nob. There he lied to the priest, by means of which he obtained bread, but at the fearful cost of Saul reeking vengeance through Doeg in slaying eighty-five of those who wore the linen ephod. Disastrous indeed are the consequences when we seek to have our own way and hew out a path for ourselves. How differently had things turned out if David trusted the Lord, and left Him to undertake for him!
God is all-sufficient in Himself to supply all our need (Phil. 4:19) and to do for us far more exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). This He can do either in an immediate way, or mediately if He sees fit to make use of creatures as instruments to fulfill His pleasure and communicate what He desires to impart to us. God is never at a loss: all things, all events, all creatures, are at His sovereign disposal. This foundational truth of God’s all-sufficiency should be duly improved by us, taking heed that we do not by our thoughts or actions reflect upon or deny this divine perfection. And this we certainly do when we use unlawful means to escape imminent dangers. Such was the case with Abram (Gen. 20) and Isaac (Gen. 26) when they denied their wives, concluding that that was a necessary expedient to save their lives—as though God were not able to save them in a better and more honorable way. Such we shall see was the case with David at Ziklag.
We also made brief reference in our last chapter to the fact that when the saint is out of touch with God, when he is in a backslidden state, his behavior is so different from his former conduct, so inconsistent with his profession, that his actions now present a strange enigma. And yet that enigma is capable of simple solution. It is only in God’s light that any of us “see light” (Ps. 36:9). As the Lord Jesus declares, “he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). Yes, but it is only as we are really “following” Him, our hearts engaged with the example which He has left us, that we shall see, know, and take that path which is pleasing and honoring to Him. There is only one other alternative, and that is seeking to please either our fellows or ourselves, and where this is the case, only confusion and trouble can ensue.
When communion with God (who is “light”) is severed, nothing but spiritual darkness is left. The world is a “dark place” (2 Peter 1:19), and if we are not ordering our steps by the Word (Ps. 119:105), then we shall flounder and stumble. “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways” (Prov. 14:14), not with the “ways” of God (Ps. 103:7). Where fellowship with the Lord is broken, the mind is no longer illuminated from Heaven, the judgment is clouded, and a lack of wisdom, yea, folly itself, will then characterize all our actions. Here is the key to much in our lives, the explanation of those “unwise doings,” those “foolish mistakes” for which we have had to pay so dearly—we were not controlled by the Holy Spirit, we acted in the energy of the flesh, we sought the counsel of the ungodly, or followed the dictates of common sense.
Nor is there any determining to what lengths the backslider may go, or how foolishly and madly he may not act. Solemnly is this illustrated in the case now before us. As we saw in the preceding paper, David was worried at being unarmed, and asked the high priest if there were no weapon to hand. On being informed that the only one available was “the sword of Goliath,” which had been preserved in the tabernacle as a memorial of the Lord’s goodness to His people, David exclaimed, “There is none like it, give it me” (1 Sam. 21:9). Alas, “how had the fine gold become dim”! He who when walking in the fear of the Lord had not hesitated to advance against Goliath with nothing in his hand save a sling, now that the fear of man possessed him, placed his confidence in a giant’s sword. Perhaps both writer and reader are inclined to marvel at this, but have we not more reason to mourn as we see in this incident an accurate portrayal of many of our past failures?
“And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath” (1 Sam. 21:10). Fearing that Saul would pursue him were he to make for any other part of the land of Israel, and not being disposed to organize a company against him, David took refuge in Gath of the Philistines. But what business had he in the territory of God’s enemies? None whatever, for he had not gone there in His interests. Verily, “oppression maketh a wise man mad” (Eccl. 7:7). Few indeed conduct themselves in extreme difficulties without taking some manifestly false step: we should therefore “watch and pray that we enter not into temptation” (Matthew 26:41), earnestly seeking from God the strength which will alone enable us to successfully resist the Devil.
“And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.” It is evident from what follows that David hoped he would not be recognized. Thus it is with the backslidden Christian as he fraternizes with the world: he attempts to conceal his colors, hoping that he will not be recognized as a follower of the Lord Jesus. Yet behold the consummate folly of David: he journeyed to Gath with “the sword of Goliath” in his hands! Wisdom had indeed deserted him. As another has said, “Common prudence might have taught him, that, if he sought the friendship of the Philistines, the sword of Goliath was not the most likely instrument to conciliate their favour.” But where a saint has grieved the Holy Spirit, even common sense no longer regulates him.
“And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands?” (v. 11). God will not allow His people to remain incognito in this world. He has appointed that they should “be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without blame in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation among whom” they are to “shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2: 15), and any efforts of theirs to annul this, He will thwart. Abraham’s deception was discovered. Peter’s attempt to conceal his discipleship failed—his very speech betrayed him. So here: David was quickly recognized. And thus it will be with us. And mercifully is this the case, for God will not have His own to settle down among and enjoy the friendship of His enemies.
“And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath” (v. 12). What right had David to be at Gath? None whatever, and God soon caused circumstances to arise which showed him that he was out of his place, though in wondrous mercy He withheld any chastisement. How sad to hear of him who had so courageously advanced against Goliath now being “sore afraid”! “The righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1); yes, the “righteous,” that is, they who are right with God, walking with Him, and so sustained by His grace. Sadder still is it to see how David now acted: instead of casting himself on God’s mercy, confessing his sin, and seeking His intervention, he had recourse to deceit and played the fool.
“And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard” (v. 13). Afraid to rely upon the man whose protection he had sought, the anointed of God now feigned himself to be crazy. It was then that he learned experimentally, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Ps. 118:9). The king elect “feigned himself mad”: “such was the condition into which David had sunk. Saul himself could scarcely have wished for a deeper degradation” (B. W. Newton). Learn from this, dear reader, what still indwells the true saint, and which is capable of any and every wickedness but for the restraining hand of God. Surely we have need to pray daily “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe” (Ps. 119:117).
“Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me? Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” (vv. 14, 15). How evident is it to the anointed eye, from the whole of this incident, that the Holy Spirit’s object here was not to glorify David, but to magnify the longsuffering grace of God, and to furnish salutary instruction and solemn warning for us! Throughout the Scriptures the character of man is accurately painted in the colors of reality and truth.
Many are the lessons to be learned from this sad incident. Though ingenious falsehoods may seem to promote present security, yet they insure future disgrace. They did for Abraham, for Isaac, for Jacob, for Peter, for Ananias. Leaning unto his own understanding conducted David to Gath, but he soon learned from the shame of his folly that he had not walked in wisdom. Not only was David deeply humiliated by this pitiful episode, but Jehovah was grievously dishonored thereby. Marvelous indeed was it that he escaped with his life: this can only be attributed to the secret but invincible workings of His power, moving upon the king of the Philistines, for as the title of Psalm 34 informs us, “Achish drove him away, and he departed.” Such was the means which an infinitely merciful God used to screen His child from imminent danger.
From Gath David fled to the cave of Adullam. Blessed is it to learn of the repentant and chastened spirit in which the servant of God entered it. The thirty-fourth Psalm was written by him then (as its superscription informs us), and in it the Holy Spirit has given us to see the exercises of David’s heart at that time. There we find him blessing the Lord, his soul making his boast in Him (vv. 1-3). There we hear him saying, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (v. 4). There he declares, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them” (vv. 6, 7).
But it was more than praise and gratitude which filled the restored backslider. David had learned some valuable lessons experimentally. Therefore we hear him saying, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (vv. 11-14). “He had proved the evil of lying lips and a deceitful tongue, and now was able to warn others of the pitfall into which he had fallen” (B. W. Newton). But it is blessed to mark that the warned, not as one who was left to reap the harvest of his doings, but as one who could say, “The Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants, and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate” (v. 22).
Chapter Ten-In The Cave of Adullam
1 Samuel 22
At the close of the preceding chapter, we saw the backslider restored to communion with God. As David then wrote, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous”—most of them brought upon themselves through sinful folly—”but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). Yet, in His own good time. The hour had not yet arrived for our patriarch to ascend the throne. It would have been a simple matter for God to have put forth His power, destroyed Saul, and given His servant rest from all his foes. And this, no doubt, is what the energetic nature of David had much preferred. But there were other counsels of God to be unfolded before He was ready for the son of Jesse to wield the scepter. Though we are impulsive and impetuous, God is never in a hurry; the sooner we learn this lesson, the better for our own peace of mind, and the sooner shall we “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:7).
“God had designs other than the mere exaltation of David. He intended to allow the evil of Saul and of Israel to exhibit itself. He intended to give to David some apprehension of the character of his own heart, and to cause him to learn subjection to a greater wisdom than his own. He intended also to prove the hearts of His own people Israel; and to try how many among them would discern that the Cave of Adullam was the only true place of excellency and honour in Israel” (B. W. Newton). Further discipline was needed by David, if he was to learn deeper lessons of dependency upon God. Learn from this, dear reader, that though God’s delays are trying to flesh and blood, nevertheless they are ordered by perfect wisdom and infinite love. “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come” (Hab. 2:3).
“David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam” (1 Sam. 22:1). Still a fugitive, David left the land of the Philistines, and now took refuge in a large underground cavern, situated, most probably, not far from Bethlehem. To conceal himself from Saul and his blood-thirsty underlings, our hero betook himself to a cave—it is probable that the Holy Spirit made reference to this in Hebrews 11:38. The high favorites of Heaven are sometimes to be located in queer and unexpected places. Joseph in prison, the descendants of Abraham laboring in the brick-kilns of Egypt, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah in the great fish’s belly, Paul clinging to a spar in the sea, forcibly illustrate this principle. Then let us not murmur because we do not now live in as fine a house as do some of the ungodly; our “mansions” are in Heaven!
“David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam.” It is blessed to learn how David employed himself at this time; yet close searching has to be done before this can be ascertained. The Bible is no lazy man’s book: much of its treasure, like the valuable minerals stored in the bowels of the earth, only yield up themselves to the diligent seeker. Compare Proverbs 2: 1-5. By noting the superscriptions to the Psalms (which, with many others, we are satisfied are Divinely inspired), we discover that two of them were composed by “the sweet singer of Israel” at this time. Just as the 34th casts its welcome light upon the close of 1 Samuel 21, so Psalm 57 and 142 illuminate the opening verses of 1 Samuel 22.
The underground asylum of David made an admirable closet for prayer, its very solitude being helpful for the exercise of devotion. Well did C. H. Spurgeon say, “Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought such misery upon his latter days.” We trust the spiritual reader will, at this point, turn to and ponder Psalms 57 and 142. In them he will perceive something of the exercises of David’s heart. From them he may derive valuable instruction as to how to pray acceptably unto God in seasons of peculiar trial. A careful reading of the fifty-seventh Psalm will enable us to follow one who began it amid the gloomy shadows of the cavern, but from which he gradually emerged into the open daylight. So it often is in the experiences of the believer’s soul.
