William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

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

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and, from other references to it in the Old Testament, it
seems at least certain that it was in the immediate neighbor-
hood of Jerusalem, and within sight of Mount Zion.* This

* See, for example, Isaiah x., 32.


being the case, it could not well have been more than five or
six miles from Gibeah ; David, therefore, could reach it with
ease before the commencement of the Sabbath, and, once
there, he would be quite secure, as " no one could travel
thither after him on the Sabbath, neither could any one who
might be at Nob when he came go to Gibeah (on that day),
to give intelligence of his arrival."* The place was inhab-
ited by a colony of priests numbering more than fourscore,
at the head of whom was Ahimelech the high-priest, the son
of Ahitub. When David presented himself at the Taberna-
cle, having first left his companions in some place of retreat,!
the prelate was astonished that he, the king's son-in-law, and
a distinguished warrior, should be traveling unattended, and
he said to him, " Why art thou alone, and no man with thee ?"
In reply, David told a cunning falsehood, representing that
Saul had sent him on a secret mission, and begged to be fur-
nished with such provisions as might be at hand. The priest,
ignorant, to all appearance, of the new feud between Saul
and David, and seeing no improbability in the story which
was told him, made answer that he had nothing but the
shew-bread which had that day been removed to make way
for a new supply, and which it was lawful for the priests
alone to eat. Nevertheless, in a case of extremity like that
of David, he declared his readiness to give him that, pro-
vided that he and his men had not been defiled. Having
been satisfied on that point, he gave David the hallowed
bread, and then, in response to another request, he put into
his hand Goliath's sword. This act of Ahimelech, in giving
the sacred bread to David, has been referred to with com-

* Kitto's "Daily Bible Illustrations," vol. Hi., p. 281.

t It has been supposed by some, that the reference made by David to
his attendants was a falsehood as great as that which he told about the
object of his journey; but the words of the Lord Jesus, when he alludes
to this incident, relieve him from that accusation.



mendation by the Lord Jesus,* and was used by him as a
vindication of his working miracles on the Sabbath. His
allusion to the whole circumstances implies that, where two
obligations come apparently into collision, the lower must
give place to the higher, and that there is nothing in the
sight of God more sacred than the saving of life, or the
helping of suffering humanity, or the salvation of a soul.

But his words, while sustaining the action of the high-
priest, do not in the least degree extenuate the sin of Da-
vid. Some indeed, like Delaney, do not hesitate to vindicate
him even for the deception which he practiced here ; but
David himself, at a later period, deeply bewailed his false-
hood, and, even at the time at which he told it, a circum-
stance occurred which made his heart beat loud with the
upbraidings of conscience, and darkened his soul with the
forebodings of disaster. For in the Tabernacle with him,
detained from traveling by the recurrence of the Sabbath,
was Doeg, an Edomite, the chief shepherd of King Saul ;
and David had a too sure presentiment that the monarch
would by him be speedily informed of the whole affair, and
would take ruthless revenge on all concerned. But there
was another there whom David had forgotten, else he had
never told the lie which wrought such havoc in the holy set-
tlement. God was there ! Had the hunted fugitive but
realized that, it would have kept him from deceit, and the
face of the Edomite would not have troubled him. He who
feareth God needs be afraid of no one else, but when one is
committing iniquity he starts at his own shadow. "The
thief doth fear each bush an officer." At another time Da-
vid would have met Doeg unabashed, but now his heart mis-
gives him at his presence, and he wishes to escape his ob-

* Matthew xii., 3 ; Mark ii., 25 ; Luke vi., 3, 4.


" Thus oft it haps that when within
They shrink at sense of secret sin,

A feather daunts the brave ;
A fool's wild speech confounds the wise,
And proudest princes veil their eyes

Before their meanest slave."*

David remained at Nob no longer than was absolutely
necessary, and on the morning of the first day of the week
he took the path down through the valley, afterward called
by the name of Jehoshaphat, past the Jebusite stronghold
of Zion, and away most probably through the very battle-field
where he had slain Goliath, on to the city of Gath, where he
wished to put himself under the protection of Achish, who
was at that time the head of the Philistian confederacy.

