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David was some grubby little shepherd boy and God made him the king over a prosperous kingdom. Now there’s a nice “rags to riches” story. No wonder we like the story of David…well, parts of it, anyhow. What we actually know about it…which really isn’t much. We know he wrote Psalm 23. We know he killed Goliath [gō-LĪ-ŭth]. Some of us have a vague idea that David’s transition to king was a bit rocky, but most of us fluff that off and focus on the fact that David did finally make it to glory in the end. After David was king, there was the whole Bathsheba [băth-SHĒ-bŭh] mess—but that got cleared up. So David had a pretty sweet life on earth, right? It must be nice to be one of God’s favorites. This is what many Christians think about David, and the rumors of David’s overall cheery life persist today because we are taught to avoid reading the Old Testament for ourselves. Once we’re not reading for ourselves, we have no way of knowing how consistently our preachers and teachers are avoiding certain passages—passages which would totally shatter the many happy rumors which surround Christendom’s favorite heroes.
So how was it for David really? Well, to put it simply, the man’s life was hell. In this post, we’re going to review all of the nightmares Yahweh put David through between the time that He first had him anointed and and the time that David was finally declared king over all of Israel. Talk about a guy going through the spiritual valley.
THE LAST IN LINE (1 Samuel 16)
David started off as the youngest of eight boys. As the youngest, he got the least respect in the family, and he got assigned the worst chores. There was nothing fun about shepherding the family flock. It was hard, lonely, dangerous work. Sheep are nervous, high-maintenance creatures who aren’t going to win any awards for their intelligence. They’ll eat poisonous plants and die unless their human shepherd protects them by going through the grazing land himself and pulling up any dangerous plants. Sheep will wander into thorn bushes in pursuit of some tasty morsel, only to end up hopelessly stuck until their shepherd rescues them. They’ll dehydrate before they’ll drink from moving water, so their human shepherd has to get his hands dirty creating pools of still water for them. Sheep will wander off. They get diseases—the signs of which are often hidden by their dense wool, so their human shepherd has to do routine medical exams to make sure all the members of the flock are healthy. They have no defenses, and they’re anatomically top heavy, so if they roll or fall over, they get stuck and can’t stand up again. Sheep are a lot of work.
When we are first introduced to David in 1 Samuel 16, we learn that he’s out shepherding the family flock when the highly respected prophet Samuel comes to town. Israel’s first king—the rebellious Saul—has just defied Yahweh for the last time, and Yahweh has officially disowned him. The prophet Samuel is deeply grieved about this because he really cares about Saul. But Samuel’s grief has gotten him in trouble with Yahweh, who is tired of watching His prophet mope around. Having His prophets sympathize with humans instead of Him is a problem that we see Yahweh contending with throughout the Old Testament. It seems there just wasn’t any Jew available who would actually care more about God than he did his own countrymen. Today we see the same tiresome pattern among Christians. Oh sure, we talk a great story about being loyal to God until He does something we don’t like and people we care about become adversely affected. Once that happens, we immediately side with the humans against God while we accuse Him of being uncaring and plead for Him to stop hurting the people we care most about. It’s a lousy way to treat our God, but there it is.
At the beginning of 1 Samuel 16, an irritated Yahweh says to brooding Samuel:
“How long are you going to mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have selected a king from his sons.” (1 Sam. 16:1)
Jesse is David’s father. When Samuel shows up at Jesse’s hometown, everyone gets scared, because Yahweh’s prophets are notorious for being bearers of bad news.
So Samuel did as Yahweh instructed. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town came trembling to meet him. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Do you come in peace?” (1 Sam. 16:4)
The ancient Jews were a very theatrical people, and these grown men were literally shaking their bodies as they came to greet Samuel. It was an intentional act on their part which was meant to convey reverence. The hope was that Samuel might calm down and be nice to them if he saw them acting so submissive in his presence. You’ll find a lot of dramatic trembling going on in the biblical records as frightened people try and find ways to diffuse dangerous situations.
Well, Samuel really isn’t a raging volcano, so all of this drama isn’t necessary. Once he convinces people that he hasn’t come to trash the place, Samuel finally ends up at Jesse’s house. Some religious rituals are performed, and then Samuel starts eagerly looking for God to tell him which of Jesse’s sons will be replacing the rebellious Saul. Saul is still on the throne at this point, and no one realizes that Yahweh is serious about rejecting him. Because Saul is tall, dark, and handsome, people were excited about him at first. But now that they’ve had time to see him in action, they’re realizing that he’s a selfish jerk. The longer Saul rules, the more people he abuses, and the nicer the idea of him being replaced starts to sound. But Saul is Israel’s first king, and everyone wants this monarchy thing to work out. So it feels much too early to seriously consider dethroning Saul, and even if it did come to that, the crown should be passed to one of Saul’s sons. Saul has a classy son named Jonathan who would make a very nice candidate, so what is Samuel doing at Jesse’s place?
