William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

David, king of Israel: his life and its lessons online

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them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth
are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. Be
thou exalted, O God, above the heavens ; let thy glory be
above all the earth. They have prepared a net for my steps ;
my soul is bowed down : they have digged a pit before me,
into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves. My
heart is fixed, O God ; my heart is fixed : I will sing and give
praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I
myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among
the people : I will sing unto thee among the nations. For
thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the
clouds. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens : let thy
glory be above all the earth."

When the hawk is in the air, the young bird seeks the shel-
ter of the mother's outspread wings. When danger is impend-
ing, the child clings to the hand of his father. So, when re-
proach and persecution come upon David, he takes refuge in
his God. How simple is his trust as here expressed ! How
entire his absorption of his own welfare in God's glory ! and
then, rising out of this self-abnegation, how lofty the strain of
praise with which he concludes ! The lark, whose nest is on
the ground, rises, singing, as he soars, to the greatest heaven-
ly height, until all but unseen he rains a shower of melody
upon the listening earth. So, up from this lowest depth of
suffering and distress, David rises to his loftiest ecstasy of
praise, shaming the cold-heartedness of many in these days


on whose lips " hosannas languish," and in whose hearts de-
votion all but dies. Nor for himself alone was David led
through such experiences. God had set him forth, that in
him, a needy and forlorn one in the very extremest degree,
he might show his loving-kindness, " for a pattern to them
which should hereafter believe on him." Accordingly, these
cave Psalms have awakened responsive echoes in the hearts
of multitudes in every age. When those of whom the world
was not worthy "wandered in deserts and in mountains, and
in dens and caves of the earth," no words could so bear up
the burden of their hearts to God as those which I have just
read. They were chanted, it may be, by Paul and Silas in
the prison of Philippi, and by the early Christians in the Ro-
man catacombs. They were sung, in their own rugged yet
expressive version, by the Scottish Covenanters, on the bleak
hill-side, or in the wild moor-land, or in the dark and lonely
cave. When Sir Patrick Hume lay hid in the family sepul-
chral vault, or in the hole dug for him by his own daughter
beneath his house, he tells us that when he had no light, he
beguiled the hours by repeating to himself Buchanan's ver-
sion of the Psalms, which in former days of prosperity he had
committed to memory; and Christian sufferers everywhere,
in times of revolution or danger, when fleeing before their
enemies, have turned instinctively to these odes, and to oth-
ers of similar character in the sacred Psalter. "There is not
a day," says Edwards, in his " Personal Narrative of the In-
dian Mutiny,"* " in which we do not find something in the
Psalms that appears written specially for our unhappy
circumstances, to meet the wants and feelings of the day."
Thus, as face answereth to face in a glass, so doth the heart
of believer to believer in religious experience ; and these
cave Psalms which David has left, are but like speaking-tubes

* "Jewish Church," quoted by Stanley, vol. ii., pp. 145, 165.


in the chamber of affliction, through which we, as well as oth-
ers, may send up our cry to him who is our Helper.

When Saul had returned from his campaign against the
Philistines, and was informed that David had gone to En-
gedi, he immediately set out with three thousand men, deter-
mined to effect his destruction. But, so far from accomplish-
ing his purpose, he was in a singular way put entirely into
David's power. Seeking relief from the midday heat, and
desiring to refresh himself with slumber, he went, all unwit-
tingly, into the very cavern in which David and his men
were concealed. Going from the light and looking inward,
it was impossible that he should see them, but accustomed as
they had become to the darkness, and looking, as they were
from the back part of the cave out toward the dim light at its
mouth, they could see him perfectly. David's companions
regarded it as a special opportunity of ridding themselves
of their adversary, and sought to persuade their leader to kill
him. " Behold," said they, " the day of which the Lord said
unto thee : Behold I will deliver thine enemy into thine
hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto
thee." But David could not bring himself so to regard it.
There was still to him a " divinity hedging " the king, as
the anointed of the Lord, and he would not suffer himself
to violate the sanctity of Saul's person. His attitude was
entirely defensive, and to slay Saul in cold blood, however
much there might have been in Oriental usages to sanction
it, would have been in his view not merely murder but sac-
rilege. No doubt it might be said that God had rejected
Saul, and had caused David to be anointed in his room ;
but that had not given to David the right to deal summari-
ly with Saul : it had only indicated that when, in the course
of providence, Saul should be removed, David would be set
upon his throne. For this, therefore, David would wait.
He would not take providence into his own hands. He


