By Samuel Ridout
David's Chastening and Recovery
1 Samuel 30.
The closing scene in Saul's life must wait for its narration until God has given the record of his dealings with His poor wandering servant and restored him to communion with Himself. It is a comfort to read the chapter which is now before us in such a connection as this. It shows us the supreme importance in the mind of God of fellowship with Himself. Compared with this, the clash of nations and the overthow of armies is a small matter. We therefore continue to follow David as he returns, apparently with reluctant steps, from the host of the Philistines.
He has been spared the humiliation and disgrace which would have attached to his character had he gone with them; but the deliverance was, as we have seen, due merely to the providence of God. It still remained for David to learn something of the bitterness of disobedience. Therefore, the chastening rod must fall upon him. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." Such chastening is a proof of God's love to His children. The world may escape the rod, but not the believer. Nor is the rod of his own choosing. If left to ourselves, who of us would deliberately select our chastening and bow ourselves to its infliction? Few indeed; and here we find that David is not consulted as to the manner in which God will bring him face to face with the consequences of his own sin.
Returning to Ziklag, David finds that the Amalekites, the enemies spared by Saul, and many of whom had been slaughtered by himself, have fallen upon his own city, burned it with fire, taken his family and those of his followers captive, with all the spoil, and made good their escape.
We read that when Israel were to go up to serve the Lord three times in the year, they could leave their defenceless homes in perfect confidence, for God had said: "Neither shall any man desire thy land when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year" (Ex. 34: 24). But He had given no assurance that if one was in the path of disobedience, his interests would be protected. If David would associate himself with the enemies of God, in utter disregard of His interests, he need not expect that God would protect him while thus engaged, and we may be sure there was no more tender place in which he could be touched than Ziklag, where those dear to him and his followers were. The affliction which falls upon a man's household is often more keenly felt than when it would more directly assail his own person. Thus, David later on, in the death of his child, was made to feel his sin more severely than if he himself had been laid low by illness. The chastening here inflicted is multiplied in its intensity by as many men as David had, for they had likewise been robbed of all that they held dear. What a responsibility a leader has! If he goes astray, he carries with him all who follow, and involves them in the same chastening that falls upon him.
Finding Ziklag overthrown and all their possessions carried away, David and his men can do nothing but weep until they had not even strength for that. How helpless was their condition, how overwhelming their bereavement! What could they say or think of at an hour like this? Apparently for the first and only time in his history, David has to confront the vengeance of his own devoted followers. A word from him before had been enough to arrest their hand from smiting Saul. They had shared in the hardships of his rejection and had accompanied him in his exile, still faithfully yielding obedience to his every wish, but here they turn against him, and speak of wreaking vengeance upon the cause of their trouble.
It was the darkest hour in this part of the history, and just at this darkest hour we find that for which we have looked in vain during his whole stay in the Philistines' land — the outshining of the faith which we know was present in his heart. "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." It is in the great crises of life, when all seems lost, when death indeed is imminent, and help from human resources hopeless, when those who are dearest turn against one, that faith begins to shine. It needs no congenial soil or climate in which to flourish. It is an exotic which draws its nourishment, not from the circumstances about it, nor from friends or foes, but from Him who is its only Object, the living God. And it is just here that the turning point in David's downward course is reached. From now onward, we see him marked by that faith which had led him so safely in the former years. Again he shows that it is not a vain thing to leave his case in the hands of God, and vindicates his title still to be called "the man after God's own heart."
We have probably all seen some cases of recovery. One has wandered from God and apparently been left for a time to his own devices. He may have been successful in worldly affairs, and all seems to have gone well, even though he has manifestly compromised his pilgrim character and his integrity as a man of faith. God has kept silence. Then perhaps when the shame of such a course is most glaring, the stroke has fallen. Property has been swept away, dear ones perhaps have been taken, and the afflicted man is left somewhat as Job. And now, instead of the pride and self-sufficiency and the hypocrisy which had previously marked him in his course, we find a humbled and a chastened spirit. God is turned to, and the proud soul has found in its affliction the only meeting point between a wandering saint and a holy God. Such can say with David, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted;" "before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept Thy word."
The priest had accompanied David in all his wanderings, just as the believer can never lose, by his own acts, his place of access to God and the priestly intercession of our Lord. The way is ever open for him to inquire of the Lord. God always has a mind for His children and knows what is best for them when they are at their wits' end. It is faith alone that will inquire of Him. As long as there is any possibility of human effort accomplishing anything, the soul is not apt to turn to God, but here David inquires and meets with a most gracious response: "Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all." At once, he and his men arise and pursue after the victorious enemy. Reaching the brook Besor, two hundred, from sheer weakness, have to relinquish the pursuit, and David with the four hundred press onward. We need not be surprised if, in recovery, there are those whose feebleness of faith does not lead them onward, but this cannot hold others back. God is with His saints who have set their face to follow out His purposes and will fight for them.