Saul is from the tiny tribe of Benjamin–a tribe which was almost driven into extinction back in the days of Judges (see Judges 17-21: Anarchy in Israel). The Jews were obsessed with ancestry, so when Yahweh anointed Saul as the first king of Israel, that gave the tribe of Benjamin a real boost. Now Benjamin is the keeper of the royal line, just like the tribe of Levi is the producer of priests. And yet right now Samuel is over in the tribal state of Judah talking to a man who has no family ties to Saul. What kind of sense does this make? Samuel’s behavior is very bizarre, but Jesse is just going with it. If Israel’s most famous prophet wants to anoint one of his sons as king over Israel, Jesse sure isn’t going to protest. Instead, he proudly lines up his boys for the prophet to look over—all except David, that is. David is off in a field somewhere and no one is even bothering to let him know that such a distinguished visitor has come to the house.
Well, handsome seems to run in Jesse’s family and we’re told that his sons are pretty good looking specimens—so much so that Samuel feels certain that the firstborn must be the one Yahweh has in mind. But Yahweh disagrees. In fact Yahweh gives Samuel the thumbs down seven times in a row until the prophet is feeling very confused. God specifically sent him to this house to anoint some son of this Judean man, but now God has said no to all of the sons. Something’s not right. Does Jesse have more sons stashed away somewhere? When Samuel asks, Jesse admits that there is one more boy out in the fields—the youngest. Trying to complete the task that God has given him, Samuel insists that the boy be called in and soon David appears. Immediately Yahweh says that this young guy is the one, so Samuel publicly anoints David by pouring a special perfumed oil over his head while the whole family watches. Then Samuel leaves and everyone had to be feeling very confused.
HOORAY FOR BEING ANOINTED
Okay, so now David has been officially anointed by Yahweh’s prophet as the next king over Israel…but what exactly does that mean? Normally this would be a thrilling moment, and yet it’s not thrilling at all, because Yahweh is doing it wrong. New kings are only supposed to be anointed after the current king has died. Saul isn’t dead. Saul is still reigning, and it’s not like Yahweh is telling him to get out. So what the heck is going on? Why would Yahweh have Samuel anoint David but not send Samuel over to oust Saul? What strange game is Yahweh playing? His official anointing has just turned David into a major target of gossip, and it’s set him up to be a threat to a king who patriotic David is eager to please. David doesn’t want to get on Saul’s bad side. David isn’t interested in causing trouble. Right now this anointing from Yahweh is feeling more like a curse than a blessing for all of the social tension it’s causing.
When Saul was anointed king, there was a lot of celebrating and then Saul got to start ruling right away. But when David is anointed, there’s a bunch of confusion and awkwardness and David doesn’t get to go anywhere special. Instead, he’s stuck at home with seven jealous brothers and a gossiping town to deal with. Hooray for being anointed.
Now while David’s dealing with the fallout of being publicly called by Yahweh to go nowhere and do nothing, Saul is beginning to experience the terrible consequences of defying God. Yahweh is sending demons onto Saul, and the man is experiencing terrible fits of possession which are causing him to freak out in front of others. It’s more than a little embarrassing to publicly lose your cool when you’re the king, so Saul’s advisors try to come up with something. The Jews were a very artistic people, and they felt that music could be very therapeutic. So Saul’s advisors say to him:
“A tormenting spirit from God is troubling you. Let us find a good musician to play the harp whenever the tormenting spirit troubles you. He will play soothing music, and you will soon be well again.” (1 Sam. 16:15-16)
Saul is desperate, so he agrees. A lot of people know that David is a skilled harp player, and suddenly this seems like a great opportunity to get some real drama going in Israel. What will happen if they put the anointed king-to-be in with the current king? Will the two come to blows? Will Saul get jealous? Will Yahweh suddenly do something miraculous and cause David to take over? It’s too good of an opportunity to pass up, so a bunch of folks work together to convince Saul that David would be a good choice. Eager to finally get to prove his loyalties to the current king and squash any rumors that he’s planning trouble, David shows up at the palace eager to serve. He works hard to hit it off with Saul, and soon Saul makes David an official member of his staff. So much for being king over Israel, but perhaps David can finally put that awkwardness behind him and at least find satisfaction in serving Saul.
