From Shepherd to King (5)
“Living In Exile” 1 Samuel 27, 29 & 30
One of my favourite characters in early Church history is John Chrysostom. He was known as “golden tongue” for he was a powerful preacher. He was from Antioch, home of the famous multi-cultural mission-minded church in Acts. In 386 AD at the age of 36 he became pastor of the largest Antioch church. In 397 he was chosen as the bishop of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire – today’s Istanbul, in Turkey. While the ordinary people loved John, he very quickly offended some powerful political & religious people in the capital, including the wife of the Emperor, Empress Eudoxia. He preached so strongly against hypocrisy & sin in the church & in society that his enemies had him deposed & in 404 AD the Emperor exiled him to Armenia. After just 3 years in exile he died. It is said his last words were, “Glory be to God for everything.”
John Chrysostom was forced into exile. Today we read about David deciding on his own to go into voluntary exile. He had been on the run from Saul for a couple of years. God had miraculously protected him. Twice he could have actually killed Saul, the one trying to kill him – but both times he refused to lift his hand against the king. However as we come to the start of 1 Samuel 27 we read, “But David thought to himself, ‘One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, & I will slip out of his hand.’” I can understand how David came to this decision. It seems he weighed up his options & decided the easiest solution would be to simply go into exile outside Israel. There is no indication in the Bible, however, that he asked God about this. It seems as if it was David’s own decision.
There are times when we feel so under pressure, when things are so difficult for us, that the easiest thing to do would be to leave, to change our job, to move house, to even move country. Of course it may be God’s will for us to move, change jobs, or whatever but we need to avoid making such decisions on our own. We need to ask the Lord for His guidance. He may want us to wait patiently for His time or He may indeed want us to make a move. If we decide on our own however we could find ourselves living outside the will of God & getting into an even worse situation, not necessarily economically but spiritually. There is an English expression “out of the frying pan into the fire”. It describes getting out of a difficult situation only to find oneself in an even more difficult situation. Was David jumping out of the frying pan into the fire? I think he was! He had seen the Lord delivering him & his followers & their families from danger. God had provided for them. Surely David could trust God to bring them through. But it seems he got impatient. The stress of everything finally got on top of him.
So David & his 600 men & their families left Israel crossing the border into Philistine territory. They headed for the city of Gath which was ruled by a king called Achish. The Philistines were actually enemies of the Israelites. “David & his men settled in Gath with Achish. Each man had his family with him, & David had his two wives: Ahinoam of Jezreel & Abigail of Carmel, the widow of Nabal.” (vrs.2 & 3) You may wonder what has happened to David’s wife Michal? Sadly, her father Saul had forced her to marry another man. That must have been heart-breaking for David & for Michal too. But now we see David has another 2 wives – Ahinoam & Abigail. How can this be? Surely having more than one wife is wrong!
When my ancestor William Anderson brought the gospel to the Griqua people in South Africa about 200 years ago some Griqua leaders had more than one wife. When William taught them about God’s plan for faithfulness & purity in marriage, some argued with him saying, “Why shouldn’t we have more than one wife? Didn’t king David have more than one wife?” A good question! However, as William tried to explain to the Griqua people, the fact David had more than one wife does not make it right. Polygamy, that is having more than one wife, is definitely not God’s plan. Right from the time of Adam & Eve, God said “a man will leave his father & mother & be united to his wife & they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Polygamy always leads to problems in the home. There are many examples in the Bible – including that of David himself. David may have thought he was making strategic alliances through marriage. He may have argued he was simply following the accepted custom for powerful men in the culture of the time. However having more than one wife later brought much pain & suffering to David. And having many wives was to prove the tragic downfall of his son Solomon. Polygamy, just like adultery & unfaithfulness, cheapens marriage. It degrades women - and men. It leads to unhappiness & strife in the home & in society.
Another question for you, David – “how come you are going over to enemy territory? When you first ran from Saul did you not have to act insane just to escape from Achish the ruler of Gath?”Well, maybe David thought things were now a little different. He now had a large fighting force with him & Achish would definitely know that David was an enemy of Saul, their enemy. Maybe David could come to some compromise with the Philistines. At least he would be free from the danger of being killed by Saul. In fact that seemed to be what happened. “When Saul was told that David had fled to Gath, he no longer searched for him.” (v.4) David was off the hook. Things seemed to be working out OK. By compromising a little & by promising to serve Achish, David was able to then ask a big favour.
David said to Achish, “If I have found favour in your eyes, let a place be assigned to me in one of the country towns, that I may live there. Why should your servant live in the royal city with you? So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag.” (vrs 5 & 6) David was on a slippery slope. He may have been given new freedom & he may have felt a lot safer but was he not compromising his faith in God? In the year & four months that were to follow, while David lived in exile in Philistine territory, David clearly did compromise his principles. He did make some serious mistakes. He actually got involved in a very cruel & ruthless campaign attacking other ancient enemies of God’s people – the marauding nomads of the south, people like the Amalekites. “…Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep & cattle, donkeys & camels, & clothes.” (vrs 8 & 9) These people were very cruel & dangerous. Like the Philistines, the Amalekites were a constant threat to God’s people. Defeating them would certainly help David’s fellow countrymen back in Judah. There would be far fewer guerrilla attacks by these marauding bands from the desert. David might be able to justify his actions but I doubt he was able to justify the extreme cruelty he used against women & children. He also told lies to Achish. “When Achish asked, ‘Where did you go raiding today?’ David would say, ‘Against the Negev of Judah…’” (v.10) David didn’t want Achish to know the full story. Achish thought he was attacking his own people in Judah. No wonder we read in v.12 “Achish trusted David & said to himself, ‘He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for life.’”
