The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and timber of cedars, with masons and carpenters, to build him an house.The Divine and the Human
1 Chronicles 14
THIS section is a duplicate of 2Samuel 5:11-25. The order of chronology has not been particularly observed. It has been thought indeed by some that "the chronicler may have transposed the two accounts, in order to represent the removal of the ark to the new capital in immediate connection with the acquisition of the city.' This chapter treats of two subjects: the first, David's palace-building, and family; and the second, the two victories which he won over the Philistines in the valley of Rephaim. When David observed the effect of concurrent circumstances—such as the sending, by Hiram king of Tyre, messengers and timber of cedars with masons and carpenters to build him an house—he took knowledge that the Lord had confirmed him king over Israel, and that his kingdom was lifted up on high because of the people Israel.
In studying the great subject of Providence we should carefully watch how one circumstance combines with another, and how the element which we designate by some such term as "unexpectedness" unites the whole, shaping it into evident meanings. It was thus that David regarded the willing alliance of the great sovereign of Phoenician Tyre. David looked upon this alliance as a practical miracle. Such miracles abound in human life, if we carefully note them. Enemies are subdued, strangers are brought into friendship: men whom we have not known before have suddenly developed into friends: and persons whom we regarded as implacable have become unaccountably gracious and approachable. These changes do not pass in life under the name of miracles, yet they deserve to be so ranked, for they are conquests of spirit if not of matter, overrulings of stubborn will and obstinate prejudice, such overrulings as are possible only to Almightiness. This could not go on without an effect being produced upon the observers. When the Philistines heard that David was anointed king over all Israel, they came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim, determined to oppose one whose might was visibly growing day by day. This opposition may be a sign of power, not on the part of those who oppose but on the part of those who are opposed. When a man is envied, he should reason that there is something in himself which excites that envy, and that the something which excites the evil passion may be something really good: no man envies poverty, meanness, worthlessness; no burglar attacks an empty house if there be a full one at hand into which he can effect an entrance: orchards are not robbed in winter, but in summer and autumn when every tree is loaded with fruit. It is so in human relations, and herein is the comfort of the man who suffers from envy and jealousy. Let him reflect how much there is in him, wrought by the grace of God, which bad men may envy and which they may wish to turn aside. The envy of bad men is a tribute to the power of good men. Before David did anything in the matter of the Philistinian attack he made diligent inquiry of God. How did he do this? Was it through the high priest Abiathar, who sought divine direction by means of the Urim and Thummim? Or was it by direct personal prayer? When men have no established ordinances they often take the great work of approaching God into their own hands, the heart forcing its way through all difficulties, and crying mightily to heaven for light and strength. The Bible has no hesitation in declaring that prayer is answered. Thus we find these words in this chapter: "And the Lord said unto him, Go up; for I will deliver them into thine hand" (1Chronicles 14:10). How these communications are made to the heart may never be fully explained in words; but that they are made there can be no doubt in any Christian mind. They come in the form of convictions, deep impressions, impulses that cannot be resisted without doing injustice not to feeling only but to reason and judgment; and if any man can venture to say that he has received such and such an answer from heaven, he is justified in putting those convictions and impulses into words which best express their scope and energy. Let us not be critical about the mere words; the fact is wholly within the terms—namely, the gracious fact that a great necessity has been expressed, and a great conviction has followed, which conviction the religious heart represents as an answer to prayer. In all this process there is nothing to violate reason nor to trouble conscience.
When the victory was won, David did not hesitate to ascribe it to God, saying, "God hath broken in upon mine enemies by mine hand like the breaking forth of waters" (1Chronicles 14:11). Here is a happy combination of the divine and the human. The leader was God, the soldier was David. God works by instrumentality. The instrumentality must never imagine itself to be the original cause. When lands are converted to Christ, and deserts blossom like a garden, the miracle is wrought in heaven, and as for man he has but the honour of the service, the glory of having obeyed a divine mandate—glory enough for the human heart, an infinite satisfaction indeed. Observe that the Philistines also took their gods with them to battle. They were not ashamed of their religion. We should learn something from Pagans even in this matter. Idolatry is not to be scorned, but is rather to be respected as marking the highest height to which men have come under darkness. Contempt is not to be uttered as regards men who are doing their utmost according to the light they have; they are to be instructed, not sneered at; the sneering may come afterwards when the mind has been emancipated, and the higher and purer thought has been established as the standard of judgment; but at first he will make no progress in winning idolaters who begins by sneering at their idols. What is true of Pagan idolatry is true also of intellectual perversion or self-worship: reveal the higher truth; establish the larger reason; and when progress has been made on the constructive side, that very progress will itself set in a contemptuous light that which before was believed in by the uninstructed and undisciplined mind.
As the result of a second inquiry David was commanded not to go up after the Philistines, but he was ordered to "come upon them over against the mulberry trees" (1Chronicles 14:14). In connection with this arrangement, a miracle is supposed to have been wrought—"And it shall be, when thou shalt hear a sound of going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt go out to battle: for God is gone forth before thee to smite the host of the Philistines" (1Chronicles 14:15). "A sound of going" has been translated "The sound of marching," and it has been supposed that the sign may have been natural, not miraculous. Investigators of ancient history have reminded us that all ancient people attached a religious or prophetic import to the motion and rustling of leaves. There were speaking oaks at Dodona. In Judges (Judges 9:37) we read of Meonenim, "the oak of the diviners;" Deborah refers mysteriously to a palm-tree; and some of the most reverent commentators have not hesitated to refer the burning bush itself to the same order of ideas. The Arabs believe that certain thorny bushes are capable of uttering prophetic words; they regard the Egyptian thorn as sacred. All these are matters of history, yet they need not be regarded as throwing any doubt upon the miracle which is supposed to have occurred in connection with this attack upon the Philistines. If we have to struggle our way up to miracles, there can be no wonder if we often find them too high for reason, and often fail in faith absolutely and implicitly to receive them: but if we so live in God, in the noblest religious excitement, as to come down upon miracles as from an infinite heavenly height, then even the most wonderful of the miracles will appear to our inspired reason but as commonplaces, mere undulations in the serene progress of nature: nature now high, now low, but always obeying the decree of God, and always signifying his deep and gracious purposes. We can judge the miracles either by a cold reason or an ardent faith, and according as we look at miracles from the one or the other consequent standpoint will be our judgment of them.
"The fame of David went out into all lands; and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations" (1Chronicles 14:17). If we did more work we should have more influence. Were we more obedient the fact of our religiousness would more deeply impress observers. Where we are calculating, worldly, selfish, like other men, there can be no wonder if they ascribe our progress to natural causes. If on the other hand we are filled with the, spirit of religious adventure and enterprise, and if we are so self-controlled as to await in all things the bidding of God, men will see that our religion is not a sentiment or a superstition, but a living and ruling force, and in proportion as this impression is deepened will our fame go from land to land, not as a noise excited by admiration, but as a character mighty because holy. The fear which God brings upon men is a religious fear. The nations did not fear David simply because he was a great soldier, but because there was behind him a mysterious force which nothing could resist. Religion is not only a mystery, it is a power. When men observe what this power can do in us, and when what they see is great, pure, and noble, they will begin to think that our religion is the higher reason, and respect it even where they cannot understand it.