This was a strange, an almost insane, procedure on the
part of David ; yet, if we will but remember that at this
juncture he had lost his faith in the protection of Jehovah,
we shall easily see how he came to act as he did. The oth-
er tribes by whom the Israelites were surrounded were at
peace with Saul, hence none of them would have been likely
to risk a quarrel with him by taking David under their pro-
tection. But the Philistines were the traditional enemies of
the Jews ; hence, if he could ingratiate himself with them,
he might find a secure retreat at the court of their lead-
er. This idea, promising at first view, seems to have been
adopted by David without due reflection on the conse-
quences which might follow from his acting upon it, or on
the conditions on which alone it was possible for him to re-
ceive assistance from the enemies of his nation. Had he
considered for a moment, he might have seen that, even if
the Philistines should receive him hospitably, his very ac-
ceptance of their kindness would seriously compromise him

* Scott's " Marmion."


in after-years. Besides, he might have known that he could
expect the Philistines to defend him, only on the under-
standing that he should make common cause with them,
and take up arms against his own countrymen.

Hence, even as a policy, this flight to Gath was a blun-
der, and David was only saved from its dangers and entan-
glements by the opposition to him of the lords of the Philis-
tines, whose national instinct told them that he could not but
be their constant enemy. They had heard of his populari-
ty among his own people, after the slaying of their gigantic
chieftain ; they had been informed of Saul's jealousy of him ;
they knew, too, in some way or other, that he had been al-
ready designated as Saul's successor, and therefore they re-
garded him with undisguised hostility, and loudly expressed
their dissatisfaction with Achish for permitting him to re-
main in their land. These feelings were very probably in-
tensified when they saw the sword of Goliath in David's
hand, and very soon the indications which met him on ev-
ery hand, that he was most unwelcome, filled his heart with
dismay. His great object then became to get away in safe-
ty. He feared that they might forcibly detain him, and con-
sign him to imprisonment in some one of their fortresses.
Indeed, from the heading of the 56th Psalm, as well as from
the words of Achish in the narrative, it would seem that they
did apprehend him ; so he had recourse to a questiona-
ble expedient to make himself appear contemptible, and al-
together unworthy of the consideration of his enemies. He
feigned madness, going about scribbling on the doors of the
gate, and letting his spittle fall upon his beard ; and so well
did he counterfeit, that Achish held him up to the scorn of
his courtiers, who were all at length glad to be ricl of his
presence. Thus was David taught that "it is an evil thing
and a bitter to forsake the Lord of Hosts." He had lost
his faith in Jehovah, and put his confidence in Achish, and


nothing more salutary could have happened to him than
such a reception as that which was given to him at Gath.
When a youth is going on a wrong course, the best thing
that can befall him is failure and disgrace, and the worst
thing that can come to him is what the world calls success.
If he succeed, the probability is that he will go farther astray
than ever ; but if he fail, there is hope that he will return to
the right path, and seek alliance with Jehovah. This last
was the case with David in the instance before us, if at least
we may judge of the effect which his experience produced
upon him, from the songs which he wrote with special refer-
ence to the incidents at which we have been looking. The
titles of the 34th and 561)1 Psalms connect these odes with
David's residence in Gath; and though there are few ac-
knowledgments of sin in them, yet they indicate that, as the
result and outcome of his trials, he was led to look away
from all earthly helpers to the Lord alone. "This poor
man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of
all his troubles." Perhaps, too, there may be an implied
condemnation of the course which he had been pursuing,
and a virtual resolution to abstain from it in the future, when
he says, "What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many
days, that he may see good ? Keep thy tongue from evil,
and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do
good ; seek peace, and pursue it." And it is scarcely possible
to doubt that, from his own penitence for the sins of which
he had just been guilty, and his own experience of God's fa-
vor' when he returned to him, he was led to sing, " The Lord
is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart ; and saveth
such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of
the righteous : but the Lord delivereth him out of them all."
How interesting, too, it is to picture him to ourselves as, jour-
neying from Gath, and, taking the way that led to the cave in
which he was to find for a time a home, he sings, " Thou tell-