Well, now we come to that famous battle with the Philistines [FĬL-ĭh-stēns] . Philistia [fĭl-ĬH-stē-ŭh] was one of Israel’s neighbors, and the two nations already have a long history of assaulting each other. So when the Philistine army starts massing together for an attack, Saul has to respond. But Saul’s not in the best of health, and he’s never been that great on the battlefield. So when the Philistines get the freakishly tall Goliath to walk around shouting taunts and curses, Saul is scared. With their leader so obviously afraid, the Israelite army is also scared and everyone’s just sitting around fretting.
By now, David’s exciting time of working on the royal staff has become a lot less exciting. He’s only a part time employee, and when he’s not on duty, he’s expected to return to his father’s house where he’s still doing the grubby job of tending sheep. So much for getting any social status. A modern day parallel for David’s career at this time would be like a man who is working two jobs: one as the admin assistant for the CEO of a major tech company, and the other washing dishes at some low end diner in a crummy section of town. It’s just embarrassing to have to keep showing up for dish duty and letting the whole neighborhood snicker about how you’re such a wannabe who can’t really get anywhere in life.
And then the Philistine attack comes. David’s three oldest brothers have joined Saul’s army, so they are permanently out of the home and hanging out with the military. They’re big stuff, but David’s just the wannabe.
Well, after forty days of babysitting smelly sheep and feeling left out of the action, David’s now elderly father tells him that he should go take some fresh food supplies to his brothers on the battleground. Ah, yes. God’s anointed now gets to play the part of an errand boy who is serving his older brothers. But at least the trip will give David the chance to get a glimpse of the action that he’s dying to participate in.
When David arrives at the battlefield, sees Goliath in action, and hears how frightened the Israelite soldiers sound, he gets steamed. Why is everyone cowering before this pagan loser who dares to mock the glorious Yahweh? Well, David’s big talk ticks off his eldest brother, Eliab [ĕ-LĪ-ŭb] , who comes over and mocks David in front of everyone.
“What are you doing around here anyway?” Eliab demanded. “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!”
“What have I done now?” David replied. “I was only asking a question!” He walked over to some others and asked them the same thing and received the same answer. Then David’s question was reported to King Saul, and the king sent for him. (1 Sam. 17:27-31)
Finally, David’s intentional stalling has paid off and Saul is asking to see him. Eliab was right about one thing—David is trying to get involved. He’s sick to death of being stuck with the stupid sheep while his brothers get to advance in life. After all, David is the one Samuel anointed—not any of them. So why is he being left behind?
Now as much as Saul likes his plucky little harp player, he thinks David is out of his mind when he volunteers to go take on Goliath.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.” (1 Sam. 17:33)
Isn’t being anointed supposed to come with some respect? It sure isn’t happening for David. No one thinks he’s capable of anything, and it’s more than a little frustrating having to beg Saul for a chance to do something. But Saul finally agrees and David goes marching out to show everyone that his connection with Yahweh is more than a joke. At last Yahweh seems to be ready to back David up, and Goliath goes down.
Now just to remind us of how slow moving David’s rise to power is, we come across this humorous comment in 1 Samuel 17.
As Saul watched David go out to fight the Philistine, he asked Abner [ĂB-ner], the commander of his army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?”
“I really don’t know,” Abner declared.
“Well, find out who he is!” the king told him. (1 Sam. 17:55-56)
Really?? Saul doesn’t even know who David is? Nope, and neither does the commander of Israel’s army. This tells us how completely unnoticed David’s anointing has gone by the important people in Israel. Oh sure, being anointed has done a lot to add tension between David and his brothers, and no doubt it’s made him the butt of many jokes in his home town. But among the leaders of Israel, David is just one of many minions helping out at the palace. He’s no one special. He’s just some kid. Sure, Saul likes him, but he hasn’t had any reason to pay any particular attention to David until now. But wait—isn’t being anointed supposed to make you a somebody in this world? This sure isn’t happening for David. It’s been years since elderly Samuel drizzled some oil on David’s head. Years, and David is still wasting his life with the sheep. Could it be that old Samuel made a mistake?
Well, after David defeats Goliath and the Philistines are chased away, David finally gets the chance to have a focused interview with the king. He also gets introduced to Jonathan, the crown prince, and those two immediately hit it off.