Perhaps the Psalm 142 was composed by David before the Psalm 57: certainly it brings before us one who was in deeper anguish of soul. Blessed indeed is it to mark the striking contrast from what is here presented to us and what was before us as we passed through 1 Samuel 20 and 21. There we saw the worried fugitive turning to Jonathan, lying to Ahimelech, playing the madman at Gath. But vain was the hope of man. Yet how often we have to pass through these painful experiences and bitter disappointments before we thoroughly learn this lesson! Here we behold the son of Jesse turning to the only One who could do him any real good. “I cried unto the Lord with my voice I poured out my complaint before Him. I showed before Him my trouble” (vv. 1, 2). This is what we should do: thoroughly unburden our hearts unto Him with whom we have to do. Note how, at the close of this Psalm, after he had so freely poured out his woes, David exclaimed, “Thou shalt deal bountifully with me”!
“And Jonathan loved him as his own soul . . . all Israel and Judah loved David” (1 Sam. 18:1, 16). Now their love was tested, now an opportunity was furnished them to manifest their affections for him. This was the hour of David’s unpopularity: he was outlawed from the court; a fugitive from Saul, he was dwelling in a cave. Now was the time for devotion to David to be clearly exhibited. But only those who truly loved him could be expected to throw in their lot with an hated outcast. Strikingly is this illustrated in the very next words.
“And when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him” (1 Sam. 22:1). Ah, true love is unaffected by the outward circumstances of its object. Where the heart is genuinely knit to another, a change in his fortunes will not produce a change in its affections. David might be, in the eyes of the world, in disgrace; but that made no difference to those who loved him. He might be languishing in a cavern, but that was all the more reason why they should show their kindness and demonstrate their unswerving loyalty. Among other things, this painful trial enabled David to discover who were, and who were not, his real friends.
If we look beneath the surface here, the anointed eye should have no difficulty in discerning another striking and blessed type of David’s Son and Lord. First, a type of him when He tabernacled among men, in “the days of his flesh.” How fared it then with the Anointed of God? By title the throne of Israel was His, for He was born “the King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). That God was with him was unmistakably evident. He too “behaved Himself wisely in all His ways.” He too performed exploits: healing the sick, freeing the demon possessed, feeding the hungry multitude, raising the dead. But just as Saul hated and persecuted David, so the heads of the Jews—the chief priests and Pharisees—were envious of and hounded Christ. Just as Saul thirsted for the blood of Jesse’s son, the leaders of Israel (at a later date) thirsted for the blood of God’s Son.
The analogy mentioned above might be drawn out at considerable length, but at only one other point will we here glance, namely, the fact of the solemn foreshadowment furnished by David as first the friend and benefactor of his nation, now the poor outcast. Accurately did he prefigure that blessed One, who when here was “the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Trace His path as the Holy Spirit has described it in the New Testament. Behold Him as the unwanted One in this world of wickedness. Hear His plaintive declaration, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). Read too, “And every man went unto his own house; Jesus went unto the mount of Olives” (John 7:53; 8:1); and it is evident that David’s Lord was the Homeless Outcast in this scene.
But were there none who appreciated Him, none who loved Him, none who were willing to be identified with and cast in their lot with Him who was “despised and rejected of men”? Yes, there were some, and these, we believe, are typically brought before us in the next verse of the scripture we are now pondering: “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him” (1 Sam. 22:2). What a strange company to seek unto God’s anointed! No mention is made of the captains of the army, the men of state, the princes of the realm, coming unto David. No, they, with all like them, preferred the court and the palace to the cave of Adullam.
Is not the picture an accurate one, dear reader? Is it not plain again that these Old Testament records furnished something more than historical accounts, that there is a typical and spiritual significance to them as well? If David be a type of Christ, then those who sought him out during the season of his humiliation, must represent those who sought unto David’s Son when He sojourned on this earth. And clearly they did so. Read the four Gospels, and it will be found that, for the most part, those who sought unto the Lord Jesus, were the poor and needy; it was the lepers, the blind, the maimed and the halt, who came unto Him for help and healing. The rich and influential, the learned and the mighty, the leaders of the Nation, had no heart for Him.
But what is before us in the opening of 1 Samuel 22 not only typed out that which occurred during the earthly ministry of Christ, but it also shadowed forth that which has come to pass all through this Christian era, and that which is taking place today. As the Holy Spirit declared through Paul, “For ye see your calling brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought the things which are: That no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
The second verse of 1 Samuel 22 sets before us a striking gospel picture. Note, first, that those who came to David were few in number: “about four hundred.” What a paltry retinue! What a handful compared with the hosts of Israel! But did Christ fare any better in the days of His flesh? How many friends stood around the Cross, wept at His sepulcher, or greeted Him as He burst the bars of death? How many followed Him to Bethany, gazed at His ascending form, or gathered in the upper room to await the promised Spirit? And how is it today? Of the countless millions of earth’s inhabitants what percentage of them have even heard the gospel? Out of those who bear His name, how many evidence that they are denying self, taking up their cross daily, and following the example which He has left, and thus proving themselves by the only badge of discipleship which He will recognize? A discouraging situation, you say. Not at all, rather is it just what faith expects. The Lord Jesus declared that His flock is a “little one” (Luke 12:32), that only “few” tread that narrow way which leadeth unto life (Matthew 7:14).
Second, observe again the particular type of people who sought out David: they were “in distress, in debt, and discontented.” What terms could more suitably describe the condition they are in when the redeemed first seek help from Christ! “In debt”: in all things we had come short of the glory of God. In thought, word, and deed, we had failed to please Him, and there was marked up against us a multitude of transgressions. “In distress”; who can tell out that anguish of soul which is experienced by the truly convicted of the Holy Spirit? Only the one who has actually experienced the same, knows of that unspeakable horror and sorrow when the heart first perceives the frightful enormity of having defied the infinite Majesty of heaven, trifled with His longsuffering, slighted His mercy again and again.
“Discontented.” Yes, this line in the picture is just as accurate as the others. The one who has been brought to realize he is a spiritual pauper, and who is now full of grief for his sins, is discontented with the very things which till recently pleased him. Those pleasures which fascinated, now pall. That gay society which once attracted, now repels. O the emptiness of the world to a soul which God hath smitten with a sense of sin! The stricken one turns away with disgust from that which he had formerly sought after so eagerly. There is now an aching void within, which nothing without can fill. So wretched is the convicted sinner, he wishes he were dead, yet he is terrified at the very thought of death. Reader, do you know anything of such an experience, or is all this the language of an unknown tongue to you?
Third, these people who were in debt, in distress, and discontented, sought out David. They were the only ones who did so; it was a deep sense of need which drove them to him, and a hope that he could relieve them. So it is spiritually. None but those who truly feel that they are paupers before God, with no good thing to their credit, absolutely destitute of any merits of their own, will appreciate the glad tidings that Christ Jesus came into this world to pay the debt of such. Only those who are smitten in their conscience, broken in heart, and sick of sin, will really respond to that blessed word of His, “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Only those who have lost all heart for this poor world, will truly turn unto the Lord of glory.
Fourth, the spiritual picture we are now contemplating is not only a type of the first coming to Christ of His people, but also of their subsequent going forth “unto Him without the camp” (Heb. 13:13). Those who sought David in the Cave of Adullam turned their backs upon both the court of Saul and the religion of Judaism. There was none to pity them there. Who cared for penniless paupers? Who had a heart for those in distress? So it is in many churches today. Those who are “poor in spirit” have nothing in common with the self-satisfied Laodiceans. And how “distressed” in soul are they over the worldliness that has come in like a flood, over the crowds of unregenerate members, over the utter absence of any scriptural discipline? And what is to be the attitude and actions of God’s grieved children toward those having nothing more than a form of godliness? This “from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5). Identify yourself with Christ on the outside; walk alone with Him.
Fifth, “And he became a captain over them” (1 Sam. 22:2). Important and striking line in the picture is this. Christ is to be received as “Lord” (Col. 2:6) if He is to be known as Saviour. Love to Christ is to be evidenced by “keeping His commandments” (John 14:15). It mattered not what that strange company had been who sought unto David, they were now his servants and soldiers. They had turned away from the evil influence of Saul, to be subject unto the authority of David. This is what Christ requires from all who identify themselves with Him. “Take My yoke upon you” is His demand (Matthew 11:29). Nor need we shrink from it, for He declares “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Chapter Eleven-His Return To Judea
1 Samuel 22 and 23
In our last chapter we left David in the Cave of Adullam. An incident is recorded in 2 Samuel 23 which throws an interesting light on the spiritual life of our hero at this time. “And three of the thirty chief went down and came to David in the harvest-time unto the cave of Adullam: and the troop of the Philistines pitched in the valley of Rephaim. And David was then in an hold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David longed, and said, Oh, that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate! And the three mighty men brake through the hosts of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord. And he said, Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? Therefore he would not drink of it” (vv. 13-17).
No doubt the trials of his present lot had called to David’s mind his happy life at home. The weather being hot, he expressed a longing for a drink from the family well of Bethlehem, though with no thought that any of his men would risk their lives to procure it for him. Yet this is precisely what happened: out of deep devotion to their outlawed captain, three of them fought their way through a company of the Philistines who were encamped there, and returned to David with the desired draught. Touched by their loyalty, stirred by their self-sacrifice, David felt that water obtained at such risk was too valuable for him to drink, and was fit only to be “poured out unto the Lord” as a “drink-offering.” Beautifully has Matthew Henry made application of this, thus: “Did David look upon that water as very precious, which was got but with the hazard of these men’s blood, and shall not we much more value those benefits for the purchasing of which our blessed Saviour shed His blood”?
We quote from another who has commented upon this incident. “There is something peculiarly touching and beautiful in the above scene, whether we contemplate the act of the three mighty men in procuring the water for David, or David’s act in pouring it out to the Lord. It is evident that David discerned, in an act of such uncommon devotedness, a sacrifice which none but the Lord Himself could duly appreciate. The odor of such a sacrifice was far too fragrant for him to interrupt it in its ascent to the throne of the God of Israel. Wherefore he, very properly and very graciously, allows it to pass him by, in order that it might go up to the One who alone was worthy to receive it, or able to appreciate it. All this reminds us, forcibly, of that beautiful compendium of Christian devotedness set forth in Philippians 2:17, 18: ‘Yea, and if I be poured out upon the sacrifice, and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all; for this cause ye also joy and rejoice with me.’ In this passage, the apostle represents the Philippian saints in their character as priests, presenting a sacrifice and performing a priestly ministration to God; and such was the intensity of his self-forgetting devotedness, that he could rejoice in his being poured out as a drink-offering upon their sacrifice, so that all might ascend, in fragrant odor to God” (C. H. M.).
Some commentators have denied that the above touching episode occurred during that section of David’s history which we are now considering, placing it at a much later date. These men failed to see that 1 Chronicles 11:15 and 2 Samuel 23 recount things out of their chronological order. If the reader turn back to 1 Samuel 17:1, 19:8, etc., he will see that the Philistines were quite active in making raids upon Israel at this time, and that David, not Saul, was the principal one to withstand them. But now he was no longer in the position to engage them. Saul, as we shall see in a moment, had dropped all other concerns and was confining his whole attention to the capture of David: thus the door was then wide open for the Philistines to continue their depredations. Finally, be it said, all that is recorded after David came to the throne, makes it altogether unlikely that the Philistines were then encamped around Bethlehem, still less that the king should seek refuge in the cave of Adullam.
