The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek: and the Israelites pitched by a fountain which is in Jezreel.Atheistic Reasoning
THE trials which David underwent at the hands of Saul have now been fully dwelt upon; we now come to a different class of trials, viz., the afflictions which were laid upon David by the Philistines. When David was so severely persecuted by Saul, he went over to the Philistines; specially he allied himself with Achish, the Philistine king of Gath, and fought under his direction. David succeeded in winning the confidence of Achish, so much so that on one occasion Achish said to David, "Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever." It came to pass, however, that when the Philistines saw David in the army of Achish, the princes of the Philistines were wroth, and said, "Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which thou hast appointed him.... Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands?" So David's honour became the occasion of David's persecution and sore trial. That very song roused the jealousy of Saul, and now it excited the hatred of the princes of the Philistines. When Achish told David the decision of the princes, David pathetically expostulated: "But what have I done? and what hast thou found in thy servant so long as I have been with thee unto this day, that I may not go fight against the enemies of my lord the king?" To this inquiry, so full of genuine feeling, Achish returned a noble reply: "I know that thou art good in my sight, as an angel of God: notwithstanding the princes of the Philistines have said, He shall not go up with us to the battle." Remember, David was an anointed man. Saul hated him, and the Philistines cast him out. Samuel had anointed him with oil, and, lo, he was despised of men. He had slain the enemy of Israel, yet Israel spat upon his name. He had served the Philistines, yet their princes drove him away with bitter reproaches. Nor was this all. When David came to Ziklag, he found that the Amalekites had burned the city with fire, and taken all the people into captivity. So terrible was the feeling of the men, that they spoke of stoning David, because the soul of every man was grieved for his sons and for his daughters. Some very serious questions are forced upon us by this condition of affairs. Where was God? Where was the prophecy of Samuel? What was the value of divine election? Would it not have been better for David to have broken away from old vows and old hopes, and to have plunged into courses which would have given him instant pleasure? Let it be clearly understood that the story, viewed as illustrative of providential care, is by no means so dark as it looks. Somewhere we shall find an explanatory word. In reading history, always seek for the moral key. In estimating personal life, never forget to search the heart. The mysteries of providence are sometimes only the shadows of our own misjudgments and immoralities.
1. We find the secret of David's ill-fortunes amongst the Philistines in these words: "And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand." This is the first piece of atheistic reasoning which we have met in the life of David. The old tone is wanting. This is the talk of a Philistine, so to the Philistines let him go. David takes his own case into his own hands; let him, then, learn the folly of his wisdom and the weakness of his strength. There are three things in life which must lead to disappointment, shame, and ruin:—(1) Atheistic self-trust; (2) immoral and unnatural associations; and (3) duplicity and equivocation.
All these we find at this period of David's life. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." A standard of judgment is thus supplied to every man. Where did we break down? It is a moral collapse. At what point did it set in? We may not be able to charge ourselves with a violent apostacy, but what of imperceptible decay?
2. David having brought himself into difficulties with the Philistines, the question was how to get out of those difficulties, and resume the old relations? The way of error is never easy. David thought he had found a nest of comfort, but, behold, there was a serpent in the nest, and it threatened his very life. These atheistic nests are very uncertain dwelling-places. They look inviting, but the wind will surely tear them in pieces. How did God deliver his servant? Through the wrath of David's enemies. Suppose the Philistines had been pleased with him! Imagine for a moment the state of affairs if the princes had promoted him to honour, and laid him under the spell of their cruel blandishments. David complained of their treatment, not knowing that God was blowing up the rock in order to make a way of escape. Mark three things: (1) God does not easily or willingly cast off his erring children; (2) social injustice or cruelty may have a meaning never intended by its perpetrators; (3) the destruction of present securities may prepare the way for complete and enduring rest.
3. Though David had experienced severe trials manifestly sent by the hand of God, he was to be saved from ruinous conclusions by seeing what it was to fall into the hands of men. We sometimes suppose that if we could get clear of God, things would go easily with us. We think that by giving up religion we can escape difficulty. Be a materialist, and all will be well. Join the Philistines, and put an end to your miseries. Let us correct our reasoning by looking soberly at facts. How was it with David? The Philistines thrust him away, and his own men spake of stoning him. How false is the supposition that in escaping religion we escape trial! For example, the case of a minister giving up his ministry to make money; or the case of a good man quenching his religious convictions, and uniting with evil-doers.
4. A better spirit came upon David. "He came unto himself." He was even as a returning prodigal. Hear the music of his better mood: "But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." From that hour the light came, and deliverance, and victory upon victory. For a time David had taken his life into his own hand; now he returned unto God, and made his peace with heaven. Woe unto the troops of Amalek in that day! "David smote them from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day."
To every man there is a lesson. Come, let us return unto the Lord. We have wandered amongst enemies, and felt the bitterness of their treatment; we have strayed from the sanctuary, and gone into the land of idols and strange gods, and have seen how lifeless and powerless are the images carven by the cunning of men; we have broken our vows and forgotten our deliverances; we have taken charge of our own life, and it has perished in our keeping. Come, let us return unto the Lord; let us say, "We have sinned, and are no more worthy to be called thy children;" let us get back to the old foundations, the rock of righteousness and the stone of Zion; and who can tell how much of heaven we shall enjoy on earth?