From Shepherd to King (4)
“On The Run” 1 Samuel 21-26
During the Cultural Revolution in China my dear friend Stephen Wang was arrested & accused of being a counter-revolutionary, someone who was a traitor to his country – & it was all because he was known as a Christian. He had to put on a big dunce hat & was paraded through the streets in front of mocking crowds. He was told to shout out the words “down with Stephen Wang”. His first thought was “how can I say such a thing” but then he remembered the Bible says we should die to the old self – so he shouted out as loud as he could “down with Stephen Wang”. The Red Guards were so impressed with his “good attitude” & cooperation that they let him return home. When he reached home he discovered something wonderful. While he was being paraded on the street his twin daughters asked their mother why their father was being treated as a criminal. She explained it was because he loved Jesus. The two girls said they also wanted to believe. And both are serving Jesus today.
Have you ever felt weak or even helpless? Have you ever been falsely accused or misunderstood? Have you ever been attacked – verbally or even physically? Have you ever felt under such pressure that you despaired of finding a way of escape? Have you ever felt completely overwhelmed? I guess to some degree most of us have experienced such things, at one time or other. However few of us will have experienced living with the degree of danger & uncertainty that David experienced after he fled for his life from Saul. Those living through war or times of political upheaval, such as occurred during the Cultural Revolution, might be able to understand. David was on the run for several years living in constant danger. He was not a criminal, but he was treated as one. He had done nothing wrong, but he was accused of all kinds of evil. He loved his king & country & had proved it with a lot more than words, yet he was accused of being a traitor.
Today we are going to look at what we could call “the wilderness experience” of David. Several chapters in 1 Samuel are given over to this period in his life. It was a very difficult & dangerous time for him. He was on a roller coaster of ups & downs & he had to cling to God. He had been chosen by God & God was preparing him to lead His people. Some of the Psalms that David wrote during this period of his life reflect the incredible hardships he faced but they also tell of the wonderful deliverance & comfort he received from God. So too the wilderness experiences in our lives are allowed by God & can help draw us closer to Him. C.S. Lewis the famous author said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, but he shouts to us in our pain.” The tough times we go through often force us to listen to God. Our struggles & difficulties (whether they are emotional, physical or spiritual) can be used by God to mould us into the kind of people He wants us to be.
It happened this way with David. Let us briefly look then at some of the main incidents recorded for us in 1 Samuel chapters 21-24 & as we do so let us note some of the important lessons that David learnt.
David in Nob – lying leads to trouble
After his sad farewell to Jonathan, David escaped to Nob, the village where the priest Ahimelech was in charge of the tabernacle, or tent of meeting. David was hungry & desperate when went in to see the priest. V 1 says, “Ahimelech trembled when he met him, & asked, ‘Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?’” Ahimelech was surprised that David, such a prominent person, seemed to be alone. He may have sensed something was wrong. Notice how David answered him. “The king charged me with a certain matter & said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about your mission & your instructions.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place.”(v.2) Was David telling the truth? No, of course he wasn’t. He had not been sent on a mission by Saul. He was running for his life trying to escape from Saul. David, for whatever reason, was telling a lie.
He then went on to ask – “…what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever you can find.” (v. 3) Ahimelech only had consecrated bread that was reserved for the priests but seeing that David was in real need he agreed he could have some. Did David’s lie pay off? Did he get away with it? Yes, to begin with but later it all back-fired. Lies have a habit of back-firing.
We read something ominous in v.7 “Now one of Saul's servants was there that day, …he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul's head shepherd.” In the next chapter we discover that in fact this same man told Saul he had seen David at the tabernacle in Nob with Ahimelech & the priest had given him bread & a weapon. The tragic outcome of all this was that Saul ordered Ahimelech & his whole family & all the other priests to be killed. Eighty five innocent people were slaughtered. When Abiathar, Ahimelech’s son, the only one to escape the massacre, came & told David what had happened, David himself admitted (in 22:22) that he was to blame. David’s small lie seemed harmless enough but it led to tragedy. Lying is wrong. It always gets us & others into trouble – sooner or later. It was a painful lesson David had to learn.
David in Gath – those who trust God will not be put to shame
David hurriedly left Nob & fled over the border from Judah into Philistine country. It was a very risky move. It was enemy territory & Gath was the home town of the giant Goliath whom David had defeated a few years earlier. What on earth made David go there! Had he checked his plans with the Lord? It seems he had not. Did he think he could remain incognito – unrecognized? Sure there was no TV in those days – 3,000 years ago. People would not recognize him from his photo in the newspaper, for there were no newspapers. But in fact it did not take long before people were talking. David may have said he was a political refugee on the run from their enemy Saul but soon the servants of Achish king of Gath were saying, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: Saul has slain his thousands & David his tens of thousands?” It seems that the old number 1 hit song of the women of Israel was also known in Gath. Unless David could escape from Gath his days were numbered. Poor David was in a real mess. He may have been out of the reach of Saul but Achish was no friend either.
What did David do? We read in v.13 “So he pretended to be insane in their presence; & while he was in their hands he acted like a madman.” It was a desperate move but David knew that in those times people tried to avoid madmen. They left them alone fearing their madness was connected with the influence of demons & no one in their right mind would interfere with demons. David’s acting worked. Achish dismissed him with a joking comment to his servants saying he had enough mad people around him already, “…Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?” (v15) David was able to escape from Gath. He must have breathed a huge sigh of relief but how humiliating the whole episode must have been for him!
