William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

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

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likely to be seriously endangered when he was'accompanied
by six hundred men, with their wives and children. But the


truth was, there was only one all-absorbing feeling in his soul
at this time, namely, the fear of Saul, and he took what seem-
ed to him the readiest way to relieve himself of that danger,
without staying for a moment to consider all that his pro-
cedure might involve. "He that believeth shall not make
haste :" but fear is always in a hurry. Running in wild panic
from a dog, one may find himself in the more serious danger
of being overturned and trampled upon by the prancing horse
as he holds on his course along the street. So he who has
lost his confidence in God, and is filled with fear of some ca-
lamity, rushes blindly forward seeking present relief, only to
fall into a more appalling danger than that from which he
flees. Thus it was with David here. As he had calculated,
he rid himself of Saul, for we read that he sought no more
for David ; but by the false step of going over to the Philis-
tines he involved himself in a long course of cruelty and de-
ceit, out of which he came with a tarnished reputation, and a
heart grown but too familiar with the crooked policy of expe-
diency and sin.

Achish received him kindly ; but while we give him cred-
it for his hospitality, we can not look upon it as altogether
disinterested. He knew that David was at enmity with Saul,
and seeing so many men accompanying him, he calculated
on receiving substantial assistance from him in any military
service in which he might engage. Hence, when David re-
quested that he might have a place in some town in the
country, that he might dwell there, he gave him Ziklag, a
town which had been allotted to the tribe of Judah in the
days of Joshua, and which was probably at this time unin-
habited, because it had been taken by the Philistines, and its
population dispersed.

Here David and his men, with their wives and children,
lived for sixteen months, and hither came to him (as we
learn from i Chronicles xii., 1-7) some of those who were


reputed as his mighty men, helpers in the war. "They were
armed with bows, and could use both the right hand and the
left in hurling stones and shooting arrows out of a bow;"
and they were " of Saul's brethren of Benjamin." From Zik-
lag as a centre, David made incursions on the Geshurites,
and the Gezrites, and the Amalekites, living upon the spoils
which he took from them, and putting every man, woman,
and child among them to death, that no one might remain to
tell where he had been ; for ever as he returned, he made
Achish believe that he had been out against those who were
the enemies of the Philistines, and who were either his own
countrymen or their friendly allies. Hence Achish made
sure of him as a reliable supporter, and calculated that be-
cause he had made his own people to abhor him, he would
become valuable in his service. Now, there is no possibility
of vindicating David for all this. We can not even offer a
plausible excuse for him. It is easy to say that, in the cir-
cumstances in which he was placed, some allowance must be
made for him. But who put him into these circumstances ?
He was not in Ziklag on God's service. He had not been
sent thither by any prophetical command from God. He
went of his own accord, and it will not do to make his cir-
cumstances when he was there an extenuation of his wicked-
ness. His going thither was in itself a wrong thing ; and
one sin can never palliate another.

Then as to the falsehood of his life during these months,
we must unequivocally and emphatically condemn it. He
was seeking all through his own interest, not God's glory.
Nay, he was even blind in seeking that, for he might have
been sure that, sooner or later, a day of reckoning would
come. Mark the prolific progeny that sprang from the one
parent sin of unbelief in this dark chapter of David's life.
Prayerlessness ; desertion of the sphere of duty ; theft; mur-
der; falsehood. All these have germinated from the one


innocent-looking little seed, loss of confidence in God ! Is
this thy voice, O David, speaking so falsely in the ear of
Achish ? Is this the man according to God's own heart ?
Alas ! it is even so. But he is not acting now as God ap-
proves. He has forsaken God, and God, for the time being,
has left him to himself, to let him see how far- without his
grace he would run into iniquity, and to let us learn from his
example what an evil thing and a bitter it is to forsake the
Lord our God.

