A picture is worth a thousand words. A Photo of a political candidate with someone of questionable reputation can torpedo their candidacy. A picture from an investigator that places a spouse in a compromising situation could be the end of a relationship. A picture of someone on a security camera could result in an imprisonment. An unflattering photo of a celebrity ends up in all the tabloids and websites.
In 1 Samuel 27-30 we see four unexpected pictures of David.
Chapter 27 follow chapter 26 (insight like this is why you go to school!). In chapter 26 David spares Saul’s life a second time and as a result, Saul blessed David. We wonder if David is finally winning Saul over. We are shocked as we begin Chapter 27,
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, and I will slip out of his hand.” (27:1)
David apparently not only concluded that Saul did not mean what he said (which is a reasonable conclusion based on history). David also concluded the prophet Samuel, his friend Jonathan, and ultimately the Lord did not mean what they said when they said he would be King.
David is physically tired. He is emotionally drained. The pressure of finding food for his entourage while keeping moving has had a toll on David. In this state David made a mistake that is all too common: he focused on his circumstances rather than on the Lord. David focused on his emotions rather than God’s promise. He let his discouragement define truth rather than letting the truth redefine his discouragement. This led David down a wrong path to some bad decisions.
David decided the only way to escape Saul’s pursuit was to run once again to Achish who was one of the Philistine leaders in Gath. If you remember, Gath was Goliath’s hometown. David had actually come to Gath once before in the early days of his time as a fugitive. He was lucky to escape with his life on that occasion!
This time David was welcomed by the Philistines. For 16 months he and his entourage lived among their enemies. It was similar to when Abraham’s nephew Lot lived in Sodom. It all happened because David started looking in the wrong direction.
We see a good illustration of this with the story of Peter walking on the water. You probably remember the story. The disciples were out on the water and Jesus was on the shore praying. They were rowing against a stiff wind when they saw Jesus walking toward them. The disciples were terrified and thought he was a ghost. Jesus called out to them and said, “Hey guys, don’t worry . . . it’s me”.
For some reason Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (Wouldn’t you have thought it better to say, “If it’s really you then tell me what we ate for breakfast?” Jesus of course invited Peter to come to Him. We read,
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” [emphasis mine] (Matthew 14:29)
Peter actually walked on water as long as he kept his focus on Jesus. He got into trouble when he started focusing on the wind rather than the Savior.
This is what happens to us. As long as we stay focused on our Lord’s ability, His faithfulness, His love, and His Word, we do well. But as soon as we start focusing on the problems, disappointments and heartache of life; as soon as we trust our own judgment over His, we quickly find ourselves lost, discouraged and defeated.
The entire 16 months David was with the Philistines there is no record of him consulting the Lord and there are no Psalms that are attributed to this time. In other words, this decision likely led to a time of spiritual dryness.
It is a fair question to ask why in the world Achish would welcome David and his group (probably numbering 1000-2000 people counting women and children). You would think Achish would have been threatened even more by David. Instead he welcomed him.
There are two likely reasons Achish was open to David. First, it was now well known that Saul was trying to kill David. There is an old saying that says: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Achish believed he and David had one thing in common: they were both enemies of Israel.
The second reason Achish welcomed David was because he needed him and his fighting men. It was common for leaders to hire mercenaries to help them fight their enemies. The Philistines were outmanned by Israel and Achish believed David and his men (well known for their skirmishes with Saul) would be a great asset.
David probably was given the town of Ziklag as payment for his services. It was understood that David and his men would do mercenary or contract work for Achish on behalf of the Philistines. David did conduct regular military raids. However, these raids were not against Israel and its allies (as David reported to Achish). There were against enemies of Israel (and the Philistines). In this way David was helping his people as well as Achish.
David’s life now became a lie. He not only had to lie about what he and his men were doing, he felt the need to kill all the people in these raids and took the spoils. It is possible that David gave some of the spoils to the King as a way of proving he was conducting military operations.