would bide God's time, and it should not be said of him
that he had come into the kingdom by the assassination of
his predecessor. So he stood firm against the entreaties of
his men, and would not slay the king. He contented him-
self with cutting off a portion of Saul's robe, a thing which in
the circumstances he could easily do without disturbing his
repose. But even this caused him some misgivings of heart,
the rather, as perhaps, after he had done it, his men, embold-
ened by his example, might have felt themselves at liberty to
go farther, and lay hands on the king himself. If any such
disposition was manifested by them, it was immediately re-
pressed by their leader, and so, altogether unconscious of
the danger to which he had been exposed, Saul slept on, un-
til, thoroughly refreshed, he rose and passed out of the cave
to join his troops. He was followed by David, with the skirt
of his robe in his hand, who cried after him, "My lord, the
king !" and bowed before him with his face to the earth.

It was a bold thing to do ; and one hardly knows which to
admire the more, the magnanimity that spared Saul in the
cave, or the valor that braved him and his troops outside of
it. But often the bolder course is the wiser, and the cour-
age of a man in placing himself in the very midst of his en-
emies, so surprises them that they never think of doing him
harm. Thus it seems to have been in the present instance ;
for, as David stands before Saul, and proceeds to plead his
cause with him, no one of the royal troops interferes, and the
king himself is deeply moved but it is with sorrow rather
than revenge. And it was no marvel that such an effect
was produced upon him, for seldom has a more tender, ear-
nest, manly, and candid appeal been made by one man to
another, than that which David here addressed to Saul. He
complained that the king had listened to unscrupulous men,
who had laid to his charge things which his soul abhorred.
He denied that he had ever in any way sought the king's


hurt, and as a proof he pointed to the skirt which he held in
his hand, and which he had taken from the royal robe, when
he might just as easily have cut off his head. Then, rising
into solemn expostulation, he placed the issue between them
on its real merits, by appealing to Jehovah, saying, " The
Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord 'avenge me
of thee : but mine hand shall not be upon thee." He affirm-
ed that he was altogether unworthy even of Saul's enmity,
and that the king might find something more dignified to
do, than to come out after such an insignificant person as he
was. Then, coming round again to their common responsi-
bility to God, he concluded by placing his cause implicitly in
the hands of the Lord. As he finished, Saul burst into tears,
and cried, " Is this thy voice, my son David ? Thou art
more righteous than I : for thou hast rewarded me good,
whereas I have rewarded thee evil. And thou hast showed
this clay how that thou hast dealt well with me : forasmuch
as when the Lord had delivered me into thine hand, thou
killedst me not. For if a man find his enemy, will he let him
go well away ? wherefore the Lord reward thee good for that
thou hast done unto me this clay. And now, behold, I know
well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of
Israel shall be established in thine hand. Swear now there-
fore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my
seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out
of my father's house." This oath David willingly took, and
Saul, drawing off his men with him, went home. Yet David,
reluctant to trust himself to the keeping of one so mercurial
and spasmodic as he knew Saul to be, would not forsake
his stronghold, but returned into the cave.

And it was well that he did so, for Saul did not long con-
tinue in this gracious mood ; and a very short while after,
we have a scene between him and David not unlike that
which we have just witnessed. It is described in the twen-


ty-sixth chapter of i Samuel; but it may be convenient to
take it now, leaving the intervening narrative to be consid-
ered afterward.