Very soon a critical time came to David. The Philistines
were preparing for that assault on Israel which culminated
at Gilboa, and Achish, to show his confidence in David, in-
timated that he wished him to go with him as his aid-de-camp
to battle. Sorely must David have winced under this com-
mand ; but disguising his dismay, under an evasive answer
to this effect, " Thou shalt know what thy servant can do,"
he made ready his band, and went to Aphek, a place near
the plain of Esdraelon, where the Philistines were encamped.
But the lords of the Philistines would have none of his
presence, and insisted that he and his followers should be
sent back to Ziklag. Achish was greatly distressed at this,
and made an apology for their rudeness and apparent dis-
trust, to David, who retraced his steps, secretly glad, we may
be sure, that he had been so thoroughly delivered from an
embarrassing and equivocal position.

As he was leaving Aphek, however, there came to him, as
we read again, in the first book of Chronicles (xii., 19-22),
from the tribe of Manasseh a goodly number of adherents, of
whom no fewer than seven were afterward ranked as cap-
tains of thousands in the army of Israel. And indeed it very
soon appeared that he had need of all the help which he
could obtain. For when they were nearing Ziklag, instead
of seeing a happy village, whose streets were full of boys
and girls playing in youthful frolic, and whose homes were


full of glee, they beheld only a heap of smoking ruins. In
the absence of its defenders, the Amalekites had smitten the
town and set it on fire, and though they spared the lives
of the women and children, they carried them all away cap-
tive, in the hope of ransom. Such was the sorrow among
David's company, when they looked upon the desolation
which the Amalekites had made, that they lifted up their
voices and wept ; but by-and-by their sadness gave place to
anger, as they upbraided their leader for taking them to the
Philistine army, and leaving their home unprotected. They
even spake of stoning him. This greatly distressed him ;
but it brought him to his knees and to his faith again. As
sometimes the partially intoxicated man will be sobered in
a moment by the occurrence of some terrible calamity, so
David, who had been living all these months under the nar-
cotic influence of sin, was, by the violence of the Amalekites,
and the threatened mutiny of his own men, roused to his no-
bler self, and "he encouraged himself in the Lord his God."
With returning faith came the recognition of the necessity
for Jehovah's guidance, and he said to Abiathar, " Bring hith-
er the ephod." From the answer which he received he was
encouraged to set out in pursuit of the spoilers, with the as-
surance that he should without fail recover all. Very sug-
gestive is this contrast. " David said, I shall one day perish
by the hand of Saul ; there is nothing better for me than
that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines."
" David encouraged himself in the Lord his God, and said
unto Abiathar, Bring hither the ephod." On the one hand,
despair, leading to prayerlessness and self-will ; on the other,
faith, leading to prayer and eager willinghood to submit to
the guidance of Jehovah. Be it ours to shun the former,
and to cultivate the latter.

After a hot pursuit, during which two hundred of his men
were obliged to halt and fall out of the ranks, worn out



by their long and rapid march, David, directed by a poor
Egyptian slave, came up with the Amalekites, and falling
upon them when they were feasting and making merry, he
so thoroughly destroyed them, that only four hundred young
men who rode upon camels escaped out of his hand. Best
of all, he recovered all the women and children who had
been taken captive, and returned with such loads of spoil
that, after satisfying the claims of all his soldiers, he sent
presents of it to many of the cities of Judah.

But while he was thus engaged the battle had been raging
fiercely between the Philistines and Saul on Mount Gilboa ;
and though the full consideration of that conflict and its is-
sues belongs rather to the history of Saul than to the life of
David, we must ask your indulgence while we seek to set it
somewhat vividly before you.

The vale of Esdraelon, whereon so many decisive battles
in the world's history have been fought, stretches eastward
across central Palestine. It is of a triangular shape, having
its apex westward in a narrow pass, through which the riv-
er Kishon runs into the Mediterranean Sea. Its northern
side is formed by the hills of Galilee ; its southern by the
hills of Samaria ; and from its base on the east, three branch
plains, separated from each other by mountain ridges, run
still farther eastward on to the Jordan. The northern branch
lies between Mount Tabor and Little Hermon ; the central
branch has Little Hermon on the north and Gilboa on the
south ; and the southern branch is between Mount Gilboa
and Jenim. Now the Philistines, on the present occasion,
were in the central one of these three branch plains, and
were encamped at the base of Little Hermon, here called
Moreh, hard by the well of Harod. Their position -was ad-
mirably chosen, since, with a gentle slope behind them, they
had in front a level place of some two or three miles broad,
well fitted for those military chariots on which they so much
relied for success.


