His Recourse in Sorrow
1 Samuel 30
In our last we directed attention to the gracious manner in which the Lord put forth His interposing hand to deliver David from that snare of the fowler into Which his unbelief and folly had brought him. Ere passing on to the immediate sequel, let us pause and admire the blessed way in which God timed His intervention. "To everything there is a season . . . He hath made everything beautiful in His time" (Eccl. 3:1, 11): equally so in the spiritual realm as in the natural. Probably every Christian can look back to certain experiences in life when his circumstances were suddenly and unexpectedly changed. At the time, he understood not the meaning of it, but later was able to perceive the wisdom and goodness of Him who shaped his affairs. There have been occasions when our situation was swiftly altered, by factors over which we had no control, which called for us to move on: but the sequel showed it was God opening our way to go to the help of others who sorely needed us. So it was now with David.
"My times are in Thy hand" (Ps. 31: 15). Yes, my "times" of tarrying and my "times" of journeying; my "times" of prosperity and my "times" of adversity; my "times" of fellowship with the saints and my "times" of isolation and loneliness; each and all are ordered by God. It is blessed to know this, and more blessed still when the heart is permitted to rest thereon. Nothing is more quieting and stabilizing to the soul than the realization that everything was ordained by omniscience and is now ordered by infinite love: that He who eternally decreed the hour of my birth has fixed the day of my departure from this world; that my "times" of youth and health and my "times" of infirmity and sickness are equally in Godís hands. He knows when it is best to bring me out of a distressing situation, and His mercy opens the way when it is His time for me to make a move.
While David and his men were in the camp of Achish, the Amalekites took advantage of their absence, fell upon the unprotected Ziklag, burned it, and carried away captive all the women and children. Their husbands and fathers knew nothing of this: no, but God did, and He had designs of mercy toward them. Their sad case seemed a hopeless one indeed, but appearances are deceptive. Though they were unaware of the fact, God had already set moving the means for their deliverance. Unlike us, God is never too early, and He is never too late. Had David and his men been discharged by Achish a week sooner, they had been on hand to defend Ziklag, and a needed chastisement and a great blessing from it had been missed! Had they returned home a week later, they had probably been too late to recover their loved ones. Admire, then, the timeliness of Godís freeing David from the yoke of the Philistines.
"So David and his men came to the city, and, behold, it was burned with fire; and their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, were taken captives. Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no more power to weep" (1 Sam. 30:3,4), Observe, there was no turning unto God, or seeking to cast their care upon Him! They were completely overwhelmed by shock and grief. Perhaps the reader knows something of such a state from painful experience. A heavy financial reverse which plunged the soul into dark gloom; or a sudden bereavement came, and in the bitterness of grief all seemed to be against you and even the voice of prayer was silenced. Ah, David and his men are not the only ones who have been overwhelmed by trouble and anguish.
"And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons, and every man for his daughters" (v. 6). The turning against him of his faithful followers was the final ingredient in the bitter cup which David was now called on to drink. But even this was of God: if one stroke of His chastening rod avails not, it must be followed by another; and if necessary, yet others, for our holy Father will not suffer His wayward children to remain impenitent indefinitely. So it was here: the sight of Ziklag in ruins and the loss of his family did not bring David to his knees; so yet other measures are employed. The anger of his men aroused him from his lethargy, the menacing of his own life by intimate friends was the way God took to bring him back unto Himself.
"But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God" (v. 6). Here is where light broke into this dark scene, yet care needs to be taken lest we make a wrong use of the same. No one sentence in Godís Word is to be interpreted as an isolated unit, but scripture must be compared with scripture. Much is included in the words now before us, far more than any human writer is capable of fully revealing. Attention needs to be directed unto three things: first, what is pre-supposed in Davidís "encouraging himself in the Lord"; second, what is signified thereby; third, what followed the same. If we take into consideration the real character of David as "the man after Godís own heart," if we bear in mind the whole context recounting his sad lapses, and, above all, if we view our present verse in the light of the Analogy of faith, little difficulty should be experienced in "reading between the lines."
"But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Ah, much is implied here. David could not truly "encourage himself in the Lord" until there had been previous exercises of heart: conviction, contrition, confession, necessarily preceded comfort and consolation. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28: 13): that enunciates an unchanging principle in Godís governmental dealings, with unconverted and converted alike. Had there been no repentance on Davidís part, no unsparing condemnation of himself, no broken-hearted acknowledgment unto God of his failures, he would have been "encouraging himself" in sin and that would be "turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness." Not only has Christ died to save His people from the penalty of their sins, but He has also procured the Holy Spirit to work in them a hatred for the vileness of their sins! And as there is no forgiveness and cleansing for the saint without confession (1 John 1:9), so there is no acceptable "confession" save that which issues from a contrite heart.
There is great need today for the above principles to be explained unto and impressed upon professing Christians. Neither Godís glory will be maintained nor the good of His people promoted, if we conceal and are silent about the requirements of His righteousness. Godís mercy is exercised in a way of holiness: where there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness; where there is no turning away from sin, there is no blotting out of sins. Something more is required than simply asking God to be gracious unto us for Christís sake. There are many who quote "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7), but there are few indeed who faithfully point out that that precious promise is specifically qualified with, "IF we walk in the light as He is in the light." If we avoid the searching light of Godís holiness, if we hide, excuse, repent not of and refuse to make daily confession of our sins, then the blood of Christ certainly does not "cleanse" us from all sin. To insist on the contrary is grossly dishonoring to the Blood, and is to make Christ the Condoner of evil!