In the course of his wanderings David came once again
to Hachilah, in the neighborhood of Ziph ; and the inhab-
itants of that city, disappointed, perhaps, at the failure of their
former attempt, sent again to Saul to tell him where he was.
The result was that Saul came forth with his troops, expect-
ing to take him, as he doubtless would have done on the first
occasion, if he had not been called away to attack the Philis-
tines. But, wiser from his former experience, David, this time,
did not go to the hill, but abode in the wilderness, keeping
ever a vigilant eye upon the movements of his adversary.

At length, one night, accompanied by his nephew, Abishai,
David went into the very midst of Saul's encampment while
he and his troops were asleep. Abishai counseled that Saul
should be slain, and offered to do the treacherous deed him-
self; but David, true to his reverence for the Lord's anoint-
ed, and earnest in his desire not to stain his hands with the
blood of his father-in-law, would not consent. He was con-
tent to leave the whole controversy between himself and
Saul to God, and he would not rashly precipitate its settle-
ment by any crime of his own. "As the Lord liveth/'said
he, " the Lord shall smite him ; or his day shall come to die ;
or he shall descend into battle, and perish. The Lord for-
bid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord's
anointed." So he restrained Abishai ; and counseling him
to take only the spear which marked the pillow of the chief,
and the cruse of water that was by his side, they stole away
from the camp, and returned to their own stronghold. In
the morning, David climbed to the ledge of the cliff which
overhung the cave in which his men were concealed, and
overlooked the valley in which Saul was encamped, and
shouting to Abner, the captain of the king's hoot, he banter-


ed him on the careful watch which he had kept over his
master, showing at the same time the spear and the pitcher,
as proof that he had himself been at the very side of Saul.
When the king heard his voice he was moved as deeply as
he had been at En-gedi, and said, " I have sinned : return, my
son David ; for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul
was precious in thine eyes this day : behold, I have played
the fool, and have erred exceedingly." .

David's response was a renewal of his appeal to God ;
and Saul parts from him with a benediction : " Blessed be
thou, my son David : thou shalt both do great things, and
also shalt still prevail." Truly, " When a man's way please
the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with
him." We hear a great deal of David's malignity and re-
vengeful spirit, and I can not, in the light of the New Testa-
ment, defend all that he did or said ; yet we must not fail to
note how here he acted from the noblest magnanimity, and
how, long before the words of Paul were written, he verified
the truth which they express : " Dearly beloved, avenge not
yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath : for it is writ-
ten, Vengeance is mine ; I will repay, saith the Lord. There-
fore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him ; if he thirst, give him
drink : for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on
his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with
good." So far as we know, this was the last meeting be-
tween Saul and David ; and it is pleasing to think that after
all that had occurred, Saul's latest utterance to him was one
of benediction ; at once a vindication of David's conduct in
the past, and a forecast of his glory in the future. Verily,
the Psalmist was speaking from his own experience when he
said, " Commit thy way -unto the Lord ; trust also in him ;
and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy
righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon-
day." But before we pass away from Saul's persecution of


David, an interesting inquiry presents itself, which may be
answered by the help of one of the Psalms. How came it,
one is tempted to ask, that Saul was thus at one time so
friendly to David, and at another filled with such bitter en-
mity against him ? Much of this was owing, doubtless, to
the impulsive, wayward, and capricious disposition which, as
we have seen, grew upon him after his rejection by Samuel.