“And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me. And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold” (1 Sam. 22:3, 4). We are convinced that what has been before us in the above paragraphs supplies the key to that which is here recorded. In 1 Samuel 22:1 we learn that “all his family” had come to David in the Cave. From 16:1 we learn that their home was in Bethlehem: but the Philistines were now encamped there (2 Sam. 23:14), so they could not return thither. David did not wish his parents to share the hardships involved by his wanderings, and so now he thoughtfully seeks an asylum for them. Blessed is it to see him, in the midst of his sore trials, “honoring his father and his mother.” Beautifully did this foreshadow what is recorded in John 19:26, 27.
While Saul was so bitterly opposed to David, there was no safety for his parents anywhere in the land of Israel. The deep exercises and anguish of David’s heart at this time are vividly expressed in Psalm 142, the Title of which reads, “A Prayer when he was in the Cave.” “I cried unto the Lord with my voice, with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before Him: I showed before Him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto Thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low; deliver me from my persecutors, for they are stronger than I. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for Thou shalt deal bountifully with me.” Blessed is it to mark the note of confidence in God in the closing verse.
“And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you.” What was it induced David to trust his parents unto the protection of the Moabites? We quote, in part. from the answer given by J. J. Blunt in his very striking book, Undesigned Coincidences in the Old and New Testament, “Saul, it is true, had been at war with them, whatever he might then be—but so had he been with every people round about; with the Ammonites, with the Edomites, with the kings of Zobah. Neither did it follow that the enemies of Saul, as a matter of course, would be the friends of David. On the contrary, he was only regarded by the ancient inhabitants of the land, to which ever of the local nations they belonged, as the champion of Israel; and with such suspicion was he received amongst them, notwithstanding Saul’s known enmity towards him, that before Achish king of Gath, he was constrained to feign himself mad, and so effect his escape . . .
“Now what principle of preference may be imagined to have governed David when he committed his family to the dangerous keeping of the Moabites? Was it a mere matter of chance? It might seem so, as far as appears to the contrary in David’s history, given in the books of Samuel; and if the book of Ruth had never come down to us, to accident it probably would have been ascribed. But this short and beautiful historical document shows us a propriety in the selection of Moab above any other for a place of refuge to the father and mother of David; since it is there seen that the grandmother of Jesse, David’s father, was actually a Moabitess; Ruth being the mother of Obed, and Obed the father of Jesse. And, moreover, that Orpah, the other Moabitess, who married Mahlon at the time when Ruth married Chilion his brother, remained behind in Moab after the departure of Naomi and Ruth, and remained behind with a strong feeling of affection, nevertheless, for the family and kindred of her deceased husband, taking leave of them with tears (Ruth 1:14). She herself then, or at all events, her descendants and friends might still be alive. Some regard for the posterity of Ruth, David would persuade himself, might still survive amongst them . . .
“Thus do we detect, not without some pains, a certain fitness, in the conduct of David in this transaction which makes it to be a real one. A forger of a story could not have fallen upon the happy device of sheltering Jesse in Moab simply on the recollecting of his Moabitish extraction two generations earlier; or, having fallen upon it, it is probable he would have taken care to draw the attention of his readers towards his device by some means or other, lest the evidence it was intended to afford of the truth of the history might be thrown away upon them. As it is, the circumstance itself is asserted without the smallest attempt to explain or account for it. Nay, recourse must be had to another book of Scripture, in order that the coincidence may be seen.”
Unto the king of Moab David said, “Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth and be with you, till I know what God will do for me.” Slowly but surely our patriarch was learning to acquiesce in the appointments of God. Practical subjection unto the Lord is only learned in the school of experience: the theory of it may be gathered from books, but the actuality has to be hammered out on the anvil of our hearts. Of our glorious Head it is declared, “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). This word of David’s also indicates that he was beginning to feel the need of waiting upon God for directions: how much sorrow and suffering would be avoided did we always do so. His “what God will do for me,” rather than “with me,” indicated a hope in the Lord.
“And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judea. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth” (v. 5). In the light of this verse, and together with 22:23, we may see that “the excellent” of the earth (Ps. 16:3) were more and more gathering to him who was a type of Christ in His rejection. Here we see the prophet of God with him, and shortly afterwards he was joined by the high priest—solemn it is to contrast the apostate Saul, who was now deserted by both. David had been humbled before God, and He now speaks again to him, not directly, but mediately. Two reasons may be suggested for this: David was not yet fully restored to Divine communion, and God was honoring His own institutions—the prophetic office: cf. 1 Samuel 23:9-1l.
“And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah.” It is quite clear from the language of this verse that at the time God now spoke to His servant through the prophet, he had not returned to the Cave of Adullam, but had sought temporary refuge in some stronghold of Moab. Now he received a call which presented a real test to his faith. To appear more openly in his own country would evidence the innocency of his cause, as well as display his confidence in the Lord. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Ps. 37:23), yet the path He appoints is not the one which is smoothest to the flesh. But when God calls, we must respond, and leave the issue entirely in His hands.
“When Saul heard that David was discovered, and the men that were with him, (now Saul abode in Gibeah under a tree in Ramah, having his spear in his hand, and all his servants standing about him); then Saul said unto his servants . . .” Here the Spirit takes up again another leading thread around which the history of 1 Samuel is woven. Having traced the movements of David since the leaving of his home (19: 11, 12) up to the Cave of Adullam and his now receiving orders to return to the land of Judea, He follows again the evil history of Saul. The king had apparently set aside everything else, and was devoting himself entirely to the capture of David. He had taken up his headquarters at Gibeah: the “spear in his hand” showed plainly his blood-thirsty intentions.
The news of David’s return to Judea, soon reached the ears of Saul, and the fact that he was accompanied by a considerable number of men, probably alarmed him not a little, fearful that the people would turn to his rival and that he would lose his throne. His character was revealed again by the words which he now addressed to his servants (v. 7), who were, for the most part, selected from his own tribe. He appealed not to the honor and glory of Jehovah, but to their cupidity. David belonged to Judah, and if he became king then those who belonged to the tribe of Benjamin must not expect to receive favors at his hands—neither rewards of land, nor positions of prominence in the army.
“All of you have conspired against me, and there is none that showeth me that my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you that is sorry for me, or showeth unto me that my son hath stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day” (v. 8). Here Saul charges his followers with having failed to reveal to him that which he supposed they knew, and of showing no concern for the circumstance in which he was then placed; this he construed as a conspiracy against him. His was the language of ungovernable rage and jealousy. His son is charged as being ringleader of the conspirators, merely because he would not assist in the murder of an excellent man whom he loved! True, there was a covenant of friendship between Jonathan and David, but no plot to destroy Saul, as he wildly imagined. But it is the nature of an evil person to regard as enemies those who are not prepared to toady to him or her in everything.
It was in response to Saul’s bitter words to his men, that Doeg the Edomite made known David’s secret visit to Ahimelech, and his obtaining victuals and the sword of Goliath (vv. 9, 10). Nothing was mentioned of the high priest being imposed upon, but the impression was left that he joined with David in a conspiracy against Saul. Let us learn from this that we may “bear false witness against our neighbor” as really and disastrously by maliciously withholding part of the truth, as by deliberately inventing a lie. When called upon to express our opinion of another (which should, generally, be declined, unless some good purpose is to be served thereby), honesty requires that we impartially recount what is in his favor, as well as what makes against him. Note how in His addresses to the seven churches in Asia, the Lord commended the good, as well as rebuked that which was evil.
The terrible sequel is recorded in verses 11-19. Ahimelech and all his subordinate priests were promptly summoned into the king’s presence. Though he was by rank the second person in Israel, Saul contemptuously called the high priest “the son of Ahitub” (v. 12). Quietly ignoring the insult, Ahimelech addressed the king as “my lord,” thus giving honor to whom honor was due—the occupant of any office which God has appointed is to be honored, no matter how unworthy of respect the man may be personally. Next, the king charged the high priest with rebellion and treason (v. 13). Ahimelech gave a faithful and ungarnished account of his transaction with David (vv. 14, 15). But nothing could satisfy the incensed king but death, and orders were given for the whole priestly family to be butchered.
One of the sons of Ahimelech, named Abithai, escaped. Probably he had been left by his father to take care of the tabernacle and its holy things, while he and the rest of the priests went to appear before Saul. Having heard of their bloody execution, and before the murderers arrived at Nob to complete their vile work of destroying the wives, children and flocks of the priests, he fled, taking with him the ephod and the urim and thummim, and joined David (v. 21). It was then that David wrote the fifty-second Psalm. Three things may be observed in connection with the above tragedy. First, the solemn sentence which God had pronounced against the house of Eli was now executed (2:31-36; 3:12-14)—thus the iniquities of the fathers were visited upon the children. Second, Saul was manifestly forsaken of God, given up to Satan and his own malignant passions, and was fast ripening for judgment. Third, by this cruel carnage David obtained the presence of the high priest, who afterwards proved a great comfort and blessing to him (23:6, 9-13; 30:7-10)—thus did God make the wrath of man to praise Him and work together for good unto His own.
Chapter Twelve-Delivering Keilah
1 Samuel 23
The first section of 1 Samuel 23 (which we are now to look at) presents some striking contrasts. In it are recorded incidents exceedingly blessed, others fearfully sad. David is seen at his best, Saul at his worst. David humbly waits on the Lord, Saul presumes upon and seeks to pervert His providences. Saul is indifferent to the wellbeing of his own subjects, David delivers them from their enemies. David at imminent risk rescues the town of Keilah from the marauding Philistines; yet so lacking are they in gratitude, that they were ready to hand him over unto the man who sought his life. Though the priests of the Lord, with their entire families, had been brutally slain by Saul’s orders, yet the awful malice of the king was not thereby appeased: he is now seen again seeking the life of David, and that at the very time when he had so unselfishly wrought good for the nation.
It is instructive and helpful to keep in mind the order of what has been before us in previous chapters, so that we may perceive one of the important spiritual lessons in what is now to be before us. David had failed, failed sadly. We all do; but David had done what many are painfully slow in doing: he had humbled himself before the Lord, he had repented of and confessed his sins, in our last chapter, we saw how that David had been restored, in considerable measure at least, to communion with the Lord. God had spoken to him through His prophet. Light was now granted again on his path. The word was given him to return to the land of Judah (22:5). That word he had heeded, and now we are to see how the Lord used him again. Strikingly does this illustrate 1 Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”
“Then they told David, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshingfloors” (1 Sam. 23:1). Here we may see another reason (more than those suggested at the close of our last chapter) why God had called David to return to the land of Judah: He had further work for him to do there. Keilah was within the borders of that tribe (Josh. l5:21, 44). It was a fortified town (v. 7), and the Philistines had laid siege to it. The “threshingfloors” (which were usually situated outside the cities: Judges 6:11, Ruth 3:2, 15) were already being pilfered by them. Who it was that acquainted David with these tidings we know not.