est my wanderings : put them my tears into thy bottle : are
they not in thy book ? When I cry unto thee, then shall mine
enemies turn back : this I know ; for God is for me. In God
will I praise his word : in the Lord will I praise his word.
In God have I put my trust : I will not be afraid what man
can do unto me. Thy vows are upon me, O God : I will
render praises unto thee. For thou hast delivered my soul
from death : wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that
I may walk before God in the light of the living ?" Said I
not truly that David's repulse from Gath was the best thing
that could have happened him ? It sent him back into the
arms of God, and in these notes of trust there is again the
spirit of him who laid Goliath low.

Leaving Achish, David went back to his native land, and
found an asylum in the cave of Adullam. This is now gen-
erally identified with a cave in the side of a deep ravine,
some five or six miles south-west of Bethlehem, and called
the Wady Khureitun. Dr. Thomson, in " The Land and the
Book,"* speaks thus of it: " Leaving our horses in the charge
of wild Arabs, and, taking one for a guide, we started for the
cave, having a fearful gorge below, gigantic cliffs above, and
the path winding along a shelf of rock narrow enough to
make the nervous among us shudder. At length, from a
great rock hanging on the edge of this shelf, we sprang, by
a long leap, into a low window which opened into the per-
pendicular face of the cliff. We were then within the hold
of David, and creeping, half doubled, through a narrow crev-
ice for a few rods, we stood beneath the dark vault of the
first chamber of this mysterious and oppressive cavern. Our
whole collection of lights did little more than make the dark-
ness visible. After groping about as long as we had time to
spare, we returned to the light of day, fully convinced that

* English Edition, pp. 606, 607.


with David and his lion-hearted followers inside, all the
strength of Israel under Saul could not have forced an en-
trance would not even have attempted it." If this, then,
were the cave, it is quite probable that, from its proximity to
Bethlehem, David was already familiar with it. But be that
as it may, in this or in some other similar cavern, he took
up his abode, establishing himself in a kind of independent
chieftainship, and, while religiously refraining from all at-
tacks on Saul, ready to defend himself from every assault.
Nor was he left alone. His brethren and kinsmen joined
his standard, and others, to the number of about four hun-
dred, became his followers. They were a motley multitude,
each individual having his own special reason for the course
he took. Some came because their circumstances were so
bad, that any change, even though it were into a cave, was
an improvement ; others came because they were so deeply
drowned in debt that they could escape slavery only by be-
coming military adventurers ; while others were impelled to
join the company because they were imbittered either by
their own personal sorrows, or by oppression at the hands of
Saul. But all alike were attracted to David because he was
a brave, dashing leader, destined, in the end, to be king over

But there were two who came to the cave very specially
on David's account. The first was Gad, the seer, of whom
now, for the first time, mention is made in the sacred narra-
tive. Perhaps he had made David's acquaintance during
his recent sojourn at Naioth, in the school of the prophets ;
and now, prompted by his own generous heart, or mayhap
obedient to the suggestion of the venerable Samuel, he came,
in the time of the young hero's necessity, to cheer and coun-
sel him during his outlawry.

The other was Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech, the high-
priest, who came from Nob, telling of a terrible tragedy which


Saul had enacted there, and claiming the protection of the
son of Jesse.