From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.
Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. (1 Sam. 18:2-5)
At last it seems like David is starting to get somewhere. He’s best buds with the crown prince. Saul has made him a military commander and God is giving David success over everything. Surely after this it will be smooth sailing until David finally gets to take the throne for himself. Of course that whole idea sounds odd—what about Jonathan? David wouldn’t want to just rip the crown away from his best friend. But surely God will work it out. What matters is that David isn’t just some lowly shepherd anymore. Bring on the challenges—David is ready to shine!
Now this exciting moment of advancement only lasts as long as it takes the Israelite army to chase the Philistines back to Philistia—probably just a matter of weeks. Then, on the long march back to royal headquarters (which was not Jerusalem at this time), David finally gets his chance to walk proudly down the street with Saul, letting everyone observe his new uniform while they cheer for him. And, boy, are they cheering.
When the victorious Israelite army was returning home after David had killed the Philistine, women from all the towns of Israel came out to meet King Saul. They sang and danced for joy with tambourines and cymbals. This was their song:
“Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!”
This made Saul very angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. (1 Sam. 18:6-10)
Yikes, this wasn’t what David wanted. Sure, he’s thrilled to finally get some fame and acclaim, but not at the cost of having Saul hate him. Saul is the guy who is controlling David’s career—he’s the one that passes out the advancements. If Saul starts viewing David as a threat, David might end up back with those darn sheep. What a sickening thought. So the next day, when Saul has one of his demonic fits, David tries to play his best. But then Saul grabs a spear and actually tries to kill David—twice! What is Yahweh doing?? All David did was shine on the battlefield—and yeah, okay, he enjoyed the glory. Who wouldn’t? But didn’t he have it coming to him? After all, he’s the anointed one—isn’t that supposed to mean it’s okay for him to bask a little? Apparently not, because the next thing David knows, Saul assigns him to some distant military post where he has 1,000 soldiers to manage. Well, 1,000 is better than 100, and David does his best. But being unwelcome at the royal palace is really eating at him.
Well, after a bunch of time passes, David is getting a real reputation among the commoners for being a great warrior. So that’s something. And then one day Saul reaches out to David with a shocking invitation: a chance for David to become Saul’s son-in-law. Back during the trouble with Goliath, Saul had promised to give one of his daughters to the man who killed the giant. Now he is suddenly offering to follow through on that promise, which sounds like a very encouraging sign that he is finally ready to drop his grudge against David. And yet little does David know that the whole thing is just a farce to get David permanently out of the way.
One day Saul said to David, “I am ready to give you my older daughter, Merab, as your wife. But first you must prove yourself to be a real warrior by fighting Yahweh’s battles.” For Saul thought, “I’ll send him out against the Philistines and let them kill him rather than doing it myself.” (1 Sam. 18:17)
This grand invitation calls for prudence. David isn’t really invested in having Merab, so he takes the opportunity to do the smart political thing instead by announcing that he’s not worthy of such an honor. Hopefully Saul will be so impressed that he’ll promote David and drop the grudge he’s holding. But instead Saul just marries Merab off to someone else and does nothing for David. Well, rats.
Now Saul has another daughter, Michal [mĭh-CALL] , and she is totally infatuated with David. She’s got it bad for that hot army commander, and once Merab is safely out of the picture, Michal dares to let her feelings be known. Saul is thrilled, for he sees another fine opportunity to try and dispose of David.
In the meantime, Saul’s daughter Michal had fallen in love with David, and Saul was delighted when he heard about it. “Here’s another chance to see him killed by the Philistines!” Saul said to himself. But to David he said, “Today you have a second chance to become my son-in-law!”
Then Saul told his men to say to David, “The king really likes you, and so do we. Why don’t you accept the king’s offer and become his son-in-law?” (1 Sam. 18:20-22)
Oblivious to Saul’s malicious intentions, David now finds himself in a real political pickle. Turning down the first daughter in a grand act of humility was one thing, but another rejection will be seen as insulting. David’s men are all pressuring him to go for it, and Michal is a babe, so perhaps it’s time to stop resisting the blessings God is trying to give him. Well, okay, he’ll agree. But he has to do something to impress the king. After all, in David’s culture, men were supposed to buy their women with a bride price. It was a way of honoring both the dad and the woman by flaunting her great value in material terms. But Michal isn’t just any woman—she’s a royal princess. So what can David do to come up with a bride price that will be grand enough?
