After a second betrayal by the men of Ziph, and a second meeting with Saul -- their last -- in which the doomed man parts from him with blessing and predictions of victory on his unwilling lips, David seems to have been driven to desperation by his endless skulking in dens and caves, and to have seen no hope of continuing much longer to maintain himself on the frontier and to elude Saul's vigilance. Possibly others than Nabal grudged to pay him for the volunteer police which he kept up on behalf of the pastoral districts exposed to the wild desert tribes. At all events he once more made a plunge into Philistine territory, and offers himself and his men to the service of the King of Gath. On the offer being accepted, the little town of Ziklag was allotted to them, and became their home for a year and four months.
To this period of comparative security one psalm has been supposed to belong -- the xxxi., which, in tone and in certain expressions, corresponds very well with the circumstances. There are many similarities in it with the others of the same period which we have already considered -- such, for instance, as the figure of God his rock (ver.3), the net which his enemies have laid for him (ver.4), the allusions to their calumnies and slanders (vers.13, 18), his safe concealment in God (ver.20: compare xxvii.5; lvii.1; xvii.8, etc.), and the close verbal resemblance of ver.24 with the closing words of psalm xxvii. The reference, however, which has been taken as pointing to David's position in Ziklag is that contained in the somewhat remarkable words (ver.21): "Blessed be the Lord, for He hath showed me His marvellous loving-kindness in a strong city." Of course, the expression may be purely a graphic figure for the walls and defences of the Divine protection, as, indeed, it is usually understood to be. But the general idea of the encompassing shelter of God has just been set forth in the magnificent imagery of the previous verse as the tabernacle, the secret of His presence in which He hides and guards His servants. And the further language of the phrase in question, introduced as it is by a rapturous burst of blessing and praise, seems so emphatic and peculiar as to make not unnatural the supposition of a historical basis in some event which had recently happened to the psalmist.
No period of the life will so well correspond to such a requirement as the sixteen months of his stay in Ziklag, during which he was completely free from fear of Saul, and stood high in favour with the King of Gath, in whose territory he had found a refuge. We may well believe that to the hunted exile, so long accustomed to a life of constant alarms and hurried flight, the quiet of a settled home was very sweet, and that behind the rude fortifications of the little town in the southern wilderness there seemed security, which made a wonderful contrast to their defenceless lairs and lurking-places among the rocks. Their eyes would lose their watchful restlessness, and it would be possible to lay aside their weapons, to gather their households about them, and, though they were in a foreign land, still to feel something of the bliss of peaceful habitudes and tranquil use and wont healing their broken lives. No wonder, then, that such thankful praise should break from the leader's lips! No wonder that he should regard this abode in a fortified city as the result of a miracle of Divine mercy! He describes the tremulous despondency which had preceded this marvel of loving-kindness in language which at once recalls the wave of hopelessness which swept across his soul after his final interview with Saul, and which led to his flight into Philistine territory, "And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul" (1 Sam. xxvii.1). How completely this corresponds with the psalm, allowance being made for the difference between poetry and prose, when he describes the thoughts which had shaded his soul just before the happy peace of the strong city -- "I said in my haste,[M] I am cut off from before Thine eyes; nevertheless Thou heardest the voice of my supplication" (ver.22). And rising, as was ever his manner, from his own individual experience to the great truths concerning God's care of His children, the discovery of which was to him even more precious than his personal safety, he breaks forth in jubilant invocation, which, as always, is full of his consciousness that his life and his story belong to the whole household of God --
(23) O love Jehovah, all ye beloved of Him!
(24) Courage! and let your heart be strong,
[M] Confusion (Perowne), distrust (Delitzsch), anguish (Ewald), trepidation (Calvin). The word literally means to sway backwards and forwards, and hence to be agitated by any emotion, principally by fear; and then, perhaps, to flee in terror.
The glow of personal attachment to Jehovah which kindles in the trustful words is eminently characteristic. It anticipates the final teaching of the New Testament in bringing all the relations between God and the devout soul down to the one bond of love. "We love Him because He first loved us," says John. And David has the same discernment that the basis of all must be the outgoing of love from the heart of God, and that the only response which that seeking love requires is the awaking of the echo of its own Divine voice in our hearts. Love begets love; love seeks love; love rests in love. Our faith corresponds to His faithfulness, our obedience to His command, our reverence to His majesty; but our love resembles His, from which it draws its life. So the one exhortation is "love the Lord," and the ground of it lies in that name -- "His beloved" -- those to whom He shows His loving-kindness (ver.21).