But this will not explain it all. An impulse will go on in
a man until it exhausts itself; but it will then leave him, at
least, indifferent, and something else will be required to ac-
count for the rapid reversal of his feelings, when we see him
change in a short time from grateful appreciation to fierce
antagonism. Where, then, shall we find that something in
the case of Saul ? The answer seems to me to be furnished
by the inscription to the yth Psalm, which, from its similarity
to David's utterances to Saul on the occasions which have
been to-night before us, has been by most expositors con-
nected with these events. It is entitled " Shiggaion of Da-
vid, which he sang unto the Lord, concerning the words of
Cush the Benjamite." That is " a dithyrambic ode of David
concerning the words of Cush." Now if we adopt the con-
jecture that Cush was one of Saul's confidential adherents,
and that he had set himself deliberately and malignantly to
poison his master's mind in reference to David, by inventing
all manner of false assertions, and indulging in every variety
of significant innuendoes concerning him, we have an expla-
nation at once, of many statements in the narrative, of the
vacillations in the disposition of Saul, and of the character of
the Psalm to which the title belongs. Thus, at En-gedi, David
said to Saul, in apparent allusion to some private slanderers,
" Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, Behold, David
seeketh thy hurt?"* And again, at Hachilah, he exclaims,

* I Sam. xxiv., 9.


" If the Lord have stirred thee up against me, let him accept
an offering : but if they be the children of men, cursed be they
before the Lord ; for they have driven me out this day from
abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go, serve oth-
er gods."* So also in one of the two Psalms which I have
already brought before you as undeniably belonging to this
chapter of his history, the poet, in describing his persecutors,
says, " I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the
sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their
tongue a sharp sword. "f All this points to the fact that
there was at the court of Saul some one whose constant de-
sign it was to paint David in the blackest colors, and who
for this end did not hesitate to invent the falsest calumnies
against him. When the king was alone, away from the in-
fluence of this black-hearted sycophant, David's noble and
frank ingenuousness produced its appropriate impression on
his heart ; but when David disappeared, and this Cush re-
sumed his insinuating supremacy, then Saul's heart was again
estranged, and he vowed vengeance on the son of Jesse. Of
course, if Saul had not been weak, this effect would not have
been produced upon him ; but, in the circumstances, we can
see how the larger measure of the guilt belonged to Cush,
and can understand why, while David spared the king, his
heart was full of abhorrence of the part which was played by
the false-hearted Benjamite. Now, with these considerations
in our minds, let us read the Psalm itself. " O Lord my
God, in thee do I put my trust : save me from all them that
persecute me, and deliver me : lest he tear my soul like a
lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver. O
Lord my God, if I have done this ; if there be iniquity in my
hands ; if I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace
with me (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is

* I Sam. xxvi., 19. t Psa. Ivii., 4.


mine enemy) [a parenthetic allusion to his allowing Saul
to escape, even though he had him in his power] ; let the
enemy persecute my soul, and take it ; yea, let him tread
down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honor in the dust.
Arise, O Lord, in thine anger, lift up thyself because of
the rage of mine enemies: and awake for me to the judg-
ment that thou hast commanded. So shall the congregation
of the people compass thee about : for their sakes, therefore,
return thou on high. The Lord shall judge the people:
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and accord-
ing to mine integrity that is in me. Oh let the wickedness
of the wicked come to an end ; but establish the just : for the
righteous God trieth the hearts and reins. My defense is
of God, which saveth the upright in heart. God judgeth the
righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. If
he turn not, he will whet his sword ; he hath bent his bow,
and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the in-
struments of death ; he ordaineth his arrows against the
persecutors. Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath
conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. He made
a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he
made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and
his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.
I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness : and
will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high."

The similarity of many of the expressions used in this ode
to those employed by David in his two appeals to Saul is
very great, and fully warrants the belief that the Psalm was
composed at the date of the occurrences which have been
now before us. In this .view it is most interesting, as show-
ing the habitual tendency of David's soul in trial to repair
to God. Andrew Fuller has somewhere said that " a man
has only as much religion as he can command in the time
of trouble ;" and by the bearing of David through these ca-


