Reading through 1 Samuel 19-31 this year, it struck me as never before how difficult life must have been for David to have Saul irrationally and jealously seeking his death.
David was the focus of a concerted national manhunt. Think what it would be like to have the police, the FBI, and the military called out to track you down because the president decided he was jealous of you and feared you would lead a coup against him.
You can see that David (and his friend Jonathan) do his best to deal with it and each step of the way he is kept safe. Think about what you would do and where you would go if you were being chased like him.
First Jonathan speaks for David to King Saul and manages to talk King Saul down from the tree, so to speak. King Saul makes an oath that David won’t be killed. Jonathan is completely satisfied by this oath (and it requires David to do some hard oath-swearing himself later before Jonathan believes David is really in danger), but sadly Saul’s word isn’t worth much any more.
Next, David is home with his wife Michal when he first has to start running. He has to escape out a window to avoid the soldiers coming to get him. So he’s not safe with his wife; where can he go?
He goes down to Ramah and stays with the prophet Samuel and the company of the school of the prophets. The Spirit of the Lord effectively softens the hearts of all who are sent to arrest him so that they prophesy and refrain from taking him. Even Saul, when he tries to take David himself, is affected, though it is only temporary.
After this, David goes to Jonathan to try to get Jonathan to find out from King Saul why he is being hunted and chased like a villain instead of treated like a loyal servant. Jonathan has to see Saul’s murderousness first hand, so they set up a test to demonstrate Saul really does want David dead. And the test does show it is true. And it seems no reconciliation is going to happen. David really can’t stay around. Where is he to go? He doesn’t have food or weapons and he doesn’t know who he can trust.
David goes to Ahimelech the priest and Ahimelech gives him the shewbread and Goliath’s sword. David pretends he’s been sent on a secret mission, probably in order to protect Ahimelech from having to decide whether to lie or tell the truth if he’s called on the carpet for helping. I think he’s trying to give Ahimelech deniability, but Saul does not accept that, nor does he listen to Ahimelech’s very just arguments. Now where does David go?
He tries going to the Philistines for refuge. Unfortunately, they realize who he is and even think David might be Israel’s king, so he pretends to be crazy to get himself thrown out of Philistine Gath.
At this point his family comes to him, probably realizing that if Saul hates David they aren’t safe either. David finds them refuge in Moab, but the prophet Gad won’t let him stay there too, and tells him to go back to Judah.
At this point, the prophetic direction seems absolutely CRAZY. Why does the Lord want David to go back to living like a fugitive? (We’ll have to see if we can understand why as we look through.)
Next David saved the town of Keilah from the Philistines, but discovers by revelation that he can’t stay there because the men of Keilah will betray him to Saul, who is about to come hunting him again. So where does he go next?
He stays in the wilderness and caves. But the men of Ziph tell Saul where he is and promise to spy out all his secret place, and David does some pretty desperate maneuvering and even gets trapped, but Saul is distracted at the last moment by news of a Philistine attack that he has to beat back. So now where does David go?
David goes to the strong holds of En-gedi, probably more caves in difficult-to-reach places. It is here he gets a chance to prove to Saul by not killing him that he means Saul no harm. So Saul goes home. But what does David do? He goes back to his strong hold. Saul was full of gratitude, but nothing about forgiving and forgetting is mentioned.
Next David goes to the wilderness of Paran and is kept from killing Nabal for Nabal’s rudeness by Abigail’s timely intervention.
Then David hides in the hill Hachilah and his position is betrayed to Saul by the Ziphites. Saul chases David and David gets another chance to prove he’s not really trying to kill Saul, which causes Saul to leave him alone for a while again.
Then David goes back to Philistine Gath and works with his mind as mercenaries for Achish the king there. He’s able to settle his people in a little town of Ziklag and make raids against Amalekites secretly. However, right when the Philistines decide to go on a campaign against Israel, David is sent back to Ziklag, where he discovers their families were not as safe as they thought; the Amalekites raided Ziklag while they were gone so he has to go track them down and win everybody back. And it turns out he doesn’t have to be in the Philistine army when the Philistines fight Israel and kill Saul’s sons or be part of Saul’s despair and suicide.
Amazing that he manages to thrive under this constant pressure of danger and having no certain dwelling.
Okay. So now I have to ask, how does going back to Judah at Gad’s direction turn out to be the right thing for David to do?
1. David becomes a rallying point for those who suffer under Saul’s increasingly erratic and immoral reign.
2. With people to take care of, he learns to lead and to care for large groups of men and their families, even with no certain homes or means of survival. (It sounds a lot like the children of Israel living in the desert after leaving Egypt..)
3. He begins to use his following to protect Israel from its enemies, building goodwill that will a) encourage people to help feed him and his army in the short term, b) help people better accept him as a good candidate for king in the long term. His following, who start out as fearful, become an army of brave soldiers.
4. He is given choices to respond mercifully when he could have avenged insult. This clearly separates him as a different leader than Saul, who tends to be extra harsh in response to insult or seeming disregard for his authority.
5. David goes on campaigns to destroy theAmalekites without needing prophetic prodding. He also goes on campaign to save his own people who have been carried off, and he chooses to distribute spoils widely and generously.
6. He tests and proves the Lord’s promises of protection and deliverance to the righteous.
7. David becomes a person who people come to and choose as a leader, rather than someone merely appointed by authority. He is chosen because the powers that be leave no alternative to those who want to keep their integrity.
Can we imagine that David would have been as good a king if he hadn’t had the painful experience of being hunted unjustly? Would he have been as good as he was if the kingdom had just been handed to him like it had been to Saul? Probably not.
That gives me hope because it shows me that my most difficult trials may be the very ones that teach me my most valuable lessons and skills.
If I feel adrift in a sea of uncertainty, if I can trust the Lord like David did, I will be alright in the long run and the things I learn during my struggles may be instrumental in my later success, even if I’m not sure what that will be.
And happily, even if I can’t see where my difficult experience will help me toward a temporal success, I can at least see somewhat how it is helping me toward an eternal success in the celestial kingdom.