“Therefore David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines?” (v. 2). Very blessed is this, and further evidence does it supply of David’s spiritual recovery. Saul was neglecting the public safety, but the one whom he was hounding was concerned for it. Though he had been ill treated, David was not sulking over his wrongs, but instead was ready to return good for evil, by coming to the assistance of one of the king’s besieged towns. What a noble spirit did he here manifest! Though his hands were full in seeking to hide from Saul, and provide for the needs of his six hundred men (no small task!), yet David unselfishly thought of the welfare of others.
“Therefore David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines?” This is very beautiful. Having been anointed unto the throne, David considered himself the protector of Israel, and was ready to employ his men for the public weal. He had an intense love for his country, and was desirous of freeing it from its enemies, yet he would not act without first seeking counsel of the Lord: he desired that God should appoint his service. The more particularly we seek direction from God in fervent prayer, and the more carefully we consult the sacred Scriptures for the knowledge of His will, the more He is honored, and the more we are benefited.
“And the Lord said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah” (v. 2). Where God is truly sought—that is, sought sincerely, humbly, trustfully, with the desire to learn and do that which is pleasing to Him—the soul will not be left in ignorance. God does not mock His needy children. His Word declares, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:6). So it was here. The Lord responded to David’s inquiry—possibly through the prophet Gad—and not only revealed His will, but gave promise that he should be successful.
“And David’s men said unto him, Behold, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” (v. 3). This presented a real test to David’s confidence in the Lord, for if his men were unwilling to accompany him, how could he expect to relieve the besieged town? His men were obviously “afraid” of being caught between two fires. Were they to advance upon the Philistines and Saul’s army should follow them up in the rear, then where would they be? Ah, their eyes were not upon the living God, but upon their difficult “circumstances,” and to be occupied with these is always discouraging to the heart. But how often has a man of God, when facing a trying situation, found the unbelief of his professed friends and followers a real hindrance. Yet he should regard this as a test, and not as an obstacle. Instead of paralyzing action, it ought to drive him to seek succor from Him who never fails those who truly count upon His aid.
“Then David inquired of the Lord yet again” (v. 4). This is precious. David did not allow the unbelieving fears of his men to drive him to despair. He could hardly expect them to walk by his faith. But he knew that when God works, He works at both ends of the line. He who had given him orders to go to the relief of Keilah, could easily quiet the hearts of his followers, remove their fears, and make them willing to follow his lead. Yes, with God “all things are possible.” But He requires to be “inquired of” (Ezek. 36:37). He delights to be “proved” (Mal. 3:10). Oft He permits just such a trial as now faced David in order to teach us more fully His sufficiency for every emergency.
“Then David inquired of the Lord yet again.” Yes, this is blessed indeed. David did not storm at his men, and denounce them as cowards. That would do no good. Nor did he argue and attempt to reason with them. Disdaining his own wisdom, feeling his utter dependency upon God, and more especially for their benefit—to set before them a godly example—he turned once more unto Jehovah. Let us learn from this incident that, the most effectual way of answering the unbelieving objections of faint-hearted followers and of securing their co-operation, is to refer them unto the promises and precepts of God, and set before them an example of complete dependency upon Him and of implicit confidence in Him.
“And the Lord answered him and said, Arise, go down to Keilah: for I will deliver the Philistines into thine hand” (v. 4). How sure is the fulfillment of that promise, “Them that honor Me, I will honor” (1 Sam. 2:30)! We always lose by acting independently of God, but we never lose by seeking counsel, guidance and grace from Him. God did not ignore David’s inquiry. He was not displeased by his asking a second time. How gracious and patient He is! He not only responded to David’s petition, but He gave an answer more explicit than at the first, for He now assured His servant of entire victory. May this encourage many a reader to come unto God with every difficulty, cast every care upon Him, and count upon His succor every hour.
“So David and his men went to Keilah, and fought with the Philistines, and brought away their cattle, and smote them with a great slaughter. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah” (v. 5). Animated by a commission and promise from God, David and his men moved forward and attacked the Philistines. Not only did they completely rout the enemy, but they captured their cattle, which supplied food for David’s men, food which the men greatly needed. How this furnishes an illustration of “Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3:20)! God not only overthrew the Philistines and delivered Keilah, but as well, bountifully provided David’s army with a supply of victuals.
“And it came to pass, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David to Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand” (v. 6). This was a further reward from the Lord unto David for obeying His word. As we shall see later, the presence of the high priest and his ephod with him, stood David in good stead in the future. We may also see here a striking example of the absolute control of God over all His creatures; it was David’s visit to Ahimelech that had resulted in the slaying of all his family; well then might the only son left, feel that the son of Jesse was the last man whose fortunes he desired to share.
“And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars” (v. 7). Surely David’s signal victory over the common enemy should have reconciled Saul to him. Was it not abundantly clear that God was with him, and if He were with him, who could be against him? But one who is abandoned by the Lord can neither discern spiritual things nor judge righteously, and therefore his conduct will be all wrong too. Accordingly we find that instead of thinking how he might most suitably reward David for his courageous and unselfish generosity, Saul desired only to do him mischief. Well might our patriarch write, “They regarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul” (Ps. 35:12).
“And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars.” How easy it is for a jaundiced mind to view things in a false light. When the heart is wrong, the providences of God are certain to be misinterpreted. Terrible is it to behold the apostate king here concluding that God Himself had now sold David into his hands! That man has sunk to a fearful depth who blatantly assumes that the Almighty is working to further his wicked plans. While David was at large, hiding in caves and sheltering in the woods, he was hard to find; but here in a walled town, Saul supposed he would be completely trapped when his army surrounded it.
“And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men” (v. 8). If we omit the last clause and read on through the next verse, it will be seen that the unscrupulous Saul resorted to a dishonest ruse. To make war against the Philistines was the ostensible object which the king set before his men; to capture David was his real design. The last clause of verse 8 states Saul’s secret motive. While pretending to oppose the common enemy, he was intending to destroy his best friend. Verily, the devil was his father, and the lusts of his father he would do.
“And David knew that Saul secretly practiced mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar, the priest, Bring hither the ephod” (v. 9). Yes, “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him” (Ps. 25:14). Ah, but only with them that truly “fear” Him. “If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not” (John 11:9). “He that followeth Me,” said Christ, “shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). O what a blessed thing it is, dear reader, to have light upon our path, to see the enemy’s snares and pitfalls. But in order to this, there must be a walking with Him who is “the Light.” If we are out of communion with the Lord, if we have for the moment turned aside from the path of His commandments, then we can no longer perceive the dangers which menace us.
“And David knew that Saul secretly practiced mischief against him.” This is very blessed, and recorded for our instruction. We ought not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11), nor shall we be if our hearts are right with God. Observe carefully that this 9th verse opens with the word “And,” which announces the fact that it is connected with and gives the sequel to what has gone before. And what had preceded in this case? First, David had sought counsel of the Lord (v. 2). Second, he had refused to be turned aside from the path of duty by the unbelieving fears of his followers (v. 3). Third, he had maintained an attitude of complete dependency upon the Lord (v. 4). Fourth, he had definitely obeyed the Lord (v. 5). And now God rewarded him by acquainting him with the enemy’s designs upon him. Meet the conditions, my brother or sister, and you too shall know when the devil is about to attack you.
David was not deceived by Saul’s guile. He knew that though he had given out to his men one thing, yet in his heart he purposed quite another. “Then said David, O Lord God of Israel, Thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake” (v. 10). This too is very blessed; once more David thus turns to the living God, and casts all his care upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). Observe well his words: he does not say “Saul purposeth to slay me, but he seeketh to destroy the city for my sake,” on my account. Is it not lovely to see him more solicitous about the welfare of others, than the preserving of his own life!
“Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hands? will Saul come down, as Thy servant hath heard? O Lord God of Israel, I beseech Thee, tell Thy servant. And the Lord said, He will come down” (v. 11). It is to be noted that the two questions here asked by David were not orderly put, showing the perturbed state of mind he was then in. We should also observe the manner in which David addressed God, as “Lord God of Israel” (so too in ver. 10), which was His covenant title. It is blessed when we are able to realize the covenant-relationship of God to us (Heb. 13:20, 21), for it is ever an effectual plea to present before the Throne of Grace. The Lord graciously responded to David’s supplication and granted the desired information, reversing the order of his questions. God’s saying “he (Saul) will come down” (that is his purpose), here manifested His omniscience, for He knows all contingencies (possibilities and likelihoods), as well as actualities.
“Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?” (v.12). Wise David, He had good cause to conclude that after so nobly befriending Keilah and delivering it from the Philistines, that its citizens would now further his interests, and in such case, he and his own men could defend the town against Saul’s attack. But he prudently refrained from placing any confidence in their loyalty. He probably reasoned that the recent cruel massacre of Nob would fill them with dread of Saul, so that he must not count upon their assistance. Thus did he seek counsel from the Lord. And so ought we: we should never confide in help from others, no, not even from those we have befriended, and from whom we might reasonably expect a return of kindness. No ties of honor, gratitude, or affection, can secure the heart under powerful temptation. Nay, we know not how we would act if assailed by the terrors of a cruel death, and left without the immediate support of divine grace. We are to depend only upon the Lord for guidance and protection.
“And the Lord said, They will deliver thee up” (v. 12). This must have been saddening to David’s heart, for base ingratitude wounds deeply. Yet let us not forget that the kindness of other friends whom the Lord often unexpectedly raises up, counterbalances the ingratitude and fickleness of those we have served. God answered David here according to His knowledge of the human heart. Had David remained in Keilah, its inhabitants would have delivered him up upon Saul’s demand. But he remained not, and escaped. Be it carefully noted that this incident furnishes a clear illustration of human responsibility, and is a strong case in point against bald fatalism—taking the passive attitude that what is to be, must be.
“Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah, and he forbare to go forth. And David abode in the wilderness in strongholds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand” (vv. 13, 14). This too is blessed: David was willing to expose himself and his men to further hardships, rather than endanger the lives of Keilah! Having no particular place in view, they went forth wherever they thought best. The last half of verse 14 shows God’s protecting hand was still upon them, and is Jehovah’s reply to Saul’s vain and presumptuous confidence in verse 7.
Chapter Thirteen-His Sojourn In Ziph
1 Samuel 23
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Ps. 34:19): some internal, others external; some from friends, others from foes; some more directly at the hand of God, others more remotely by the instrumentality of the devil. Nor should this be thought strange. Such has been the lot of all God’s children in greater or lesser degree. Nor ought we to expect much comfort in a world which so basely crucified the Lord of glory. The sooner the Christian makes it his daily study to pass through this world as a stranger and pilgrim, anxious to depart and be with Christ, the better for his peace of mind. But it is natural to cling tenaciously to this life and to love the things of time and sense, and therefore most of the Lord’s people have to encounter many buffetings and have many disappointments before they are brought to hold temporal things with a light hand and before their silly hearts are weaned from that which satisfies not.