Some commentators justify David’s actions because these peoples were all peoples that God had told Moses to “devote to complete destruction” (Numbers 33:50-56). God commanded their destruction because he knew that compromise with these people would lead Israel to erode their commitment to the Lord. It sounds noble but the text tells us David killed the people not to be obedient to God but to protect his “cover story”.
There is a simple lesson here: when you fall into a pit don’t keep digging! It only makes the hole deeper. When you fall into a hole the best thing to do is cry for help. Unfortunately, David kept digging.
When we reach 1 Samuel 29 David finds himself in a real mess of a situation. David had done such a good job of deceiving Achish into thinking of him as a loyal subject that when Achish and his fellow Philistine rulers joined forces to attack Israel, he naturally wanted David and his fighting men to fight alongside of him.
David was in a position similar to what an undercover officer must feel when they are faced with the dilemma between doing something illegal and blowing their cover. It seems like a lose/lose situation. If David fought against Israel it is unlikely he could ever become King. Imagine someone with ambitions to be President of the United States fighting against American soldiers in Iraq, or fighting for the Viet Cong, or donning a Nazi uniform during World War II. It is inconceivable! Yet this is where David finds himself.
Did David have a plan? Did he figure he could wait until the right moment and then begin fighting on behalf of Israel?
Fortunately for David the Lord had not abandoned him. The other kings refused to allow David to go into battle with them. They knew David’s reputation as a fierce military leader for Israel. Many of them had suffered personal losses at his hand. They didn’t want to start fighting the Israelites with David behind them. They felt like they would be surrounded before the battle even began!
David protested (was he angry or just protecting his “cover”?), he and his men were relieved of duty and sent home. It appeared they hurried home since they made the trip in three days (Had they heard the Amalekites were in the area?). When they arrived home to Ziklag they discovered they had themselves been victims of attack. The Amalekites (who probably knew the Philistines and Israelites were preparing for war and would leave their town defenseless) had raided the city, burned it and taken all the women and children as captives. Most likely the Amalekites considered the woman and children as plunder that they could sell as slaves.
The men were distraught and angry. We are told,
David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. (30:6)
Here we have a picture of human nature. When something bad happens it seems the first thing we do is look for someone to blame. In a sense we cannibalize the people around us. When someone is fired from a job they blame the management. If a student fails a class the first person to blame is the teacher. If a team loses games everyone blames the coach or manager. If someone is unhappy in life they blame their spouse.
Our most common target in times of hardship is the Lord. We blame God because we believe a loving God would make sure we never hurt. We never stop to ask,
1. Is this a consequence of my own (or another’s) free choices?
2. Is God turning me away from something so He can lead me in a better direction?
3. Is there something I need to learn?
God used this circumstance to get David back “on track”. In 1 Samuel 30:6 we read something we haven’t read in the last several chapters,
But David found strength in the LORD his God.
7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, 8 and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?”
For sixteen months David has been going at things his own way. Now he doesn’t know what to do. He turned to the Lord. David asked God whether they should pursue the Amalekites and if they could “take” them. God told David to go and defeat them.
David and his men went south. They found (or God left for them) an Egyptian who had been a slave of an Amalekite in the raiding party. He had gotten sick and was left behind. David and his men cared for the man and he led them to the Amalekite camp.
The Amalekite army greatly outnumbered David and his men. We read,
David fought them from dusk until the evening of the next day, and none of them got away, except four hundred young men who rode off on camels and fled.
“None of them got away except 400 young men”! David only had 400 soldiers in his fighting force! (200 men who were exhausted were left with the supplies).
David was back on track. They recovered all their belongs and also the plunder from some Israelite towns. The men divided the plunder and David even sent some of it to some of the leaders in Judah (to either repay their friendship, restore their own losses, or simply to build goodwill). David’s heart was once again where it was supposed to be.
