Our Journey begins in 1 Samuel 30:1-6. Was that smoke? Did I actually see smoke? Panic greeted David and his men as we arrive on the scene in 1 Samuel 30. The long journey from Aphek had taken its toll. When David and his men left, they were a tightly knit military unit marching briskly back home. Along the way, heavy legs and sore tired muscles slowed their pace and loosened their ranks. Images of home drove them forward and whipped aching muscles on. Days before, they had marched to Aphek, heavy with foreboding. Thoughts of attacking King Saul and the Israelites troubled them, yet, they could not avoid the battle. Months before David tied himself and his men to the Philistines to avoid King Saul’s relentless pursuit in the land of Judah. Now this alliance’s unforeseen consequences were discovered.
All this trouble began many years before. David, propped up against a rock in the fields around Bethlehem, watched warily over his father’s sheep. Thus far this day was like all the others before it. Soon, it would be a day like no other in his life. The sheep grazed contentedly when suddenly David’s next older brother appeared, trudging across the open field. Frustration written on his face, frustration in his step, his brother hadn’t taken the time to change into work clothes. His very best robe, now soiled by the long walk, hung about him. “You are wanted at home,” he half growled to David.
“What does that mean?” David wondered. Many questions, no satisfying answers explain the urgency. Losing no time, he ran back to the city. David entered the place of the sacrifice out of breath. Then the old man Samuel, prophet of the LORD, saw him and welcomed him to the feast. David stood out. His brothers and Dad all dressed in their best, while David, his cheeks rosy from the rush to town, David in his shepherd’s work clothes, smelled of the sheep and the fields. Still, Samuel didn’t seem to mind. The austere old man took a huge horn of oil and poured it over his unkempt hair. The oil rushed over him and soaked his robe. “You are the LORD’s anointed. You will be the next king in Israel.” Samuel announced.
From that point on the blessings and trouble began. The blessings were wonderful. God immediately opened the door for David. He became King Saul’s musical therapist. This meant staying part of the time in the King’s household. The rest of the year, he lived at home and he still followed the family flock. Then came his great opportunity. His discovery came at the encounter with Goliath. God gave victory over the ch giant and produced renown in Israel for young David.
As high as the divine blessings brought him, the troubles brought him low. The celebration after the Goliath triumph infuriated King Saul. “Saul had killed his thousands, David his ten-thousands,” or so the chorus sang. This seemingly innocent chant would haunt David’s life. Even the Philistines would hurl it at David. Jealous and unstable, King Saul plotted to kill him.
This is how David became a hunted fugitive. Life was not easy. Running from the King and certain death, he could trust no one. Not even those he rescued in Keilah would stand by David in his need. Saul’s spies swarmed everywhere. No place was safe for long. Fear was his close companion. As he said to Jonathan, he was always one step from death.
Now, David and his men stood by the funeral pyre of their lives. The smoldering ashes of Ziklag consumed all that mattered to them, or so they thought on first glance. The smoke typified the insecurity and emptiness that echoed in their souls. Everything they had and loved gone, no comfortable homes, no loving wives,no joyful children, no peace, no rest waited for them. Instead they found only heartbreak, pain, and emptiness. These battle hardened veterans wept miserably. Tears forged troughs down dirt stained faces as unbearable agony burst forth in sobs and weeping. The writer in 1 Samuel just says, they “wept till there was no more strength to weep.”
One of the difficulties here is some are prone to read this text intellectually and to forget that David and his men lived through it. Ziklag was a real city. The pain of loss was actual pain. The dangers that David faced was tangible danger.
The account in the text is curt. “Now it happened, when David and his men came to Ziklag, on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the South and Ziklag, attacked Ziklag and burned it with fire, and had taken captive the women and those who were there, from small to great; they did not kill anyone, but carried them away and went their way. So David and his men came to the city, and there it was, burned with fire; and their wives, their sons, and their daughters had been taken captive” (verses 1-3).
Faced with this stark reality we are told two things that these broken men men did. First, they cried themselves to exhaustion. Second, in their despair they began to talk about killing their leader, David. Surely many uninvited thoughts invaded their minds. Did the invaders know of their secret attacks on the Amalekites? Was that why they destroyed Ziklag? These raiders had invaded other cities and an entire area of the country would suggest not. Emotional pain and exhaustion made rational thought hard to come by. If David led them in these raids, he must be responsible for this trouble. Let us get rid of David. The text says, “Now, David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters.”