Saul and his army were on the ridge of Mount Gilboa,
clinging to the hills with that instinctive confidence in their
strength which the inhabitants of all mountainous districts
feel. From his elevated post of observation he could see the
whole host of the Philistines ; and the sight made him afraid,
so that his heart trembled greatly. But to whom could
he turn for succor ? Samuel was dead ; Abiathar and the
eph'od were with David ; and ever, as he thought of God, it
was with the feeling that Jehovah had abandoned him. Had
there been but one indication of sincere repentance given
by him ; had he humbled himself in confession of sin before
the Lord, or thrown himself on his covenant -keeping faith-
fulness, there might, even yet, have been deliverance. But
though he was profoundly conscious that all his calamities
were caused by the fact that he had turned against the Lord,
he went and did that which could only widen the distance
that was already between them. Instead of calling upon
God in penitence and prayer, he sought after forbidden su-
perstitions, and tried to obtain by the help of magic or per-
chance even, in his view, of Satan that assistance which only
God could give. Here is the great difference between Saul
in his sins, and David in his backslidings. From each of his
falls you hear David coming sobbing out a sorrowful confes-
sion and appeal like that in the 5ist Psalm; in each of Saul's
wickednesses you see him assuming the attitude of sterner
defiance toward the Almighty ; or if there be any sorrow in
his heart at all, it is for the loss he has himself sustained, or
the suffering he has himself endured, and not for the dishon-
or which he has done to God. Never, however, has he gone
so far as now, when, as Dean Stanley says, " Having swerved
from the moral principle which alone could guide it, his re-
ligious zeal was turned into a wild and desperate supersti-
tion."* Having forsaken God, he betook himself to necro-

* "Jewish Church," ii., 28.


mancy. So he said to his servants, " Seek me a woman that
hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of
her;" and they replied, "Behold, there is a woman that hath
a familiar spirit at Endor." On receiving this information,
he disguised himself, and took his way across the valley past
the carefully guarded host of the Philistines, and up over the
ridge behind them, until on the other side of that hill he came
to the fountain of Dor, in one of the caverns, by the side of
which dwelt the woman of whom he was in search. It was
a perilous journey, though undertaken under the cover of
night ; and nothing could have induced Saul to make it, but
the agony of the feeling that his last opportunity had come,
and that his all was hanging on the venture of the morrow.
When he came to the woman, she was reluctant to have any
thing to do with him, fearing lest he was laying a trap for her
destruction ; but on receiving assurances to the contrary, she
asked whom she should bring up to him. He replied, "Bring
me up Samuel ;" and scarcely had his words been uttered,
when the apparition of the prophet so startled her that she
cried with a loud voice ; and, coming to the conviction that
it was Saul himself who was beside her, she said, "Why
hast thou deceived me ? for thou art Saul." Thereafter he
bade her fear nothing, and asked what precisely she had
seen, for as yet it would appear that nothing had been visi-
ble to him. She told him that she saw "gods," or great ones
after the manner of gods, ascending out of the earth ; and in
response to another question, she informed him that Samuel
had assumed the appearance of an old man covered with a
mantle. As he looked steadfastly at the place indicated by
the woman, the apparition shaped itself to his eye ; and see-
ing it was Samuel indeed, he bowed himself to the ground.
" Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up ?" said the
mysterious visitant. " I am sore distressed, "was the answer;
" for the Philistines make war against me, and God is depart-