Let me draw three quick principles from this chapter of David’s life. First, Defeated Thinking Leads to Defeated Living. There was an article in the paper this week about some Senator who told, I believe, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve that he hated when he came and made a statement to Congress because every time he spoke the Stock Market went down. The doom and gloom talk undermined market confidence.
I heard a story about a group of frogs who decided to have a race. They were going to climb a tall tower and see who reached the top first. As the frogs started climbing the people watching were saying things like, “They’ll never make it to the top”, “The tower is too tall”. The more the people talked the more frogs fell from the tower until only one was left. This one frog made it all the way to the top. It turns out he was deaf.
Where we choose to focus our minds will impact the things we say and do. Please understand, I’m not suggesting that we merely “put on a happy face”. There are plenty who tell us the key to success is to visualize where we want to go and then we can achiever our dreams. Scripture is not telling us to focus on our ability but on Gods! He is sufficient for our every need and stronger than any hardship. The key is for us to focus on what we KNOW is true. We know that in the world we may have trouble but . . . He has overcome the world. Our challenge is to focus on the Lord and not our circumstances.
In Philippians 4:8 Paul wrote,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Paul tells us that such thinking does not come naturally. It is something we must DO. I have been hammering away at this concept over the last month or so. Let me hammer some more with some practical suggestions,
1. Look for the good stuff. We have a tendency to be drawn to the negative things like a magnet to metal shavings. Look for the things you can celebrate and thank God for. Celebrate the great days, and great events rather than rehashing the negative things. SET your mind on what is good.
2. Limit your exposure to the television, news shows, and talk radio. Keep informed but stay away from the immorality, angst and hand-wringing. Spend more time with the Bible, good Christian books, Christian friends and the great teachers on Christian radio and the music that will direct your thoughts to the King. View you weekly worship a “priority for survival”.
3. Monitor your self talk. David got into trouble not by talking to others . . . it was because of what he was telling himself! Stop and examine what messages you are giving yourself. Confront negative thinking with the truth of Scripture. Remind yourself that you can “do all things through Christ who strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13). Memorize the promises and character traits of God. In times when you are stressed call these things to memory
4. Set an example and determine that you will not complain to others unless you have suggestions for improving the situation. Encourage others to do the same.
Sometimes Life’s “No” is God’s “Yes”. The Philistine leaders rejected David but it was God’s way of protecting David from a bad situation. Their city was attacked but it was God’s way to get David to seek Him once again.
Is it possible that the very thing that leads you to mourn and be discouraged in your life may be God’s tool to,
- Get your attention and turn you from depending on yourself?
- Turn you from a sin that is eating away your soul?
- Deepen your roots so you might know His strength?
- Soften your heart?
- Open a door for ministry?
- Lift your sights beyond the things of this world?
The Solution for Discouragement is to Turn to the Lord. Are you in one of those periods in your life when you are living in Gath? Are you drifting in your spiritual life? Are you mad at God over the circumstances of your life?
You may feel that God has abandoned you. He has not. Your life may be filled with sorrow and hardship. You may find yourself in a real mess. I do not minimize your anguish or the difficulty of your life. The question is: Where will you turn? Will you be led by your feelings or by the other hurting people around you? Will you put your hope in the government? Will you put your confidence in your ability to “rise above things”? Or will you turn to the One who is consistent in His love, perfect in His wisdom, and is alone the source of true and lasting life?
In the parable of the Prodigal Son the key moment came when the young man decided it was time to go home. No matter where you find yourself today the first step will always be the same: go home. Jesus said, “Come to me you are weak and heavily burdened and I will give you rest.” He means what He says. If you will put your trust and confidence in Him he will begin to lead you out of the quagmire and into a new life.
When people look back on this time in your life what will they see? Will this be a time in your life that is characterized by rebellion or faith? Will it be a low point in life or will it be one of your finest moments? Will it be a time when you sink or will it be the time you learn to walk on the water? No matter what it will be because of where you put your focus.