The story which he told, supplemented by such details as
the record itself furnishes, was briefly this : Hearing of Da-
vid's escape to Gath, and of his re - appearance in Judah,
Saul made complaint of the lukewarmness of his servants in
carrying out his commands against his rival, and affirmed
that they were all in league with Jonathan in the interests
of David. Upon this, Doeg the Edomite came forward and
told how, on a certain Sabbath when he was at Nob, Ahim-
elech, the high-priest, had given David food, and had pre-
sented him with Goliath's sword. He also alleged that he
had, by means of the Urim and Thummim, " inquired of the
Lord" for him. Of this last there is no record in the nar-
rative, and it was probably added with malignant intent by
Doeg, for consultation of the sacred oracle was reserved for
great occasions, and was generally regarded as the exclusive
privilege of the head of the nation. Hence " the inquiring of
the Lord" for David would be construed by Saul, especially
in the temper in which he then was, as a transference of his
allegiance by the high-priest from Saul to David. The mo-
ment the king heard of it, therefore, he sent for the priests,
and asked if the assertion of Doeg was correct. Ahimelech
replied in a strain of astonishment, like one who knew noth-
ing of the deceit which had been practiced upon him, and
indignantly denied that he had consulted the oracle for
David. What he had done he had done as a mere act of
humanity, and under the impression that he was assisting
one who was traveling with haste, on the urgent business
of the king himself. But his defense was made in vain, for
Saul gave instant orders that the whole colony of the priests
at Nob should be put to death. No Israelite, however,
would execute a command which doomed the anointed of
the Lord to destruction, and so to Doeg, the foreigner, who


had played the mean part of informer, the horrible com-
mission was given. It was a work all too well suited to his
disposition, and he executed it with such sanguinary ferocity
that only one out of the whole number escaped. This was
Abiathar, who managed also to carry with him the ephod,
with the Urim and Thummim, with which he came to David
in the cave. When David heard the tale of blood which
he had to tell, he was filled with the deepest sorrow, and
cried out, in the bitterness of his remorse, " I knew it that
day when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would sure-
ly tell Saul. I have occasioned the death of all the per-
sons of thy father's house. Abide thou with me ; fear not :
for he that seeketh my life, seeketh thy life : but with me
thou shalt be in safeguard." Thus was Saul filling up the
cup of his iniquities ; thus, too, unconsciously on the part of
all concerned, God was fulfilling that terrible doom which he
pronounced in the ear of the young Samuel, when first he
was called to the prophetic office, and which declared that
all the house of Eli should be cut off.

The cave of Adullam, though a place of perfect security,
was yet very far from being an abode of comfort ; and though
David could not but be cheered by the presence and fellow-
ship of his parents with him there, yet he loved them too well
to think of allowing them, in their old age, to share his perils
and privations. Hence, with beautiful and delicate consid-
eration for their comfort and security, he sought from the
King of Moab an asylum for them with him, until his own ca-
lamities were overpast. In making this selection for them,
he was probably influenced by his remembrance of the fact
that Naomi and her family had found in that land a place of
sojourn, and that Ruth, his ancestress, around whose name
such tender associations clustered, was herself a Moabitess.
But whatever his motives were in the choice of the place to
which he sent them, we can not but admire his filial thought-



fulness and devotion ; and we rejoice to see that, under the
shield of the warrior, there still beat the loving heart of a

Here, however, we must break off the interesting story, and
pause a little to gather up the lessons which we may learn
from this, the first chapter in David's life that is darkened by
the shadow of his own evil-doing.

Behold, then, in the first place, how far one will go on in
sin who has lost his faith in God. This, as it seems to me, is
the root from which all the iniquity which we have been
to-night describing sprung. Even when David was with Jon-
athan, immediately after his return from Naioth, he had said,
"There is but a step between me and death;" and after
parting with his friend, he appears to have given up all hope
of ever sitting upon the throne of Israel, and to have acted
as if he regarded it as impossible even for God to fulfill to
him all that he had promised. His unbelief made him reck-
less ; and having lost his hold on God, his feet slipped, and
he fell into grievous sin. Both in the Tabernacle at Nob,
and in the city of Gath, at the court of Achish, he was in this
desponding and sinful spirit ; and this accounts for the de-
ceit, both in words and conduct, of which he was guilty.
There is nothing will keep a man from sin more surely than
confidence in God ; but despair is the most dangerous condi-
tion into which one can fall. While faith and hope last, there
will be energy, and watchfulness, and purity; but with de-
spair come recklessness and folly. WE ARE SAVED BY HOPE ;
but when we despair of God's help, we run into extremes of
wickedness. When a merchant is in difficulties, there is no
great danger so long as he believes that he can retrieve him-
self, and hopes that he will come out all right. But when he
falls into despair, he becomes regardless alike of God or man,
and runs headlong into practices of which in other circumstan-
ces he would never have thought, thereby destroying alike his