Traces of the enemy are soon found, and this brings us to an interesting episode to which considerable place is given in the narrative. As soon as David's faith reasserts itself, he becomes again to a certain extent, at least, a type of our Lord. The finding of the young Egyptian and his being spared, together with the overthrow of the Amalekites, furnishes an illustration of our Lord's action, both of mercy and of judgment, to those who, on the one hand, yield to Him, or the other, are His open enemies. The young man is an Egyptian, a citizen of the world who has been a bondservant to an Amalekite. The world serves the lusts of the flesh, and how often has the servant proved it a galling bondage! When the young man falls sick and can no longer serve his master, he is discarded with heartless cruelty, and left to die. Many a poor outcast knows what this means. As long as strength and money were there, with which to serve the lusts of the flesh, they found plenty of companionship and worldly friends; but when health failed, and money was gone, they were cast off and left to die by the wayside, as the man who fell amongst the thieves.
It is here that Christ finds the fainting soul and ministers to him the consolation of His own grace and mercy. The oil and the wine, which speak of His work and the Spirit's healing, are suggested to us here in the food and water given to the Egyptian. His strength revives, he is restored, and now from being a slave to Amalek, he becomes a servant to David and leads him down to the enemy resting in careless security, and in drunken festivity celebrating their victory. David falls upon the host and makes short work of those who had robbed him of his family.
What a day will that be when the careless world who are saying "Peace and safety" will feel the blow of His sword whose grace they have despised! "Sudden destruction shall come upon them and they shall not escape," not even those who ride upon the swiftest beasts. Everything is recovered, wives, children and property, together with other spoil taken from the hand of the enemy. How completely God reverses the results of our unbelief, and how good it is to turn to Him with fullest confidence and confession of our own sin and failure.
They return now to their brethren whom they had been obliged to leave at the brook Besor, and we see how completely David's poise of soul has been recovered. The work of restoration had been complete. Selfishness and pride of heart would lead some of his followers to give their weak brethren only their immediate family, while reserving the spoil to themselves, but the largeness of David's heart knows no distinction such as these would have made, and he lays down as a policy always to be followed, that those who tarry at home are to share equally with those who have gone to the battle.
Let us not be quick to condemn these followers of David without first taking a glimpse at our own attitude toward God's people who perhaps have not had the same energy of faith — if indeed we can call it that — which we may, in some measure, have shown. Do we realize that every victory over the flesh and its lusts, every defeat of our spiritual foes, is one for the whole people of God, the results of which we are to share with them? Are we loath to minister of the precious things of Christ which we have snatched from the hand of the enemy, to those who have not had sufficient energy to recover that which is really their own? Is there a reluctance to feed the whole flock of God, and a tendency to confine our ministrations to the special few who may be more directly identified with us? These are searching questions, and our innate selfishness has too often shown itself in a certain measure of contempt, or at least refusal to recognize all the Lord's people as ours to serve. "Feed My lambs;" "Shepherd My sheep;" "Feed My sheep" has no limitation upon it, and we must not put one there. No plea that such would not make a right use of, or are unworthy of a fuller possession of the things of God, can be allowed to prevent our carrying out this ordinance of David.
On the other hand, we must guard from a careless and indiscriminate casting of the precious things of God before those who have no heart for them. Very often the best that can be given to the professed people of God, is a word for the conscience which would awaken them to their true condition and give them a sense of need. Here is where wisdom and largeness of heart are greatly needed. A mere self-righteous refusal to minister the things of God to His people savors of the counsel of David's men, which would deter him from giving the spoil to their brethren; but a loose indifference to the true claims of God is equally removed from this principle. We must remember, however, that grace predominates and is necessary for the very self-judgment which we feel is called for. Let David instruct us here.
Having restored to his companions all that they had lost, David also sends of the spoil which he had gathered to his brethren in the land of Israel. The large number of cities thus remembered shows how great had been his victory. He sends this to those who had been witnesses of his own poverty, and had, at least by their refusal to join against him, proved that they were for him. Even now, we are permitted to have a foretaste of such triumphs of our Lord, if in any little way we have shared in His reproach, to enjoy also the results of His victory; but the day for that full dividing of spoil has not yet come. What a time will it be when the least loyalty to Him, even though it has been but a cup of cold water given to one of His disciples, shall receive a recognition beyond the greatest expectation!