There is scarcely any affliction which besets the suffering people of God that the subject of these chapters did not experience. David, in the different periods of his varied life, was placed in almost every situation in which a believer, be he rich or poor in this world’s goods, can be placed. This is one feature which makes the study of his life of such practical interest unto us today. And this also it was which experimentally fitted him to write so many Psalms, which the saints of all ages have found so perfectly suited to express unto God the varied feelings of their souls. No matter whether the heart be cast down by the bitterest grief, or whether it be exultant with overflowing joy, nowhere can we find language more appropriate to use in our approaches unto the Majesty on High, than in the recorded sobs and songs of him who tasted the bitters of cruel treatment and base betrayals, and the sweetness of human success and spiritual communion with the Lord, as few have done.
Oftentimes the providences of God seem profoundly mysterious to our dull perceptions, and strange unto us do appear the schoolings through which He passes His servants; nevertheless Faith is assured that Omniscience makes no mistakes, and He who is Love causes none of His children a needless tear. Beautifully did C. H. Spurgeon introduce his exposition of Psalm 59 by saying, “Strange that the painful events in David’s life should end in enriching the repertoire of the national minstrelsy. Out of a sour, ungenerous soil spring up the honey-bearing flowers of psalmody. Had he never been cruelly hunted by Saul, Israel and the church of God in after ages would have missed this song. The music of the sanctuary is in no small degree indebted to the trials of the saints. Affliction is the tuner of the harps of sanctified songsters.” Let every troubled reader seek to lay this truth to heart and take courage.
“And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day but God delivered him not into his hand” (1 Sam. 23:14). It is blessed to behold David’s self-restraint under sore provocation. Though perfectly innocent, so far as his conduct toward Saul was concerned, that wicked king continued to hound him without any rest. David had conducted himself honorably in every public station he filled, and now he has to suffer disgrace in the eyes of the people as a hunted outlaw. Great must have been the temptation to put an end to Saul’s persecution by the use of force. He was a skilled leader, had six hundred men under him (v. 13), and he might easily have employed strategy, lured his enemy into a trap, fallen upon and slain him. Instead, he possessed his soul in patience, walked in God’s ways, and waited God’s time. And the Lord honored this as the sequel shows.
Ah, dear reader, it is written, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32). O for more godly self-control; for this we should pray earnestly and oft. Are you, like David was, sorely oppressed? Are you receiving evil at the hands of those from whom you might well expect good? Is there some Saul mercilessly persecuting you? Then no doubt you too are tempted to take things into your own hands, perhaps have recourse to the law of the land. But O tried one, suffer us to gently remind you that it is written, “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath . . . vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink” (Rom. 12:19,20). Remember too the example left us by the Lord Jesus, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
“And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood” (v. 15). How this illustrates what we are told in Galatians 4:29, “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now”! And let us not miss the deeper spiritual meaning of this: the opposition which Isaac encountered from Ishmael adumbrated the lustings of the “flesh” against “the spirit.” There is a continual warfare within every real Christian between the principle of sin and the principle of grace, commonly termed “the two natures.” There is a spiritual Saul who is constantly seeking the life of a spiritual David: it is the “old man” with his affections and appetites, seeking to slay the new man. Against his relentless attacks we need ever to be on our guard.
“And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood.” “Ziph” derived its name from a city in the tribe of Judah: Joshua 15:25. It is surely significant that “Ziph” signifies “a refining-place”: possibly the “mountain” there (v. 14) was rich in minerals, and at Ziph there was a smelter and refinery. Be this as it may, the spiritual lesson is here written too plainly for us to miss. The hard knocks which the saint receives from a hostile world, the persecutions he endures at the hands of those who hate God, the trials through which he passes in this scene of sin, may, and should be, improved to the good of his soul. O may many of the Lord’s people prove that these “hard times” through which they are passing are a “refining place” for their faith and other spiritual graces.
“And Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth. And they two made a covenant before the Lord: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house” (vv. 16-18). These verses record the final meeting on earth between David and the weak, vacillating Jonathan. Attached to David as he was by a strong natural affection, yet he lacked grace to throw in his lot with the hunted fugitive. He refused to join with his father in persecuting David, yet the pull of the palace and the court was too strong to be resisted. He stands as a solemn example of the spiritual compromiser, of the man who is naturally attracted to Christ, but lacks a supernatural knowledge of Him which leads to full surrender to him. That he “strengthened David’s hand in God” no more evidenced him to be a regenerate man, than do the words of Saul in verse 21. Instead of his words in verse 17 coming true, he fell by the sword of the Philistines on Gilboa.
“Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? Now therefore, O King, come down according to all the desire of thy soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand” (vv. 19, 20). Alas, what is man, and how little to be depended upon! Here was David seeking shelter from his murderous foe, and that among the people of his own tribe, and there were they, in order to curry favor with Saul, anxious to betray him into the king’s hands. It was a gross breach of hospitality, and there was no excuse for it, for Saul had not sought unto nor threatened them. It mattered not to them though innocent blood were shed, so long as they procured the smile of the apostate monarch. That Day alone will show how many have fallen victims before those who cared for nothing better than the favor of those in authority.
“And Saul said, Blessed be ye of the Lord; for ye have compassion on me” (v. 21). Thankfully did Saul receive the offer of these treacherous miscreants. Observe well how he used the language of piety while bent on committing the foulest crime! Oh my reader, for your own good we beg you to take heed unto this. Require something more than fair words, or even religious phrases, before you form a judgment of another, and still more so before you place yourself in his power. Promises are easily made, and easily broken by most people. The name of God is glibly taken upon the lips of multitudes who have no fear of God in their hearts. Note too how the wretched Saul represented himself to be the aggrieved one, and construes the perfidy of the Ziphites as their loyalty to the king.
“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 subtly. See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me with the certainty and I will go with you: and it shall come to pass, if he be in the land, that I will search him out throughout all the thousands of Judah” (vv. 22, 23). Before he journeyed to Ziph, Saul desired more specific information as to exactly where David was now located. He knew that the man he was after had a much better acquaintance than his own of that section of the country. He knew that David was a clever strategist; perhaps he had fortified some place, and the king wished for details, so that he might know how large a force would be needed to surround and capture David and his men. Apparently Saul felt so sure of his prey, he considered there was no need for hurried action.
Then news that the Ziphites had proved unfaithful reached the ears of David, and though the king’s delay gave him time to retreat to the wilderness of Maon (v. 24), yet he was now in a sore plight. His situation was desperate, and none but an Almighty hand could deliver him. Blessed is it to see him turning at this time unto the living God and spreading his urgent case before Him. It was then that he prayed the prayer which is recorded in Psalm 54, the superscription of which reads “A Psalm of David, when the Ziphites came and said to Saul, Doth not David hide himself with us?” In it we are given to hear him pouring out his heart unto the Lord; and unto it we now turn to consider a few of its details.
“Save me, O God, by Thy name, and judge me by Thy strength” (Ps. 54:1). David was in a position where he was beyond the reach of human assistance: only a miracle could now save him, therefore did he supplicate the miracle-working God. Without any preamble, David went straight to the point and cried, “Save me, O God.” Keilah would not shelter him, the Ziphites had basely betrayed him, Saul and his men thirsted for his blood. Other refuge there was none; God alone could help him. His appeal was to His glorious “Name,” which stands for the sum of all His blessed attributes; and to His righteousness—”judge me by Thy strength.” This signifies, Secure justice for me, for none else will give it me. This manifested the innocency of his cause. Only when our case is pure can we call upon the power of divine justice to vindicate us.
“Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth” (Ps. 54:2). How we need to remember and turn unto the Lord when enduring the contradiction of sinners against ourselves: to look above and draw strength from God, so that we be not weary and faint in our minds. Well did C. H. Spurgeon write, “As long as God hath an open ear we cannot be shut up in trouble. All other weapons may be useless, but all-prayer is evermore available. No enemy can spike this gun.” “For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah” (Ps. 54:3). Those who had no acquaintance with David, and so could have no cause for ill-will against him, were his persecutors; strangers were they to God. In such a circumstance it is well for us to plead before God that we are being hated for His sake.
We must not here expound the remainder of this Psalm. But let us note three other things in it. First, the marked change in the last four verses, following the “Selah” at the end of verse 3. On that word “Selah” Spurgeon wrote, “As if he said, ‘Enough of this, let us pause.’ He is out of breath with indignation. A sense of wrong bids him suspend the music awhile. It may also be observed, that more pauses would, as a rule, improve our devotions: we are usually too much in a hurry.” Second, his firm confidence in God and the assurance that his request would be granted: this appears in verses 4-6, particularly in the “He shall reward evil unto mine enemies”—the “cut them off” was not spoken in hot revenge, but as an Amen to the sure sentence of the just Judge. Third, his absolute confidence that his prayer was answered: the “hath delivered me” of verse 7 is very striking, and with it should be carefully compared and pondered, Mark 11:24.
It now remains for us to observe how God answered David’s prayer. “And they arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the plain of the south of Jeshimon” (v. 24). The term “wilderness” is rather misleading to English ears: it is not synonymous with desert, but is in contrast from cultivated farmlands and orchards, often signifying a wild forest. “And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them” (vv. 25, 26). How often is such the case with us: some sore trial presses, and we cry unto God for relief, but before His answer comes, matters appear to get worse. Ah, that is in order that His hand may be the more evident.
David’s plight was now a serious one, for Saul and his men had practically enveloped them, and only a “mountain,” or more accurately, a steep cliff, separated them. Escape seemed quite cut off: out-numbered, surrounded, further flight was out of the question. At last Saul’s evil object appeared to be on the very point of attainment. But man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Beautifully did Matthew Henry comment, “This mountain (or cliff) was an emblem of the Divine Providence coming between David and the destroyer, like the pillar of cloud between the Israelites and the Egyptians.” Yet, a few hours at most, and Saul and his army would either climb or go around that crag. Now for the striking and blessed sequel.
“But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land. Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore, they called that place The rock of divisions. And David went up from thence and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi” (vv. 27-29). How marvelously and how graciously God times things! He who orders all events and controls all creatures, moved the Philistines to invade a portion of Saul’s territory, and tidings of this reached the king’s ear just at the moment David seemed on the brink of destruction. Saul at once turned his attention to the invaders, and thus he was robbed of his prey and God glorified as his (David’s) Protector. Thus, without striking a blow, David was delivered. O how blessed to know that the same God is for His people today, and without them doing a thing He can turn away those who are harassing. God does hear and answer the prayer of faith! David and his little force now had their opportunity to escape, and fled to the strong holds of Engedi, on the shore of the Dead Sea.