When Saul’s men said these things to David, he replied, “How can a poor man from a humble family afford the bride price for the daughter of a king?”
When Saul’s men reported this back to the king, he told them, “Tell David that all I want for the bride price is 100 Philistine foreskins! Vengeance on my enemies is all I really want.” But what Saul had in mind was that David would be killed in the fight. (1 Sam. 18:23-25)
Before you try and clip a man’s foreskin, you’d better make sure he’s all the way dead and that he has no friends around who will rush to defend his honor when you start rifling around in his underwear. Saul is trying to give David an impossible assignment—one that will insure he gets killed. But once again, David is oblivious to Saul’s intentions and he walks right into the trap. Thanks to Yahweh’s supernatural intervention, David actually manages to collect 200 foreskins, and he brings them all back in a sack of nastiness which he presents to Saul. Is it disgusting? To us, yes. But we have our own cultural customs that would have grossed out the ancient Jews, so you have to just roll with the foreskin thing and remember that everything makes sense in context.
Well, now David has a royal wife who is totally smitten with him, and he’s continuing to outshine all of Saul’s other officers on the battlefield. So David is a hero, plus he now has a direct tie to the royal family. It’s finally starting to become possible to imagine how Yahweh might logically pass the crown to David. Now that he’s the king’s son-in-law, perhaps if something happened to Jonathan, everyone would feel that David was the next best choice. Or perhaps Jonathan will decide he doesn’t want to be king for some reason and insist that David take the throne—that would be the ideal scenario, because then David and Jonathan could remain best friends. Yes, things are finally looking up, and David is sure that his troubles are behind him…
EVERYTHING FALLS APART
Only they’re not. David’s troubles are about to get a whole lot worse, because Saul is so frosted about David not dying with that foreskin stunt that he’s now telling all of his servants to come up with a son-in-law assassination plan. Saul even orders Jonathan to find a way to kill David. Jonathan is appalled, and he tries to talk his father out of doing such a thing. Once Saul takes a vow in Yahweh’s Name to never kill David, Jonathan sends his best friend word that the danger has passed and David returns to the royal palace. Saul seems stable—at first. But then one day he’s having another demonic fit and he chucks another spear in David’s direction. He throws the thing so hard that it lodges into the wall, missing David by an inch. So David has no choice but to flee for his life. What is Yahweh doing?
This time, Jonathan’s diplomatic skills aren’t going to save the day. Saul sends troops to David’s house with orders to kill on sight. Michal warns her husband, helps him sneak out in the middle of the night, and fakes his form in the bed with a large idol statue that she has in the house. When Saul’s men come, she tries to stall by saying David is too ill to get out of bed. But Saul sends the troops back to kill David anyway, and then Michal’s ruse is discovered. Now Saul hates Michal, but Michal lies and says David made her lie. Everything is falling apart, and David is fed up. He decides it’s time for old Samuel to clean up the mess he started. After crying all over Samuel, David gets taken to Naioth [NĀ-awth] to live under the prophet’s watchful eye. But how is one old man going to hold off the troops which are now marching to Naioth to murder David?
Isn’t being anointed supposed to come with some Divine protection? This sure hasn’t been working very well for David. By now he’s put his life on the line for Saul countless times only to have his father-in-law give the order for David to be killed by the very soldiers who David should be commanding in battle. The situation is bitterly ironic and Yahweh’s support of David has been frustratingly subtle. Back in Moses’ day, Yahweh cracked the ground open to swallow the men who were trying to murder His anointed one (see Korah’s Rebellion). When Joshua was in battle, Yahweh threw down hailstones from Heaven and made the sun stand still. Why doesn’t David qualify for that kind of visible back-up? Why does he have to run into the night like a scared rabbit after a spear barely misses him? Is this really Yahweh’s idea of supporting His anointed one? What a bitter disappointment this whole anointed package has turned out to be. And now as wizened old Samuel heads out with his motley crew of fellow prophets to go turn back Saul’s oncoming troops, David is feeling more than a little discouraged. What good are prophets against swords and spears?
When the report reached Saul that David was at Naioth in Ramah [RAW-mah], he sent troops to capture him. But when they arrived and saw Samuel leading a group of prophets who were prophesying, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men, and they also began to prophesy. When Saul heard what had happened, he sent other troops, but they, too, prophesied! The same thing happened a third time. Finally, Saul himself went to Ramah and arrived at the great well in Secu. “Where are Samuel and David?” he demanded.