lamities we may see how genuine his devotion to Jehovah

Traveling once upon a railway car, I had among my fel-
low-passengers a little laughing child, who romped about
and was at home with every body. Had any one come in
and looked at her while she was frolicking thus, he would
not have been able to tell to whom she belonged, she seem-
ed to be so much the property of every one ; but ere long
the engine gave a loud, long shriek, as we went rattling into
a dark tunnel, and in a moment the child flew, like a bird,
to nestle herself in a lady's lap. I knew then who was her
mother ! So, in the day of prosperity, the good man may go
hither and thither, to this side or to that, and there may not
be very much about him to tell whose he is ; but let him be
sent through some dark, damp tunnel of severe affliction, and
you will see at once to whom he belongs ; for then, David-
like, he commits his cause to God and bides the issue.
The Spirit of God has written the name of Jesus with in-
visible ink on the believer's heart, but the fire of tribulation
brings out the characters before men's eyes. Still, remem-
ber that trial does not make goodness ; it only reveals it.
We must have it before we can manifest it. Hence, if we
would prepare for such an ordeal as that through which
David passed, we must in our daily lives cultivate such fel-
lowship with Jehovah, as that which the son of Jesse main-
tained when he was following his father's sheep.

But going back over the narrative, let us, ere we close,
glean for ourselves a few practical lessons from it for our
daily guidance. And here an obvious application of the
principle on which David acted when Saul was in his power,
is that we should never seek success by unwarrantable means.
Though David was promised the kingdom, nay, just because
he had faith in Him who made the promise, he would not
make the body of Saul a step up to" the throne. " He that



believeth will not make haste." Contrast this conduct of his
with that of Rebekah, when, thinking she could manage mat-
ters better than God, she stirred up Jacob to seek the birth-
right by deception, and you will see precisely what I mean
when I hold up the procedure of David for approbation and
imitation. Rebekah thought she was taking the shortest way
to get at that which God had promised, but in reality she sent
her son a long way round, entailed upon him much shame
and misery, and deprived herself of his presence and fellow-
ship for all her after-life. David, in the view of his followers,
might have stepped to the throne of Israel at once by mur-
dering Saul, but he knew better than take such a course as
that. The right way may seem the longer, but it is always
the safer ; and when you get to your destination, you have
the satisfaction of an approving conscience, and a favoring
God. Now this is a truth which young people, in these days
particularly, would do well to remember. There is no tem-
poral object of ambition, indeed, which God has promised to
bestow on any one now, as certainly as he covenanted to
give to David the throne of Israel. Yet every youth has
some kingdom before him which he desires to win ; and the
restless hurry of our age is such that he becomes infected
with the common madness, and is in haste to gain his end.
Now, in these circumstances, there are never wanting Abishais
who will come and show him a short road to the attainment
of his purpose ; but it will be over the commission of some
sin as real, though perhaps not quite so revolting, as would
have been the murder of Saul by David in the cave of En-
gedi. " See," one says, "here is a glorious opportunity to
make your fortune in a day. Never mind, though it does in-
volve the ruin of a rival ; you don't owe him any considera-
tion. He would have no regard for you, if your circumstances
were reversed ;" and so the temptation is to go and do as it
is suggested. Or, again, you may have, to use the world's


word, the chance to step into a long-coveted office at once,
provided only you will covenant to do some mean, ungener-
ous, or dishonorable thing toward him who at the moment
holds it. He has no love for you indeed, and would not
hesitate to crush you if you were in his power; but what does
that matter ? If you yield to such a temptation, you are plant-
ing a seed which in after-years will meet you in the shape of
manifold retributions, while at the same time you are taking
from success that which is ever its truest charm, namely, that
it has been honorably and deservedly won. My young friends,
will you accept this advice for your guidance through life ?
Never take a short road to any object when the gate into
that road is sin. How much purer would our political and
our commercial life become, if men would only consent to act
upon that principle ! Be not in such hot haste. Keep by
the highway of the great King ! That will lead you right,
though it may sometimes seem to lead you round. Beware

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 11 of 36)