Chapter Fourteen-Sparing Saul
1 Samuel 24
We began our last chapter by quoting “many are the afflictions of the righteous,” the remainder of the verse reading “but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). This does not mean that God always rescues the afflicted one from the physical danger which menaces him. No indeed, and we must be constantly on our guard against carnally interpreting the Holy Scriptures. It is quite true that there are numerous cases recorded in the Word where the Lord was pleased graciously to put forth His power and extricate His people from situations where death immediately threatened them: the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, Elijah from the murderous intentions of Ahab and Jezebel, Daniel from the lions’ den, being striking illustrations in point. Yet the slaying of Abel by Cain, the martyrdom of Zechariah (Matthew 23:35), the stoning of Stephen, are examples to the contrary. Then did the promise of Psalm 34:19 fail in these latter instances? No indeed, they received a yet more glorious fulfillment, for they were finally delivered out of this world of sin and suffering.
David was the one whose hand was moved by the Holy Spirit to first pen Psalm 34:19, and signally was it fulfilled in his history in a physical sense. Few men’s lives have been more frequently placed in jeopardy than was his, and few men have experienced the Lord’s delivering hand as he did. But there was a special reason for that, and it is this to which we would now call attention. David was one of the progenitors of Israel’s Messiah, and it is indeed striking and blessed to note the wonderful works of God of old in His miraculously preserving the chosen seed from which Christ, after the flesh, was to spring. Indeed it is this more particularly, which supplies the key to many a divine interposition on behalf of the patriarchs and others, who were in the immediate line from which Jesus of Nazareth issued.
Strikingly does this appear in the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who for so many years dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites. The inhabitants of that land were heathen, and most wicked, as Genesis 15:16 intimates. Abraham and his descendants were exposed to them as sojourners in the land, and men are most apt to be irritated by the peculiar customs of strangers. It was, then, a most remarkable dispensation of Providence which preserved the patriarchs in the midst of such a people: see Psalm 105:42, “Thus was this handful, this little root that had the blessing of the Redeemer in it, preserved in the midst of enemies and dangers which was not unlike to the preserving of the ark in the midst of the tempestuous deluge” (Jonathan Edwards). Wondrously too did God preserve the infant nation of Israel in Egypt, in the wilderness, and on their first entering the promised land.
Still more arresting is the illustration which this principle receives in the divine preserving of the life of him who was more immediately and illustriously the sire of Christ. How often was there but a step betwixt David and death! His encountering of the lion and bear in the days of his shepherd life, which, without divine intervention, could have rent him in pieces as easily as they caught a lamb from his flock; his facing Goliath, who was powerful enough to break him across his knee, and give his flesh to the beasts of the field as he threatened; the exposing of his life to the Philistines, when Saul required one hundred of their foreskins as a dowry for his daughter; the repeated assaults of the king by throwing his javelin at him; the later attempts made to capture and slay him—yet from all these was David delivered. “Thus was the precious seed that virtually contained the Redeemer and all the blessings of redemption, wondrously preserved, when all earth and hell were conspired against it to destroy it” (Jonathan Edwards).
But we must now turn to our present lesson, a lesson which records one of the most striking events in the eventful life of David. Well did Matthew Henry point out, “We have hitherto had Saul seeking an opportunity to destroy David, and, to his shame, he could never find it; in this chapter David had a fair opportunity to destroy Saul, and, to his honour, he did not make use of it; and his sparing Saul’s life was as great an instance of God’s grace in him, as the preserving of his own life was of God’s providence over him.” Most maliciously had Saul sought David’s life, most generously did David spare Saul’s life. It was a glorious triumph of the spirit over the flesh, of grace over sin.
“And it came to pass, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi” (1 Sam. 24:1). From these words we gather that Saul had been successful in turning back the invading Philistines. This illustrates a solemn principle which is often lost sight of: human success is no proof of divine approbation. The mere fact that a man is prospering outwardly, does not, of itself, demonstrate that his life is pleasing unto the Lord. No one but an infidel would deny that it was God who enabled Saul to clear his land of the Philistines, yet we err seriously if we conclude from this that He delighted in him. As oxen are fattened for the slaughter, so God often ripens the wicked for judgment and damnation by an abundance of His temporal mercies. The immediate sequel shows clearly what Saul still was.
“And it came to pass, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” This may be regarded as a testing of Saul, for every thing that happens in each of our lives tests us at some point or other. Miserably did Saul fail under it. Nothing in the outward dispensations of God change the heart of man: His chastisements do not break the stubborn will, nor His mercies melt the hard heart. Nothing short of the regenerating work of the Spirit can make any man a new creature in Christ Jesus. The success with which God had just favored Saul’s military enterprise against the Philistines, made no impression upon the reprobate soul of the apostate king. Pause for a moment, dear reader, and face this question, Has the goodness of God brought you to repentance?
“Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats” (v. 2). What a terribly solemn illustration does this verse supply of what is said in Ecclesiastes 8:11, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Wicked men are often interrupted in their evil courses, yet they return unto them when the restraint is removed, as if deliverance from trouble were only given that they should add iniquity unto iniquity. It was thus with Pharaoh: time after time God sent a plague which stayed that vile monarch’s hand, yet as soon as respite was granted, he hardened his heart again. So Saul had been providentially blocked while pursuing David, by the invading Philistines; but now, as soon as this hindrance was removed, he redoubled his evil efforts. O, unsaved reader, has it not been thus with you? Your course of self-pleasing was suddenly checked by an illness, your round of pleasure-seeking was stopped by a sick-bed. Opportunity was given you to consider the interests of your immortal soul, to humble yourself beneath the mighty hand of God. Perhaps you did so in a superficial way, but what has been the sequel? Health and strength have been mercifully restored by God, but are they being used for His glory, or are you now vainly pursuing the phantoms of this world harder than ever?
Ought not the very invasion of the Philistines to have changed Saul’s attitude toward the one whom he was so causelessly and relentlessly pursuing? Ought he not to have realized now more forcibly than ever, that he needed David at the head of his army to repulse the common enemy? And O unbelieving reader, is not the case very much the same with thee? The faithful servant of God, who has your best interests at heart, you despise; that Christian friend who begs you to consider the claims of Christ, the solemnities of an unending eternity, the certain and terrible doom of those who live only for this life, you regard as a “kill-joy.” Saul is now in the torments of Hell, and in a short time at most you will be there too, unless you change your course and beg God to change your heart.
Let us turn our thoughts once more unto David. As we saw at the close of our last chapter, in answer to believing prayer, God granted him a striking deliverance from the hand of his enemy. Yet that deliverance was but a brief one. Saul now advanced against him with a stronger force than before. Does not every real Christian know something of this in his own spiritual experience? It is written that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Troubles come, and then a respite is granted, and then new troubles follow on the heels of the old ones. Our spiritual enemies will not long leave us in peace; nevertheless, they are a blessing in disguise if they drive us to our knees. Very few souls thrive as well in times of prosperity as they do in seasons of adversity. Winters’ frosts may necessitate warmer clothes, but they also kill the flies and garden pests.
David had now betaken himself unto “The rocks of the wild goats.” Thither Saul and his large army follow him. Once more God undertook for him, and that in a striking way. “And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave” (v. 3). In that section of Palestine there are large caves, partly so by nature, partly so by human labor, for the sheltering of sheep from the heat of the sun; hence we read in the Song of Solomon 1:7 of “where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon.” In one of these spacious caverns, David, and some of his men at least, had taken refuge. Thither did Saul, separated apparently from his men, now turn, in order to seek repose. Thus, by a strange carelessness (viewed from the human standpoint), Saul placed himself completely at David’s mercy.
“And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee” (v. 4). David’s men at once saw the hand of the Lord in this unexpected turn of events. So far, so good. None but an infidel believes in things happening by chance, though there are many infidels now wearing the name of “Christian.” There are no accidents in a world which is governed by the living God, for “of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). Therefore does faith perceive the hand of God in every thing which enters our lives, be it great or small. And it is only as we recognize His hand molding all our circumstances, that God is honored, and our hearts are kept in peace. O for grace to say at all times, “It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good” (1 Sam. 3:18).
“And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee.” It is not difficult to trace the line of thought which was in their minds. They felt that here was an opportunity too good to be missed, an opportunity which Providence itself had obviously placed in David’s way. One stroke of the sword would rid him of the only man that stood between him and the throne. Not only so, but the slaying of this apostate Saul would probably mean the bringing back of the whole nation unto the Lord. How many there are in Christendom today who believe that the end justifies the means: to get “results” is the all-important thing with them—how this is done matters little or nothing. Had such men been present to counsel David they had argued, “Be not scrupulous about slaying Saul, see how much good it will issue in!”
“What a critical moment it was in David’s history! Had he listened to the specious counselors who urged upon him to do what Providence, seemingly, had put in his way, his life of faith would have come to an abrupt end. One stroke of his sword, and he steps into a throne! Farewell poverty! Farewell the life of a hunted goat. Reproaches, sneers, defeat, would cease; adulations, triumphs, riches would be his. But his at the sacrifice of faith; at the sacrifice of a humbled will, ever waiting on God’s time; at the sacrifice of a thousand precious experiences of God’s care, God’s provision, God’s guidance, God’s tenderness. No, even a throne at that price is too dear. Faith will wait” (C. H. Bright).
But there is a deeper lesson taught here, which every Christian does well to take thoroughly to heart. It is this: we need to be exceedingly cautious how we interpret the events of Providence and what conclusions we draw from them, lest we mistake the opportunity of following out our own inclinations for God’s approbation of our conduct. God had promised David the throne, had His time now come for removing the one obstacle which stood in his way? It looked much like it. Saul had shown no mercy, and there was not the least likelihood that he would do so; then was it God’s will that David should be His instrument for taking vengeance upon him? It seemed so, or why should He have delivered him into his hand! David had cried to God for deliverance and had appealed unto divine justice for vindication (Ps. 54:1), had the hour now arrived for his supplication to be answered? The unexpected sight of Saul asleep at his feet, made this more than likely. How easy, how very easy then, for David to have made an erroneous deduction from the event of Providence on this occasion!
God was, in reality, testing David’s faith, testing his patience, testing his piety. The testing of his faith lay in submission to the Word, which plainly says, “thou shalt not kill,” and God had given him no exceptional command to the contrary. The testing of his patience lay in his quietly waiting God’s time to ascend the throne of Israel: the temptation before him was to take things into his own hands and rush matters. The testing of his piety lay in the mortifying of his natural desires to avenge himself, to act in grace, and show kindness to one who had sorely mistreated him. It was indeed a very real testing, and blessed is it to see how the spirit triumphed over the flesh.
The application of this incident to the daily life of the Christian is of great practical importance. Frequently God tests us in similar ways. He so orders His providences as to try our hearts and make manifest what is in them. How often we are exercised about some important matter, some critical step in life, some change in our affairs involving momentous issues. We distrust our own wisdom, we want to be sure of God’s will in the matter, we spread our case before the Throne of Grace, and ask for light and guidance. So far, so good. Then, usually, comes the testing: events transpire which seem to show that it is God’s will for us to take a certain step, things appear to point plainly in that direction. Ah, my friend, that may only be God trying your heart. If, notwithstanding your praying over it, your desires are really set upon that object or course, then it will be a simple thing for you to misinterpret the events of Providence and jump to a wrong conclusion.