ed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets
nor by dreams : therefore I have called thee, that thou may-
est make known unto me what I shall do." Oh, the wild wail
of this dark misery ! There is a deep pathos and a weird
awesomeness in this despairing cry ; but there is no confes-
sion of sin, no beseeching for meccy ; nothing but the great,
overmastering ambition to preserve himself. The prophet an-
swered him as one who was cognizant of all this : "Wherefore
then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee,
and is become thine enemy ? And the Lord hath done to
him, as he spake by me : for the Lord hath rent the kingdom
out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to Da-
vid : because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor
executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the
Lord done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover, the
Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the
Philistines : and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with
me : the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the
hand of the Philistines." When he heard this dreadful fore-
cast of coming calamity, Saul lost that stern self-possession
which he had preserved till then, and fell trembling on the
ground ; but with many entreaties, his servants and the wom-
an prevailed upon him to arise and partake of a meal which
had been hastily extemporized for his necessity, and at length,
somewhat refreshed in body, but crushed in spirit, he hasten-
ed back to his camp, which he reached before the morning

Concerning this singular chapter in sacred story, two ques-
tions have been raised : these, namely Was there a real ap-
pearance of Samuel here ? and what precisely was the agen-
cy of the woman in the matter ? Some have supposed that
the whole scene, including the solemn words put into the
mouth of Samuel, was the effect of secret management by the
woman, aided, perhaps, by ventriloquism, and by one or more


confederates. Others, again, have traced the whole thing to
the agency of Satan. But to both of these views there are,
in my opinion, insuperable objections. There is the fair and
obvious purport of the narrative itself, which gives no hint
of any unreality in the case. There is, also, the full and
particular prediction of the events of the corning day, which
we can not conceive that the woman could have given, and
which we dare not trace to the agency of Satan. Then, be-
sides these considerations, we must take the weight due to
the fact that in the original there is no word corresponding
to the English "when" (in verse 12 of chapter xxviii.); and
again, that in verse 14, in the clause, "And Saul perceived
that it was Samuel," the Hebrew reads, "And Saul perceived
that it was Samuel himself." Now this, being an assertion
of the narrator, seems to me to settle the matter, and to de-
termine that Samuel was actually there. But if this were so,
what had the woman to do with bringing him up ? To this
I answer : Literally nothing. Observe, as soon as Saul said,
" Bring me up Samuel," she saw him, and was dreadfully
alarmed by the spectacle. But why should she have been
thus terrified, if the whole thing had been only of her own
upraising ? The truth is, that before she had begun her en-
chantments, Samuel appeared and startled her out of her
cool and cunning self-possession. How, then, do we ac-
count for his appearance? I reply, without any hesitation,
that he was brought thither by the miraculous agency of
God himself. But to this it may be objected that it seems
strange that Jehovah should refuse to answer Saul through
the recognized channels, and then take this peculiar manner
of responding to his appeal. And there is some force in
such a Statement; but it is to be observed that Saul asked
for direction as to what he should do, and that Samuel gives
no reply to that entreaty, but only utters words of condem-
nation. For the rest, the appearance of Samuel, as the re-


suit of God's own agency, is a fulfillment, or rather, as one
ought, perhaps, to say, an anticipation, of those words spoken
long afterward by the prophet Ezekiel (xiv., 7). " For every
one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth
in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up
his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his
iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet" (that is,
of course, a false prophet) " to inquire of him concerning
me ; I the Lord will answer him by myself." Just as when
Ahaziah sent a messenger to inquire at Baal-zebub, the god
of Ekron, Jehovah commissioned his own Elijah to intercept
the messenger, and give his own response ; so when Saul
went to Endor, God anticipated the pretended necromancy
of the witch, and sent the real Samuel to pronounce words
of doom over the disobedient monarch. Hence the connec-
tion of the woman with this vision was merely accidental.
She was in no sense its procuring cause. The whole thing
is to be traced to God. Even as on the wall of the banquet-
ing-hall wherein Belshazzar was defying Jehovah, by his sac-
rilegious use of the vessels of the sanctuary, the hand of des-
tiny came forth to write his sentence in mystic characters,
which only Daniel could interpret, so now at the cave, to
which Saul had come, to deal with a familiar spirit, thereby
committing, as Trench has said, "the nearest approach to
the sin against the Holy Ghost which was possible for one
under the old covenant,"* Jehovah confronted him, and,,
through the mouth of the upraised Samuel, set before him
his terrible guilt and its fearful result. Alas for Saul ! how
changed is he now from that day when Samuel communed
with him concerning the kingdom, or when, in the first noble
assertion of his royal right, he delivered the men of Jabesh-
gilead from their threatened destruction ! Did ever promise
of so fair a life ripen into such bitter fruit ?

