Monday, December 7, 2009

A Chapter in the Life of David

1 Samuel 20:41-22:3

We have come to an episode in David’s life where he has fallen on hard times. The solitary life of the hillside shepherd became so easy for David that not even lions and bears could keep him from success on the job. But now he was far from the comforts of that routine. Pulled out of that routine he was put in another: in charge of an army. That was probably okay, and it was probably also okay to have freedom to roam the palace as the best friend of the king’s son.

But now the king wants him dead and David is on the run. And though he was capable of raising up an army to launch a coup, or just as capable of assassinating the king, or though he could count on the heir to the kingdom as an ally, instead, David resorts to what he knows best: get out of Dodge for the solitary life. Probably an okay move all things considered. But in search of relief, David does what we all tend to do: either in fear or in ignorance, he goes out of his way to add things to his life that he really doesn’t need.

He journeys away from the palace to Nob and where the priest Ahimelech, trembling, comes out to meet him. There’s no way this VIP travels alone and the priest knows trouble when he sees it. The first thing David does that he really doesn’t need to do is he adds a lie to his identity. Ironically, he does so in order to protect himself. And yet Ahimelech might be a citizen who probably wants to protect David just the way he is, as a fugitive from the king whom everyone knows is a tyrant. In this first instance of an opportunity to trust God, in order to protect himself in the present, David instead trusts in himself, by making a false claim to strength rather than trust God with an honest claim of weakness.

The second thing David does, that he really doesn’t need to do, is he asks Ahimelech to compromise the law and give him an abundance of bread: far more than he needs, but enough to maintain the lie he has started. In this second instance of an opportunity to trust God, David again trusts in himself. David constructs another false identity, and this time, projects it into the future.

The third thing David does, that he really doesn’t need to do, is he asks the priest to give him the weapons he used in the slaying of Goliath, weapons he himself gave up in memorial to the Lord. In this third instance of an opportunity to trust God, David again trusts in himself. David constructs another false identity, and this time, projects it into the past.

So how far did David get with these false identities? David’s unnecessary manipulations are laughable and it is God who has that last laugh. After deceiving others, David even manages to deceive himself into thinking that he can truly save himself by deceiving his enemies that he’s on their side. However, his enemies are not deceived. This would likely have been the end for David, but in beginning to come to his senses, David actually does save himself. Instead of claiming things, now he’s giving them up: feigning insanity, he gives up his present identity, the bread he was counting on, and his weapons of glory. Dribbling down his beard, David has given up everything, even his self-respect.

Giving up everything you have, even if it’s to your enemy, is safer than keeping anything for yourself. With nothing left, David escapes to the cave of Adullam. And then rather than having nothing, he now has more than he can handle. 400 men who would not submit to the corrupt administration of a tyrant are now his companions, including a family of brothers who never thought much of him in the first place, but now see David as all they’ve got.

The strength and resources of 400 men would be a significant source of relief for any man, especially one trained in statecraft and warfare. The loyalty and guidance and support of a family are often enough to encourage a man through any difficulty, especially when they’re relying on you. This is a collection of ordinary, reasonable people who have suffered loss and want just one ordinary, reasonable solution: to get back what belonged to them in the first place. And now David is captain over 400 ordinary, reasonable angry people.

What more is there to pray about and what more is there to do except to prepare yourself to bring about what’s fair and what’s right and what’s just? But David is not just any ordinary, reasonable man. David has seen God strip him of the serenity of the hillside, a friend who was closer than a brother, his rank, titles, and privileges, and even his honor, having surrendered to sins of lying and deceit. Where David finally arrives at is in the place God wanted him to be from the very beginning: David says to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you until I know what God will do for me.”

It’d be nice if he knew that from the beginning: to wait until he knew what God wanted to do. But David, like many of us, are too talented for that. In these hard times, what’s ordinary and reasonable for talented people like us is to do what David did at first: trust in no one but yourself, glory in the past, and prepare for the future. No one wants to be in a cave with 400 angry men and wait on God. Hard to imagine? It’s probably like waiting in front of Macy’s with 400 angry women on Black Friday, or in front of Best Buy with 400 angry teenagers. Maybe those images make a smelly cave sound not so bad? Quite plainly, David re-learned the only lesson that really matters: when in search of relief, whether alone or as captain of 400, it’s time to trust in the Lord.

David Thom