The closing words remind us of the last verse of psalm xxvii. They are distinctly quoted from it, with the variation that there the heartening to courage was addressed to his own soul, and here to "all who wait on the Lord." The resemblance confirms the reference of both psalms to the same epoch, while the difference suits the change in his circumstances from a period of comparative danger, such as his stay at Adullam, to one of greater security, like his residence in Ziklag. The same persons who were called to love the Lord because they were participant of His loving-kindness, are now called to courage and manly firmness of soul because their hope is fixed on Jehovah. The progress of thought is significant and obvious. Love to God, resting on consciousness of His love to us, is the true armour. "There is no fear in love." The heart filled with it is strong to resist the pressure of outward disasters, while the empty heart is crushed like a deserted hulk by the grinding collision of the icebergs that drift rudderless on the wild wintry sea of life. Love, too, is the condition of hope. The patience and expectation of the latter must come from the present fruition of the sweetness of the former. Of these fair sisters, Love is the elder as the greater; it is she who bears in her hands the rich metal from which Hope forges her anchor, and the strong cords that hold it; her experience supplies all the colours with which her sister paints the dim distance; and she it is who makes the other bold to be sure of the future, and clear-sighted to see the things that are not as though they were. To love the Lord is the path, and the only path, to hoping in the Lord. So had the psalmist found it for himself. In his changeful, perilous years of exile he had learned that the brightness with which hope glowed on his lonely path depended not on the accident of greater or less external security, but on the energy of the clear flame of love in his heart. Not in vain had his trials been to him, which cast that rich treasure to his feet from their stormy waves. Not in vain will ours be to us, if we learn the lesson which he here would divide with all those "that wait on the Lord."
Our limits prevent the further examination of the remaining psalms of this period. It is the less necessary, inasmuch as those which have been already considered fairly represent the whole. The xi., xiii., xvii., xxii., xxv., and lxiv. may, with varying probability, be considered as belonging to the Sauline persecution. To this list some critics would add the xl. and lxix., but on very uncertain grounds. But if we exclude them, the others have a strong family likeness, not only with each other, but with those which have been presented to the reader. The imagery of the wilderness, which has become so familiar to us, continually reappears; the prowling wild beasts, the nets and snares, the hunted psalmist like a timid bird among the hills; the protestation of innocence, the passionate invocation of retribution on the wicked, the confidence that their own devices will come down on their heads, the intense yearning of soul after God -- are all repeated in these psalms. Single metaphors and peculiar phrases which we have already met with recur -- as, for instance, "the shadow of Thy wings" (xvii.8, lvii.1), and the singular phrase rendered in our version, "show Thy marvellous loving-kindness" (xvii.7, xxxi.21), which is found only here. In one of these psalms (xxxv.13) there seems to be a reference to his earliest days at the court, and to the depth of loving sympathy with Saul's darkened spirit, which he learned to cherish, as he stood before him to soothe him with the ordered harmonies of harp and voice. The words are so definite that they appear to refer to some historic occasion:
And as for me -- in their sickness my clothing was sackcloth, With fasting I humbled my soul,
So truly did he feel for him who is now his foe. The outward marks of mourning became the natural expression of his feelings. Such is plainly the meaning of the two former clauses, as well as of the following verse. As the whole is a description of the outward signs of grief, it seems better to understand the last of these three clauses as a picture of the bent head sunk on the bosom even while he prayed,[N] than to break the connection by referring it either to the requital of hate for his sympathy,[O] or to the purity of his prayer, which was such that he could desire nothing more for himself.[P] He goes on with the enumeration of the signs of sorrow: "As if (he had been) a friend, a brother to me, I went," -- walking slowly, like a man absorbed in sorrow: "as one who laments a mother, in mourning garments I bowed down," -- walking with a weary, heavy stoop, like one crushed by a mother's death, with the garb of woe. Thus faithfully had he loved, and truly wept for the noble ruined soul which, blinded by passion and poisoned by lies, had turned to be his enemy. And that same love clung by him to the last, as it ever does with great and good men, who learn of God to suffer long and be kind, to bear all things, and hope all things.
[N] So Ewald and Delitzsch.
Of these psalms the xxii. is remarkable. In it David's personal experience seems to afford only the starting-point for a purely Messianic prophecy, which embraces many particulars that far transcend anything recorded of his sorrows. The impossibility of finding occurrences in his life corresponding to such traits as tortured limbs and burning thirst, pierced hands and parted garments, has driven some critics to the hypothesis that we have here a psalm of the exile describing either actual sufferings inflicted on some unknown confessor in Babylon, or in figurative language the calamities of Israel there. But the Davidic origin is confirmed by many obvious points of resemblance with the psalms which are indisputably his, and especially with those of the Sauline period, while the difficulty of finding historical facts answering to the emphatic language is evaded, not met, by either assuming that such facts existed in some life which has left no trace, or by forcing a metaphorical sense on words which sound wonderfully like the sad language of a real sufferer. Of course, if we believe that prediction is an absurdity, any difficulty will be lighter than the acknowledgment that we have prediction here. But, unless we have a foregone conclusion of that sort to blind us, we shall see in this psalm a clear example of the prophecy of a suffering Messiah. In most of the other psalms where David speaks of his sorrows we have only a typical foreshadowing of Christ. But in this, and in such others as lxix. and cix. (if these are David's), we have type changing into prophecy, and the person of the psalmist fading away before the image which, by occasion of his own griefs, rose vast, and solemn, and distant before his prophet gaze, -- the image of One who should be perfectly all which he was in partial measure, the anointed of God, the utterer of His name to His brethren, the King of Israel, -- and whose path to His dominion should be thickly strewn with solitary sorrow, and reproach, and agony, to whose far more exceeding weight of woe all his affliction was light as a feather, and transitory as a moment. And when the psalmist had learned that lesson, besides all the others of trust and patience which his wanderings taught him, his schooling was nearly over, he was almost ready for a new discipline; and the slowly-evolving revelation of God's purposes, which by his sorrows had unfolded more distinctly than before "the sufferings of the Messiah," was ripening for the unveiling, in his Kinghood, of "the glory that should follow."