His Flight to Ziklag
1 Samuel 21
There are times when Godís 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 testedóto 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 servantís behalf. Yet, being a man of like passions with ourselves, and the supernatural grace of God not supporting him at the time, instead of Davidís 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 Godís 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 livesóas 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 Godís 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 dearlyówe 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 Lordís 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 giantís 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 Godís 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. Abrahamís deception was discovered. Peterís attempt to conceal his discipleship failedóhis 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 Godís 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 Spiritís 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 Davidís 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).