Weigh well the following: "If they pray toward this place, and confess Thy name, and turn from their sin, when Thou afflictest them: then hear Thou in Heaven, and forgive the sin of Thy servants . . . If Thy people go out to battle against their enemy, whithersoever Thou shalt send them, and shall pray unto the Lord toward the city which Thou hast chosen, and toward the house that I have built for Thy name: Then hear Thou in Heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause. If they sin against Thee (for there is no man that sinneth not), and Thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives unto the land of the enemy, far or near; Yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto Thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; and so return unto Thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto Thee . . . Then hear Thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven Thy dwelling-place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Thy people that have sinned against Thee" (1 Kings 8:35, 36, 44-50). And God is still the same. No change of "dispensation" effects any alteration in His character, or in anywise modifies His holy requirements: with Him there is "no variableness neither shadow of turning" (James 1:27).
"But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Having sought to indicate what is pre-supposed by those words, let us now briefly consider what is signified by them. The same Holy Spirit who convicts the backslidden saint of his sins, works in him a sincere repentance, and moves him to frankly and freely confess them to God, also gives him a renewed sense of the abounding mercy of God, strengthens faith in His blessed promises, and reminds him of His unchanging faithfulness (1 John 1:9): and thus the contrite heart is enabled to rest in the infinite grace of God; and being now restored to communion with Him, the soul "encourages" itself in His perfections. Thus, just as the Holy Spirit delivers the saint from heeding Satanís counsel to hide his sins, so also does He rescue him from Satanís attempts to sink him in despair after he is convicted of his sins.
"But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." This means that he reviewed afresh the everlasting covenant which God had made with him in Christ, that covenant "ordered in all things and sure." It means that he recalled Godís past goodness and mercy towards him, which reassured his heart for the present and the future. It means that he contemplated the omnipotency of the Lord, and realized that nothing is too hard for Him, no situation is hopeless unto His mighty power, for He is able to overrule evil unto good, and bring a clean thing out of an unclean. It means that he remembered Godís promises to bring him safely to the throne, and though he knew not how his immediate trouble would disappear, without doubting, he hoped in God, and confidently counted upon His undertaking for him. O Christian reader, when we are at our witís end, we should not be at faithís end. See to it that all is right between your soul and God, and then trust in His sufficiency.
When all things were against him, Davidís faith was stirred into exercise: he turned unto the One who had never failed him, and from whom he had so sadly departed. Ah, blessed is the trial, no matter how heavy; precious is the disappointment, no matter how bitter, that issues thus. To penitently return unto God means to be back again in the place of blessing. Better, far better, to be in the midst of the black ruins of Ziklag, surrounded by a threatening mob, than to be in the ranks of the Philistines fighting against His people. Have we, in any way, known what bitter disappointment means? And have we in the midst of it turned unto Him who has smitten us, and "encouraged" ourselves in Him? If so, then like David, we may say, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept Thy Word" (Ps. 119:67).
O that it may please the Lord to bless this chapter to some sorely distressed soul, who is no longer enjoying the light of His countenance, but who is beneath His chastening frowns. You may be borne down by sorrow and despondency, but no trouble is too great for you to find relief in God: in the One who has, in righteousness, sent this sorrow upon you. Humble yourself beneath His mighty hand, acknowledge to Him your sins, count upon the multitude of His mercies, and seek grace to rest upon His comforting promises. When faith springs up amidst the ruins of blighted hopes, it is a blessed thing. What has just been before us marked a turning-point in Davidís life; may it be so in yours. "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee" (Ps. 55:22).
O my reader, be you a believer, or an unbeliever, none but God can do you good, relieve your distress, remove the load From your heart, and bring blessing into your life. If you refuse to humble yourself before Him, lament the course of self-will which you followed, and turn from the same, you are your own worst enemy and are forsaking your own mercies. But if you will, take your place before Him in the dust, repent of your wickedness, and seek grace to live henceforth in subjection to His will, then pardon, peace, joy, awaits you. No matter how sadly you have failed in the past, nor what light and favors you sinned against, if you will own it all in brokenness of heart unto the Lord, He is ready to forgive.
"And David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelechís son, I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod. And Abiathar brought thither the ephod to David. And David enquired at the Lord, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them?" (vv. 7,8). Here we see the first result which followed Davidís turning back unto God. It is blessed to observe that the Holy Spirit has thrown a veil of silence over what took place in secret between David and the Lord, as He has over Christís private interview with Peter (1 Cor. 15: 5). But after telling us of Davidís encouraging himself in the Lord, He now reveals the reformation which took place in his conduct. Nothing was said of Davidís seeking counsel from God when he journeyed to Achish (27:2), but now that he is restored to happy fellowship, he will not think of taking a step without asking for divine guidance.
Very blessed indeed is what is recorded in verses 7 and 8. Moses had laid it down as a law that the leader of Israel should "stand before" (Eleazar) the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in" (Num. 27:21), and in compliance therewith, David turned to the priest, and bade him seek the mind of the Lord as to how he should now act in this dire emergency. Learn from this that obedience to the revealed will of God is the best evidence of having been restored to communion with Him. Of course it is, for it is the very nature of love to seek to please its object. Let us test, then, our practical relation to God, not by our feelings nor by our words, but by the extent to which we are in actual subjection to Him, and walking in a spirit of dependency upon Him.
Notice here how indwelling grace triumphed over the promptings of the flesh. Mere nature would urge that Davidís only possible course was to rush after the Amalekites and seek to rescue any of the women and children who might yet be alive. But David was now delivered from his impetuous self-confidence; his soul was again "like a weaned child." God was now to order all the details of his life. Alas, most of us have to receive many hard knocks in the by-paths of folly, before we are brought to this place. It is indeed much to be thankful for when the feverish restlessness of the flesh is subdued, and the soul truly desires God to lead us step by step: progress may not seem so swift, but it certainly will be more sure. The Lord graciously lay His quieting hand upon each of us, and cause us to look unto and rest in Himself alone.