Let us try on David’s sandals here. Can we begin to get a glimpse of what was happening in David’s heart? Dark depression and despair also swept over him. The bottom has just fallen out of his life and the sides are about to cave in too. What would we do if you and I were David? Most of us would hit the panic button, protest our innocence, then pray for deliverance and mercy. David did something entirely different. We read, “But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.”
What does that mean? What exactly did David do? What steps did he take? Methodology is supremely important to us today, but the result was more significant to David and to David’s biographer. Yet, many of us really would like to know what David did because we would like to do them also. While we cannot answer this question specifically, we can make some general observations that can help us in this important discipline.
First, we recognize that this discipline of drawing strength from our God is not just an Old Testament discipline. In Ephesians 6:10, it says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” It seems New Testament saints must master this process just like an Old Testament king apparent.
Second, David had a personal claim on God. Although the bottom had fallen out of his life, the troubles were piling one upon another, and his earthly resources were exhausted, he knew that God was there, alive, and not silent. David knew God personally and was convinced against the physical evidence that God cared about him. The living God was more real to David than the smoldering ashes of his life. In short, David had a real relationship with the real God. Nevertheless, He could not stop in the cacophony of the disaster and strengthen himself in Yahweh his Elohim, if he did not continually walk with God. This is why David could write Psalms like Psalm 18:1-3. “I will love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised. So I shall be saved from my enemies.” He cannot be our God in the crisis in the valleys, if we don’t know Him on the mountain tops.
Third, David could strengthen himself in the LORD his God because he had already decided what his response to difficulty would be. Psalm 56 gives a glimpse into David’s mind in times like this. “Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; Fighting all day he oppresses me. My enemies would hound me all day, For there are many who fight against me, O Most High. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?” Psalm 56:1–4. David’s choice of response was not a spontaneous reaction in the midst of the trouble. It was a reasoned choice made well ahead of time. “When I am afraid, I chose to trust in You God and in your Word.” He did this by reminding Himself of who God is and what He, the Lord, had done. Remember in his deliverance in a time of great danger David wrote: “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears” Psalm 34:1–4.
Finally, he could strengthen himself in God because he recognized God had a plan even in this disaster and he did not blame God for the situation. The blame game does not help us find a solution to the problem. Blaming God is a short term strategy that does not help us out of the hole in which we find ourselves. If anything, it helps us dig ourselves in deeper so it is harder to climb out. David did not fall into the trap that the Children of Israel and we often fall into. We are so centered on ourselves that we cannot see what God is doing. We need to be alert to the work of God in our lives at all times. The real question here is: Do we really truly believe Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose?” Or are we like the Israelites who said to Moses and to God every time they had difficulty, “Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” We would never say such things to God or about God would we?
If we are going to learn from David how to make this discipline an active part of our lives, we must learn these three truths.
One, we cannot strengthen ourselves in God if we have not built a relationship with Him before the problems come. We can only draw strength from Him if we know Him as our always faithful covenant keeping God who loves us as a Father. In David’s great Psalm of reflection on God’s providential care, Psalm 23, he wrote four verses about God’s provision, protection, and fellowship before he spoke of his confidential in the shepherd as they traversed the dark places of life. He knew God as he was laying down in the green pastures, drinking in the still waters, and following in the paths of righteousness before he could find comfort in His presence in the valleys of the shadow of death.
Second, we must decide ahead of time how we will respond to adverse trials when they shove their way into our lives. Trouble will come. James 1 says we need to count it all joy when they appear. The only way we can do this is if we have chosen ahead of time that when we are afraid we will trust in God and in His Word. We cannot count it all joy if we are not sure that God is right there in the trial with us and only allows it to happen in His love.
Finally, we must recognize that God is always in control and that somehow He has a plan that is working itself out in each situation we face. He knows the goal and He knows our strength. Because we are fallen people, we too quickly embrace the lie of Satan that God is trying to see how much we can take. Spiritual trials are like therapy. Painful at the time, but it helps us to do more and use muscles that otherwise we could not use. If we commit ourselves to strengthening ourselves in God we will find ourselves like David, not defeated by the circumstances. Instead we will be victorious in them and our God will be glorified in us and not despite us.