An accurate knowledge of God’s Word, a holy state of heart (wherein self is judged, and its natural longings mortified), a broken will, are absolutely essential in order to clearly discern the path of duty in important cases and crises. The safest plan is to deny all suggestions of revenge, covetousness, ambition and impatience. A heart that is established in true godliness will rather interpret the dispensations of Providence as trials of faith and patience, as occasions to practice self-denial, than as opportunities for self-indulgence. In any case, “he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa. 28:16). “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass . . . Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:5, 7). O for grace to do so; but such grace has to be definitely, diligently and daily sought for.
Chapter Fifteen-His Address To Saul
1 Samuel 24
In our last chapter we left the apostate king of Israel asleep in the cave of Engedi, the very place which had been made a refuge by David and his followers. There Saul lay completely at the mercy of the man whose life he sought. David’s men were quick to perceive their advantage, and said to their master “Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee” (1 Sam. 24:4). A real temptation presented itself to the sweet Psalmist of Israel, and though he was not completely overcome by it, yet he did not emerge from the conflict without a wound and a stain. “Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily.” How true it is that “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33)! Did this incident come back to his mind when, (probably) at a later date, the Spirit of God moved him to write, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly” (Ps. 1:1)? Possibly so; at any rate, we find here a solemn warning which each of us does well to take to heart.
“And it came to pass afterward that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt” (1 Sam. 24:5): which means, his conscience accused him, and he repented of what he had done. Good is it when our hearts condemn us for what the world regards as trifles. Though David had done no harm to the king’s person, and though he had given proof it was in his power to slay him, nevertheless his action was a serious affront against the royal dignity. No matter what be the personal character of the ruler, because of his office, God commands us to “honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). This is a word concerning which all of us need reminding, for we are living in times when an increasing number “despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities” (Jude 8). God takes note of this!
“David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.” With this should be compared 2 Samuel 24:10, “And David’s heart smote him after that he numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech Thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.” From these passages it is evident that David was blest with a tender conscience, which is ever a mark of true spirituality. In solemn contrast therefrom, we read of those “having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2), and of some “being past feeling” (Eph. 4:19), which is a sure index of those who have been abandoned by God. David soon regretted his rash action and realized he had sinned. May God graciously grant unto reader and writer a sensitive conscience.
“And he said unto his men, The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord” (v. 6). How honest of David! He not only repented before God of his rash conduct, but he also confessed his wrong-doing unto those who had witnessed the same. It requires much grace and courage to do this, yet nothing short of it is required of us. Moreover, we know not to whom God may be pleased to bless a faithful and humble acknowledgement of our sins. David now let his men know plainly that he was filled with abhorrence for having so insulted his sovereign Lord. Observe how that it was his looking at things from the divine viewpoint which convicted him: he now regarded Saul not as a personal enemy, but as one whom God had appointed to reign as long as he lived.
“So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul” (v. 7). “Stayed” here signifies, pacified or quieted them, hindering them from laying rough hands upon the king. The first word of this verse is deeply significant: “So,” in this manner, by what he had just said—how evident that God clothed his words with power! Few things have greater weight with men than their beholding of reality in those who bear the name of the Lord. David had honored God by calling the attention of his men to the fact that Saul was His “anointed,” and now He honored David by causing his honest confession to strike home to the hearts of his men. Thus, by restraining his followers David returned good for evil to him from whom he had received evil for good.
“But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way” (v. 7). Utterly unconscious of the danger which had threatened him, the king awoke, arose, and went forth out of the cave. How often there was but a step betwixt us and death, and we knew it not. Awake or asleep, our times are in God’s hands, and with the Psalmist faith realizes “Thou holdest my soul in life” (Ps. 66:9). None can die a moment before the time his Maker has appointed. Blessed is it when the heart is enabled to rest in God. Each night it is our privilege to say, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). But how unspeakably solemn is the contrast between the cases of the godly and the wicked: the one is preserved for eternal glory, the other is reserved unto everlasting fire. Such was the difference between David and Saul.
“David also arose afterward and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king” (v. 8). “Though he would not take the opportunity to slay him, yet he wisely took the opportunity, if possible, to slay his enmity, by convincing him that he was not such a man as he took him for” (Matthew Henry). In thus revealing himself to Saul, David intimated that he still entertained an honorable opinion of his sovereign: this was further evidenced by the respectful language which he employed. “And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself.” How surprised the blood-thirsty monarch must have been in hearing himself addressed by the one whose life he sought! The posture of David was not that of a cringing criminal, but of a loyal subject. In what follows we have one of the most respectful, pathetic and forcible addresses ever made to one of earth’s rulers.
“And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?” (v. 9). It is beautiful to see how David commenced his speech to the king, wherein he endeavors to show how much he was wronged in being so relentlessly persecuted, and how much he desired Saul to be reconciled to him. Most graciously did David throw the blame upon Saul’s courtiers, rather than upon the king himself. In the question here asked Saul, it was suggested that his prejudice against David had been provoked by slanderous reports from others. Herein important instruction is furnished us as to what method to follow when seeking to subdue the malice of those who hate us: proceeding on the assumption that it is not the individual’s own enmity against us, but that it has been unjustly stirred up by others. Particularly does this apply to those in authority: respect is due unto them, and where they err, due allowance should be made for their having been ill-informed by others.
It is the practical application of the teaching of Scripture to the details of our own lives which is so much needed today. Of what real value is a knowledge of its history or an understanding of its prophecies, if they exert no vital influence upon our conduct? God has given us His Word not only for our information, but as a law to walk by, and every chapter in it contains important rules for us to appropriate and put into practice. What is before us above supplies a timely case in point. How often differences arise between men, breaches between friends, and misunderstandings between fellow-Christians; and how rarely do we see the spirit displayed by David unto Saul, exercised now in efforts to effect a reconciliation! Let us earnestly seek grace to profit from the lovely and lowly example here set before us.
“Behold, this day, thine eyes have seen how that the Lord had delivered thee today into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eyes spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed” (v. 10). First, David had refrained from reproaching or sharply expostulating Saul, now he shows that there was no ill-will in his own heart against him. He appealed to the most decisive proof that he had no intention of injuring him. The king had been completely at his mercy, and his men had urged him to dispatch his enemy, but pity for the helpless monarch had restrained him. Moreover, the fear of God governed him, and he dared not to lay violent hands upon His “anointed.” By such mild measures did David seek to conciliate his foe. Let us take a leaf out of his copybook, and seek by acts of kindness to prove unto those that harbor false thoughts against us that Satan has misled them.
“Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it” (v. 11). “He produceth undeniable evidence to prove the falseness of the suggestion upon which Saul’s malice against him was grounded. David was charged with seeking Saul’s hurt: ‘see,’ saith he, ‘yea, see the skirt of thy robe:’ let this be a witness for me, and an unexceptional witness it is; had that been true which I am accused of, I had now had thy head in my hand, and not the skirt of thy robe; for I could as easily have cut off that as this” (Matthew Henry). Well for us is it when we can go to one filled with unjust suspicions against us, and confirm our words with convincing proofs of our good-will.
It is touching to see David here reminding Saul that there was a more intimate relation between them than that of king and subject; he had been united in marriage to his daughter, and therefore does he now address him as “my father” (v. 11). Here was an appeal not only to his honor, but to his affection: from a monarch one may expect justice, but from a parent we may surely look for affection. David might have addressed Saul by a hard name, but he sought to “overcome evil with good.” Blessedly did he here prefigure his Lord, who, at the time of his arrest in the garden, addressed the treacherous Judas not as “Betrayer” or “Traitor,” but “Friend.” Nothing is gained by employing harsh terms, and sometimes “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Prov. 15:1).
“The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (v. 12). David now appealed unto a higher court. First, he desires that Jehovah Himself shall make it appear who was in the right and who in the wrong. Second, he counts upon the retribution of Heaven if Saul should continue to persecute him. Third, he affirms his steadfast resolution that no matter what he might suffer, nor what opportunities might be his to avenge himself, he would not do him hurt, but leave it with God to requite the evil. This was indeed a mild method of reasoning with Saul, and the least offensive way of pointing out to him the injustice of his conduct. If men would deal thus one with another how much strife could be avoided, and how many quarrels be satisfactorily ended!
“As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (v. 13). This intimates that it is permissible for us to make a right use of the wise sayings of others, particularly of the ancients, even though they are not directly inspired of God. Such aphorisms as “Look before you leap,” “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” “All is not gold that glitters,” are likely to stand us in good stead if they are stored in the memory and duly pondered. In days gone by, such proverbs were frequently spoken in the hearing of children (we are thankful that they were in ours), and the general absence of them today is only another evidence of the decadence of our times.
“As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.” The use which David here made of this proverb is obvious: he reminds Saul that a man is revealed by his actions. As a tree is known by its fruits, so our conduct makes manifest the dispositions of our hearts. It was as though David said, “Had I been the evil wretch which you have been made to believe, I would have had no conscience of taking away your life when it was in my power. But I could not: my heart would not let me.” Though the dog barks at the sheep, the sheep do not snap back at the dog.
“After whom is the king of Israel come out? after whom dost thou pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea” (v. 14). Here David descends and reasons with Saul on the lowest grounds: in your own judgment I am a worthless fellow, then why go to so much trouble over me! Is it not altogether beneath the dignity of a monarch to take so much pains in hunting after one who is not worthy of his notice? In likening himself to a “flea,” David, by this simile, depicts not only his own weakness, but the circumstances he was in: obliged to move swiftly from place to place, and therefore not easily taken; and if captured, of no value to the king. Why then be so anxious to give chase to one so inconspicuous? “To conquer him would not be his honor, to attempt it only his disparagement. If Saul would consult his own reputation he would slight such an enemy (supposing he were really his enemy), and would think himself in no danger from him.” If Saul had a spark of generosity in him, the humble carriage of David here would surely abate his enmity.
“The Lord therefore be Judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand” (v. 15). Having pleaded his case so forcibly, David now solemnly warned his enemy that Jehovah would judge righteously between them, deliver him out of his hand, and avenge his cause upon him. When we are innocent of the suspicions entertained against and preferred upon us, we need not fear to leave the issue with God. This is what our Lord Himself did: “When he suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). Assured that God would, in due time, vindicate him, David acted faith upon Him and rested in His faithfulness. The justice of God should ever be the refuge and comfort of those who are wrongfully oppressed: the day is coming when the Judge of all the earth shall recompense every evil-doer, and reward all the righteous.
A brief analysis of what we may term David’s “defense” teaches us what methods we should follow when seeking to show a person that we have given no cause for his malice against us. First, David asked Saul if he had not been unjust in listening to slanders against him (v. 9)? Second, he pointed out that because the fear of God was upon him, he dared not sin presumptuously (v. 10). Third, he appealed to his own actions in proof thereof (v. 11). Fourth, he affirmed he had no intention to retaliate and return evil for evil (v. 12). Fifth, he argued that the known character of a person should prevent others from believing evil reports about him (v. 13). Sixth, he took a lowly place, shaming pride by humility (v. 14). Seventh, he committed his case unto the justice of God (v. 15).