Around this time David wrote the magnificent Psalm 34. “I sought the Lord, & He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, & the Lord heard him; He saved him from all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:4-6) David must have felt not only embarrassed but also covered in shame. The Lord had indeed saved him out of his troubles. David continues in v18, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted & saves those who are crushed in spirit.” I think David must have felt pretty crushed in spirit after his brief stay in Gath. As he also wrote in Psalm 56:11, “In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” In the midst of his troubles he learnt to trust in God & seek His solutions.
Let us learn from David the importance of calling out to God & putting our trust in Him. He can deliver us from the most embarrassing & shameful situations. When we seem to be sinking in the very troubles that we ourselves have caused, He is able to lift us up & out of the mess. He is able to give us back our dignity. He restores us & heals us if we will call out to Him, putting our trust in Him & obeying Him fully.
David at Adullam – learning to lead
At the start of chapter 22 we read, “David left Gath & escaped to the cave of Adullam. [The Cave of Adullum was not too far from David’s home town of Bethlehem. He knew the area well] When his brothers & his father's household heard about it, they went down to him there.” David had had to say goodbye to his friend Jonathan but unexpectedly & wonderfully God now brings David’s own family to him. It seems that his older brothers no longer looked down upon David. They were ready to support him. Is this not an encouragement for those of you who have felt misunderstood by your family! God can change their hearts.
Something else very significant is mentioned. “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, & he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.” (v.2) What a training ground for the future king! Somehow he had to get this diverse bunch of difficult & discontented people to function together under his command. Many of them were to become famous warriors in David’s future army. He was able to mould them into a loyal band of followers. He challenged them to fulfil their potential despite the many negative life experiences they had had up until then. David was being trained by God for leadership.
Let us not despise the opportunities God gives us to serve even if those we work with are very different to us. If we are to lead others, whether in the secular world or in God’s Kingdom, we sometimes do have to work with difficult people. We need to win their confidence & earn their respect. David, despite his mistakes & failings, was able to inspire others & unite them in a greater cause. When He was close to God David helped others come closer to God too. David did not need to lower his standards or compromise his principles for short-term gain. God was shaping him into a true leader.
David at Engedi – allowing God to be the judge
We have jumped over several very interesting incidents as we come to chapter 24. David & his men, who by now numbered about 600, were moving around in the Desert of Engedi, near the Dead Sea. The area has steep limestone cliffs with many caves & short steep valleys with good water supplies. It was a rugged area with many places to hide. Some of the caves were huge & could easily hold many hundreds of people. When Saul heard David was somewhere in this area he came with a special force of 3000 fighting men. We read in v3 “…a cave was there, & Saul went in to relieve himself. David & his men were far back in the cave.” Incredibly Saul came into the very cave in which David & his men were hiding. Saul had no idea they were there, of course, & squatted down to use the cave as a toilet. David & his men clearly saw Saul come in but having come in from the bright light outside Saul could not see David & his men who were further back in the darkness of the cave. David’s men urged him to take this golden opportunity to kill Saul. David had another plan. He crept up unnoticed behind Saul. Saul must have taken off his robe & put it down before finding a place to relieve himself. David quickly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Unaware anything had happened Saul again picked up his robe & left the cave.
A nurse, Sister Dora, started a small hospital in England about 140 years ago. One day a young teenage hoodlum threw a stone at her causing a nasty gash in her forehead. A few weeks later this same boy was badly injured & was brought to Sister Dora’s hospital. She recognized him at once & personally cared for him with special tenderness. One day she found the boy quietly crying. Sobbing he said to her, “Sister, I threw that stone at you.” Sister Dora replied, “Oh, did you think I did not know that? Of course I recognized you right away.” “What!” cried the boy, “you knew me & have been nursing me like this!” He was deeply touched by her forgiving, loving heart.
David showed that same forgiving spirit to Saul. His men had wanted him to kill Saul but David told them, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD's anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” (v.6) What a dramatic scene as David then calls out to Saul from the entrance to the cave. “‘My lord the king!’ When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down & prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” (v.8) David was able to prove to Saul that he could have killed him but chose not to as he believed he was still God’s anointed. He said, “…I am not guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the LORD judge between you & me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.” (vrs 11 & 12)
What lesson had David learned? It was surely that he should leave vengeance to God. It was not for him to kill Saul, even though Saul was trying to kill him. His life & his times were in God’s hands. In God’s perfect time & way David knew he would be made king, for that is what God had told him. All David needed to do was to continue to do what was right & to commit his life & future into God’s hands. Paul writes to fellow believers: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17, 19) Jesus said we must love our enemies & do good to those who persecute us. It is for God to judge, not us.
There was another occasion when God delivered Saul into David’s hands but again David resisted the temptation to kill Saul. It was so important for the future. All Israel knew that David had not been a rebel trying to steal the throne from Saul. He was the leader God had chosen. I believe there is an important lesson here for us too. We must not try to grab power or influence. That is the way of the world. In the Kingdom of God, & in the Church, we must be ready to serve others. If & when God calls us to leadership we must be ready to step forward but we do not need to fight for position or for influence. Sadly, even in the Christian Church, people sometimes seek for position & influence instead of seeking God’s glory alone. Let us learn from David.
We can also learn from David that no matter what trials & difficulties we face we can find our refuge, our security, our identity, our destiny, in Him. David himself writes in Psalm 57:1, “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” He continues, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfils His purpose for me. He sends from heaven & saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; God sends His love & His faithfulness.” (vrs 2 & 3) Yes. God sometimes allows us to go through tough times in order to teach us important lessons, in order to draw us closer to Himself. He wants to toughen us up, to mould us to be what He wants us to be. We must learn to trust & obey Him. We can leave our future safely in His loving & powerful hands. May we learn these important lessons – the lessons that David learnt through his wilderness experience.