Can you see how David has been allowing compromise & deceit to govern his actions? He was living in a way that was not pleasing to God. Where was his zeal for the glory & honour of God? What had happened? Bible scholars do not know of any Psalms that were written by David during this period of his voluntary exile. Maybe this is an indication of the fact he was not walking in close fellowship with his Lord. He had allowed his own spiritual life to drift. He had allowed compromise to dull his sense of the presence of God. He was living something of a double life – of course he still claimed to believe in God. Deep down he did love the Lord, he knew he had experienced the Lord in many powerful ways, but somehow he was not living in obedience to the Lord. Dear friends, this can so easily happen to us too. We begin to make excuses – “I’m too busy trying to earn a living!” “I have to study – I have no free time.” “My social life is important to me – friends invite me out on Sundays.” Excuses come easy when we are drifting spiritually. We lower our own standards. We no longer seek God’s presence or His guidance. We seldom read the Bible or pray. We start missing church. God is no longer No 1 in our lives. Oh, we still say we are Christians. After all we were baptised. But our walk with God has become cold. There is a distance between us & Him. When this happens, like David, we will find ourselves on a slippery slope.
David was soon to find himself in a very difficult situation. We read in chapter 29 that war was about to break out between Israel & the Philistines & here is David, the one anointed to be the future king of Israel, living in Philistine territory as a servant, a body guard, for Achish one of the five Philistine rulers. “The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, & Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. As the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds & thousands, David & his men were marching at the rear with Achish.” (1 Samuel 29:1 & 2) To cut a long story short, the other Philistine rulers did not trust David as Achish did & he was asked to return back south to Ziklag. David tried to protest his loyalty to Achish, possibly for fear of being turned on by the whole Philistine force. It must have been incredibly humiliating for David to put on such a show, saying he was loyal to the Philistines when in his heart of hearts he knew his deepest loyalty was to God & His people. This is how low David had sunk - the one who several years earlier had fearlessly stood up to the giant Goliath & had seen God win a great victory. God in His mercy however got David out of the awful dilemma he was facing. He must have been secretly very relieved not to have to go into the battle on the side of the Philistines. That would have been disastrous for his future.
Like David, we sometimes get ourselves into trouble. In fact if often seems as if there is no way out of the trouble. But God is so kind that He is always ready to help us. Just as He helped David get out of his dilemma, He is able to get us out of the messy situations we get ourselves into. In one of the parables Jesus told, the prodigal son who through his own fault ended up hungry & lost was nevertheless welcomed home by his loving & forgiving father. God is like that father. He is ready to forgive & restore us – if we admit our need & come home.
God got David got out of his dilemma with the Philistines but when he & his men reached Ziklag three days later, they were to get a massive shock. While they had been away “…the Amalekites had raided the Negev & Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag & burned it, & had taken captive the women & everyone else in it, both young & old.” (1 Samuel 30:1 & 2) Obviously this situation was distressing beyond words. Their homes had been burnt to the ground & their wives & kids were nowhere to be seen, taken captive. David & his men – all battle hardened warriors “…wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.” (v.4) To make matters even worse for David, we read in v.6, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons & daughters.” No longer was David their hero leader. They now wanted to stone him. How terrible was that! Saul had tried to kill him but now his own men were talking about killing him. David hit rock bottom. He had lost everything. His wives were gone. His possessions were gone. His leadership & his testimony were in tatters. His reputation was blown away. His very life was being threatened. Surely he had now come to the end of himself. He was a total failure. Where could David possibly turn?
This is when we read the most wonderful words – the last phrase in v 6, “But David found strength in the LORD his God.” When all strength was gone, there was no strength even to weep, David found strength in the Lord his God. And friends, when we hit rock bottom that is the only place for any of us to find strength. The only place for us to find hope – is in the Lord. Don’t continue struggling in your own strength. Sooner or later that strength will run out. Turn to the Lord Jesus & find your strength in Him!
At long last David is ready to ask God for guidance. He had come to the end of his plans, his schemes, his way of doing things. He was desperate to find the will of the Lord. So in v.8 we read, “…David inquired of the LORD, ‘Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?’” And the answer came back from the Lord, “‘Pursue them …You will certainly overtake them & succeed in the rescue.’” God gave him an answer when he asked. Do you ask God what He thinks about your plans, about what you should or should not do? Jesus said, “Ask & it will be given to you; seek & you will find; knock & the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) Knowing what God had promised, David & his men took off south – the direction taken by the raiding Amalekites. They eventually caught up with them & following a fierce battle David & his men defeated the Amalekites & recovered everyone & everything the raiders had captured. What a huge relief! What a victory!
David tells his men in v 23 that it was the Lord who had been with them. He said the Lord “…has protected us & delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us.” David recognized that it was the Lord who had won the victory for them. They had safely rescued their wives & children & had also taken lots of plunder. David was once again walking with the Lord. He once again asked God for guidance & saw God intervene on his behalf. He once again humbled himself & admitted his need for the Lord - & the Lord honoured him for that. God saw David’s heart.
Unlike John Chrysostom who was sent into exile, David took himself into exile. He compromised with the enemy. He lost his testimony. He got himself into trouble. But despite this the Lord rescued him. The Lord restored him. I trust that the message today has encouraged you to make sure that you seek first the will of God & that you keep close to Him, rather than relying on your own wisdom or strength. I trust too that if you do fail, as David did, that you will remember that God is able to lift you up out of your failure & despair. Yes, there may be consequences resulting from our sin, things we have to live with, but fellowship & usefulness can be restored. If you feel that you have, like David, been going your own way, making your own decisions without seeking the will of the Lord, & you want to come back into the place of closeness & fellowship with the Lord Jesus, then do come for prayer at the end of the service. When David hit rock bottom, he turned back to God. “David found strength in the Lord his God.” May you & I do the same!