* " Shipwrecks of Faith," by Archbishop Trench, p. 45.


With the returning day, the battle opened between Israel
and the Philistines. Saul was but ill fitted, by the fatigue
and excitement of the night, for the fierce affray, and his
troops were sorely worsted by their enemies. Their posi-
tion was badly chosen for the purposes of retreat ; and as
they ascended the slopes of Gilboa they became conspicu-
ous marks for the dexterous archers among their pursuers.
Hence a vast multitude were slain, and among these were
the three eldest sons of Saul. The king himself, as the day
advanced, was sorely, probably mortally, wounded ; and fear-
ing lest, in his weak condition, he should be abused and tor-
tured by the Philistines, he besought his armor-bearer to dis-
patch him at once. But with natural affection for his mas-
ter, he refused to obey such a command, and Saul fell upon
his own sword ; whereupon his servant followed his example,
and committed suicide. A wandering Amalekite, who had
perhaps been seeking spoil on the battle-field, found the dead
body of the monarch, and taking from it the crown and the
bracelet by which it was distinguished, hastened with them
to Ziklag, and gave them to David. He alleged, besides,
that he had himself slain Saul, thinking thereby to win the
favor of David for doing him such a service. But he little
knew with whom he had to do ; for David's reverence for the
Lord's anointed could not brook the thought that he should
be slain by a wicked Amalekite ; so, holding him guilty on
'his own showing, he put him to death.

Then, as the news of the fate of Saul, and especially of
Jonathan, filled his heart, he called his men around him, and,
taking his harp, he sang that noble elegy, which, known to
his own countrymen as the " Song of the Bow," has been ex-
tracted from the book of Jasher by the sacred historian, and
embalmed for us in the annals of the chosen people. It is
introduced by these words : "Also he bade them teach the
children of Judah the use of the bow ; behold it is written in


the book of Jasher." The words " the use of" are in italics,
as not in the original. So we may read, " He bade them
teach the children of Judah the bow ;" that is, the song call-
ed " The Bow." Now the appropriateness of this title to
the song will appear when you mark how prominently the
bow is mentioned in one of its strains, and remember that it
was specially designed as a memorial of Jonathan, who was
famous for his excellence in the use of that weapon. Not
only did he belong to the tribe of Benjamin, whose sons
were noted archers, but it was with his bow and sling that
he won his first victory at Michmash ; with his bow he sent
the arrows by the stone Ezel, when David parted from him
after their mutual covenant ; and among the most cherished
possessions of the son of Jesse was that bow which, after
the slaughter of Goliath, Jonathan had given to him as a
token of affection. Hence, from its reference to Jonathan,
as well, perhaps, as from the fact that it was designed to be
sung by the men of Judah when they were practicing the
bow, this lament was called by that name.

The book of Jasher seems to have been a collection of
ancient Jewish songs, or ballads, corresponding, in some de-
gree, to the minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, the only other
quotation from it in Scripture being the poetical commemo-
ration of the victory of Joshua in the Valley of Ajalon.

It is not needful, surely, that I should enter into a minute
analysis of this beautiful ode. It can scarcely be called ei-
ther a psalm or a hymn. We can hardly even regard it as a
specimen of religious poetry. It is rather what Dean Stan-
ley has called " an example of pure poetic inspiration," and
as poetry its language is to be interpreted ; that is to say,
something of poetic license and exaggeration has to be dis-
counted from it when we translate it into prose. It was a
testimony of David's life-long attachment to Jonathan, while
at the same time his references to Saul indicate that, in the


holy presence of death, David had learned to forget and for-
give the wrongs which he had received, and desired to dwell
only on the good and great qualities of his former antago-
nist. All after-generations have recognized the lyric grand-

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 14 of 36)