Chapter Sixteen-His Victory Over Saul
1 Samuel 24
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32). A man who is “slow to anger” is esteemed by the Lord, respected by men, is happy in himself, and is to be preferred above the strongest giant that is not master of self. Alexander the Great conquered the world, yet in his uncontrollable wrath, slew his best friends. Being “slow to anger” is to take time and consider before we suffer our passions to break forth, that they may not transgress due bounds; and he who can thus control himself is to be esteemed above the mightiest warrior. A rational conquest is more honorable to a rational creature than triumph by brute force.
The most desirable authority is self-government. The conquest of ourselves and our own unruly passions, requires more regular and persevering management than does the obtaining of a victory over the physical forces of an enemy. The conquering of our own spirit is a more important achievement than the taking of a foe’s fortress. He that can command his temper is superior to him that can successfully storm a fortified town. Natural courage, skill and patience, may do the one; but it requires the grace of God and the assistance of the Holy Spirit to do the other. Blessedly was all this exemplified by David in that incident which has occupied our attention in the last two chapters. He had been sorely provoked by Saul, yet when the life of his enemy was in his hand, he graciously spared him, and returned good for evil.
“A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). Strikingly was this illustrated in what is now to be before us. A child of God is not to rest satisfied because he has not originated strife, but if others begin it, he must not only not continue it, but endeavor to end it by mollifying the matter. Better far to pour oil on the troubled waters, than to add fuel to the fire. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). We are to disarm resentment by every reasonable concession. Mild words and gentle expressions, delivered with kindness and humility, will weaken bitterness and scatter the storm of wrath. Note how the Ephraimites were pacified by Gideon’s mild answer (Judges 8:1-13). The noblest courage is shown when we withstand our own corruptions, and overcome enemies by kindness.
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Wherein does this forgiving of others consist? First, in withholding ourselves from revenge. “Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any” (Col. 3:13): “forbearing and forgiving” are inseparably connected. Some men will say, We will do to him as he has done to us; but God bids us, “Say not I will do so to him as he hath done unto me, I will render to the man according to his work” (Prov. 24:29). Corrupt nature thirsts for retaliation, and has a strong inclination that way; but grace should check it. Men think it a base thing to put up with wrongs and injuries; but this it is which gives a man a victory over himself, and the truest victory over his enemy, when he forbears to revenge.
By nature there is a spirit in us which is turbulent, revengeful, and desirous of returning evil for evil; but when we are able to deny it, we are ruling our own spirit. Failure so to do, being overcome by passion, is moral weakness, for our enemy has thoroughly overcome us when his injuring of us prevails to our breaking of God’s laws in order to retaliate. Therefore we are bidden “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21): then is grace victorious, and then do we manifest a noble, brave and strong spirit. And wondrously will God bless our exemplifications of His grace, for it is often His way to shame the party that did the wrong, by overcoming him with the meekness and generosity of the one he has injured. It was thus in the case of David and Saul, as we shall now see.
“And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept” (1 Sam. 24:16). Though his mind was so hostile to David, and he had cruelly chased him up and down, yet when he now saw that the one he was pursuing had forborne revenge when it was in his power, he was moved to tears. In like manner, when the captains of the Syrians, whom the prophet had temporarily blinded, were led to Samaria, fully expecting to be slain there, we are told that the king “prepared great provisions for them: and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away.” And what was the sequel to such kindness unto their enemies? This; it so wrought upon their hearts, their bands “came no more into the land of Israel” (2 Kings 6:20-23). May these incidents speak loudly unto each of our hearts.
“And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept.” Let us pause and adore the restraining power of God. Filled with wrath and fury, so eager to take David’s life, Saul, instead of attempting to kill him, had stood still and heard David’s speech without an interruption. He who commands the winds and the waves, can, when He pleases, still the most violent storm within a human breast. But more; Saul was not only awed and subdued, but melted by David’s kindness. Observe the noticeable change in his language: before, it was only “the son of Jesse,” now he says, “my son, David.” So deeply was the king affected, that he was moved to tears; yet, like those of Esau, they were not tears of real repentance.
“And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil” (v. 17). Saul was constrained to acknowledge David’s integrity and his own iniquity, just as Pharaoh said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you” (Ex. 10:16); and as many today will own their wrong-doing when shamed by Christians returning to them good for evil, or when impressed by some startling providence of God. But such admissions are of little value if there is no change for the better in the lives of those who make them. Nevertheless, this acknowledgment of Saul’s made good that word of God’s upon which He had caused His servant to hope: “He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday” (Ps. 37:6). They who are careful to maintain “a conscience void of offense toward God and man” (Acts 24: 16), may safely leave it unto Him to secure the credit of it.
“This fair confession was sufficient to prove David innocent, even his enemy himself being judge; but not enough to prove Saul himself a true penitent. He should have said, ‘Thou art righteous, and I am wicked,’ but the utmost he will own is this, ‘Thou art more righteous than I.’ Bad men will commonly go no farther than this in their confessions: they will own they are not so good as some others are; there are that are better than they, more righteous” (Matthew Henry). Ah, it takes the supernatural workings of Divine grace in the heart to strip us of all our fancied goodness, and bring us into the dust as self-condemned sinners, it requires too the continual renewings of the Holy Spirit to keep us in the dust, so that we truthfully exclaim, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and for Thy truth’s sake” (Ps. 115:1).
“And thou hast showed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the Lord had delivered me into thine hand, thou killest me not” (v. 18). This is striking: even the most desperate sinners are sometimes amenable to acts of kindness. Saul could not but own that David had dealt far more mercifully with him, than he would have done with David if their position had been reversed. He acknowledged that he had been laboring under a misapprehension concerning his son, for clear proof had been given that David was of a far different stamp than what he had supposed. “We are too apt to suspect others to be worse affected towards us than they really are, and than perhaps they are proved to be; and when afterwards our mistake is discovered, we should be forward to recall our suspicions as Saul doth here” (Matthew Henry).
“And thou hast showed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the Lord had delivered me into thine hand, thou killest me not.” In view of the later sequel, this is also exceedingly solemn. Saul not only recognizes the magnanimity of David, but he perceives too the providence of God: he owns that it was none other than the hand of Jehovah which had placed him at the mercy of the man whose life he had been seeking. Thus it was plain that God was for David, and who could hope to succeed against him! How this ought to have deterred him from seeking his hurt afterwards; yet it did not: his “goodness was as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (Hosea 6:4). Alas, there are many who mourn for their sins, but do not truly repent of them; weep bitterly for their transgressions, and yet continue in love and league with them; discern and own the providences of God, yet do not yield themselves to Him.
“For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away?” (v. 19). No, this is not the customary way among men. “Revenge is sweet” to poor fallen human nature, and few indeed refuse to drink from this tempting cup when it is presented to them. And if there be more lenity shown unto fallen enemies today than there was in past ages, it is not to be ascribed unto any improvement in man, but to the beneficent effects of the spread of Christianity. That this is the case may be clearly seen in the vivid contrasts presented among nations where the Gospel is preached, and where it is unknown: the “dark places” of the earth are still “full of the habitations of cruelty” (Ps. 74:20).
“For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? wherefore the Lord reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day” (v. 19). Strange language this for a would-be murderer! Yes, even the reprobate have spurts and flashes of seeming piety at times, and many superficial people who “believeth every word” (Prov. 14:15) are deceived thereby. “Seemingly pious” we say, for after all, those fair words of Saul were empty ones. Had he really meant what he said, would he not personally and promptly have rewarded David himself? Of course he would. He was king; he had power to; it was his duty to reinstate David in the bosom of his family, and bestow upon him marks of the highest honor and esteem. But he did nothing of the sort. Ah, dear reader: do not measure people by what they say; it is actions which speak louder than words.
“And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand” (v. 20). The realization that God had appointed David to succeed him on the throne, was now forced upon Saul. The providence of God in so remarkably preserving and prospering him, his princely spirit and behavior, his calling to mind of what Samuel had declared, namely; that the kingdom should be given to a neighbor of his, better than he (15:18)—and such David was by his own confession (v. 17); and the portion cut off his own robe—which must have been a vivid reminder of Samuel rending his mantle, when he made the solemn prediction; all combined to convince the unhappy king of this. Thus did God encourage the heart of His oppressed servant, and support his faith and hope. Sometimes He deigns to employ strange instruments in giving us a message of cheer.
“Sware now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s house” (v. 21). Under the conviction that God was going to place David upon the throne of Israel, Saul desired from him the guaranty of an oath, that he would not, when king, extirpate his posterity. What a tribute this was unto the reality of David’s profession! Ah, the integrity, honesty, veracity of a genuine child of God, is recognized by those with whom he comes into contact. They who have dealings with him know that his word is his bond. Treacherous and unscrupulous as Saul was, if David promised in the name of the Lord to spare his children, he was assured that it would be fulfilled to the letter. Reader, is your character thus known and respected by those among whom you move?
“Sware now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” How tragically this reveals the state of his heart. Poor Saul was more concerned about the credit and interests of his Family in this world, than he was of securing the forgiveness of his sins before he entered the world to come. Alas, there are many who have their seasons of remorse, are affected by their dangerous situations, and almost persuaded to renounce their sins; they are convinced of the excellency of true saints, as acting from superior principles to those which regulate their own conduct, and cannot withhold from them a good word; yet are they not thereby humbled or changed, and sin and the world continue to reign in their hearts until death overtakes them.
“And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home: but David and his men gat them unto the hold” (v. 22). David was willing to bind himself to the promise which Saul asked of him, and accordingly swore to it on oath. Thus he has left us an example to “be subject unto the higher powers” (Rom. 13:1). His later history evidences how he respected his oath to Saul, by sparing Mephibosheth, and in punishing the murderers of Ishbosheth. It is to be noted that David did not ask Saul to sware unto him that he would no more seek his life. David knew him too well to trust in a transient appearance of friendliness, and having no confidence in his word. Nor should we deliberately place a temptation in the way of those lacking in honor, by seeking to extract from them a definite promise.
“And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold.” David did not trust Saul, whose inconstancy, perfidy and cruel hatred, he full well knew. He did not think it safe to return unto his own house, nor to dwell in the open country, but remained in the wilderness, among the rocks and the caves. The grace of God will teach us to forgive and be kind unto our enemies, but not to trust those who have repeatedly deceived us; for malice often seems dead, when it is only dormant, and will ever long revive with double force. “They that, like David, are innocent as doves, must thus, like David, be wise as serpents” (Matthew Henry). Note how verse 22 pathetically foreshadowed John 7:53 and 8:1.
Here then is the blessed victory that David gained over Saul, not by treacherous stealth, or by brute force but a moral triumph. How complete his victory was that day, is seen in the extent to which that haughty monarch humbled himself before David, entreating him to be kind unto his offspring, when he should be king. But the great truth for us to lay hold of, the central lesson here recorded for our learning is that David first gained the victory over himself, before he triumphed over Saul. May writer and reader be more diligent and earnest in seeking grace from God that we may not be overcome by evil, but that we may “overcome evil with good.”