character and future. But it is quite similar in spiritual mat-
ters. When a man falls into despair, he is ready for any sin,
and runs blindly and rashly forward upon destruction. Hence,
if we would abide in holiness, we must continue in faith. So
long as Peter looked to Jesus and trusted in him, he could
walk on the waters in safety ; but when he turned his eyes
from the Master's face, and let them rest upon the waves be-
neath him, he began to despair, and despair made him sink.
We can walk anywhere in safety, at the command of Christ,
so long as we have confidence in him ; but when we lose our
faith, we lose our security. " Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
and thou shalt be saved," is true not only of the punishment
which our sins have merited, but also, and with equal, if not
indeed with greater emphasis, of the dangers by which through
life we are beset. The greatest sin you can commit against
God is to despair of his grace ; but it is also the greatest sin
you can commit against yourself, for it carries in it the germ
of manifold iniquity. If, therefore, you would keep yourself
unspotted from the world, be careful to preserve your faith in
the promises, the power, and the salvation of the Lord Jesus.
Behold, in the second place, in this history, how impossible
it is to arrest the consequences of our evil actions. David
lied to Ahimelech, probably thinking not only to secure his
own safety thereby, but also to keep the priest from being
involved with him in the displeasure of Saul. But mark what
ensued. Eighty-five priests, together with all the inhabitants
of Nob, "both men and women, children and sucklings,"
were put to death for this sin of which he, and not they, had
been guilty. I have no doubt that when David heard of all
this, he would willingly have given all that he had, ay, even
his hopes of one day sitting on the throne of Israel, if he
could have recalled the evil which he had spoken, and un-
done its dismal consequences. But it was impossible. The
lie had gone forth from him ; and having done so, it was no


longer under his control, but would go on producing its dia-
bolical fruits. And so it is yet. We can not arrest the con-
sequences of the evil which we do. Whether we will or not,
it will continue to work on. We may, indeed, repent of our
sin ; we may even, through the grace of God for Christ's
sake, have the assurance that we are forgiven for it ; but the
sin itself will go on working its deadly results. You may as
soon think of staying an avalanche midway in its descent
from the Alpine ridge, and so saving the village in the val-
ley from destruction, or of stopping the bullet midway in its
flight, from the musket to the heart of him who will be de-
stroyed by it, as think of arresting the consequences of the
evil which you once have done. A man, let us suppose, has
written an infidel book, or a book whose sole design was
to destroy the purity and corrupt the modesty of youth. In
course of time, however, he becomes himself a convert to the
Christian faith, and has the assurance that all his sins, the
writing of the book among the rest, are forgiven. But he
can not recall the past. He can not take back that book.
It has circulated, it may be, by thousands. Its poison has
gone into many hearts. It has made many skeptics, who
are living and propagating its abominable errors. Or it has
tainted many souls, who are doing their very utmost to carry
out its principles, and destroy the sanctity of our home life,
and the solemnity of the marriage-vow. Yet its author can
not put a stop to all this. The thing has gone from him,
and is now no more under his control. Or, again, one gath-
ers around him a knot of companions who are largely mould-
ed by his influence. He teaches them intemperance. He
introduces them into haunts of sensuality and impurity. He
shakes their faith in the Word of God, and leads them on to
glory in their shame. But after a while he is taken, in God's
providence, to some other city, where Jesus lays hold of him
by his grace, and brings him to his feet. He is converted,


he is forgiven, he is himself renewed and sanctified ; but
he can not undo the mischief of his former evil influence.
That is working still ! ay, and it will continue to work through
one and another, long after his body is beneath the sod, and
his soul is with his Saviour. Ah ! what a thought have we
here ! and how earnest it ought to make the unconverted to
give themselves to Christ at once, lest, by their continuance
in their present course, they should be storing up. for them-

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 8 of 36)