“They are at Naioth in Ramah,” someone told him.
But on the way to Naioth in Ramah the Spirit of God came even upon Saul, and he, too, began to prophesy all the way to Naioth! He tore off his clothes and lay naked on the ground all day and all night, prophesying in the presence of Samuel. The people who were watching exclaimed, “What? Is even Saul a prophet?” (1 Sam. 19:19-24)
Alrighty then. So the king is laying around in his birthday suit casting pearls of wisdom from Yahweh. That’s dignified. And while Saul is completely mesmerized by a stream of epiphanies, David is stuck hiding out in Naioth like a criminal. Sure, Yahweh has clearly intervened on David’s behalf by scrambling the brains of the men who have tried to kill him. But when Saul recovers and puts some clothes on, then what? Why does God keep fussing around with these games instead of coming up with a real solution? David is too frustrated to sit around twiddling his thumbs in Naioth, so he goes on the run again to find Jonathan, who picks now to act naïve about his father’s malicious nature. How maddening.
David now fled from Naioth in Ramah and found Jonathan. “What have I done?” he exclaimed. “What is my crime? How have I offended your father that he is so determined to kill me?”
“That’s not true!” Jonathan protested. “You’re not going to die. He always tells me everything he’s going to do, even the little things. I know my father wouldn’t hide something like this from me. It just isn’t so!”
Then David took an oath before Jonathan and said, “Your father knows perfectly well about our friendship, so he has said to himself, ‘I won’t tell Jonathan—why should I hurt him?’ But I swear to you that I am only a step away from death! I swear it by Yahweh and by your own soul!”
“Tell me what I can do to help you,” Jonathan exclaimed.
David replied, “Tomorrow we celebrate the new moon festival. I’ve always eaten with the king on this occasion, but tomorrow I’ll hide in the field and stay there until the evening of the third day. If your father asks where I am, tell him I asked permission to go home to Bethlehem for an annual family sacrifice. If he says, ‘Fine!’ you will know all is well. But if he is angry and loses his temper, you will know he is determined to kill me. Show me this loyalty as my sworn friend—for we made a solemn pact before Yahweh—or kill me yourself if I have sinned against your father. But please don’t betray me to him!” (1 Sam. 20:1-8)
Saul once vowed in the Name of Yahweh that he wouldn’t kill David—now he’s totally gone back on his word. So this vowing business isn’t worth much, but it’s all David has, so when Jonathan promises to stay loyal to David, David clings to the hope. Then he hides in a field for three days waiting for Jonathan to carry out their plan. So much for the glory of being anointed.
Saul asked Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse been here for the meal either yesterday or today?”
Jonathan replied, “David earnestly asked me if he could go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Please let me go, for we are having a family sacrifice. My brother demanded that I be there. So please let me get away to see my brothers.’ That’s why he isn’t here at the king’s table.”
Saul boiled with rage at Jonathan. “You stupid son of a whore!” he swore at him. “Do you think I don’t know that you want him to be king in your place, shaming yourself and your mother? As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!”
“But why should he be put to death?” Jonathan asked his father. “What has he done?” Then Saul hurled his spear at Jonathan, intending to kill him. So at last Jonathan realized that his father was really determined to kill David.
Jonathan left the table in fierce anger and refused to eat on that second day of the festival, for he was crushed by his father’s shameful behavior toward David. (1 Sam. 20:27-34)
After Jonathan passes the bad news on to David, the two best friends have a tearful parting and David runs off alone. He has now lost his wife, his best friend, and his job thanks to Saul’s jealous mania. Where is Yahweh in all of this? He’s directing every heartbreaking second of it. But why? Well, by now we can see a consistent pattern happening with David. Every time Yahweh does something impressive through David—such as defeating Goliath and collecting that bag of foreskins—David starts getting glorified by his fellow humans. But before he has a chance to soak in the worship and start thinking he really is all that, Yahweh does something to grind his pride into the dirt. David wins, then he loses. He shines, then he’s shunned. He suddenly gets pulled closer to that throne of power in Israel, only to then get hurled even farther away from it than ever before. Now he’s on the run once again, and the only company he has is a scruffy gang of men who probably became emotionally bonded to him on the battlefield.
ON THE RUN
As we begin 1 Samuel 21, David and his men arrive at the city of Nob and he stops to see a priest named Ahimelech [ŭh-HĬM-ŭh-lĕk]. This whole mess has left David no time to prepare so he has no food or supplies with him and by now he and his men are famished. So he asks the priest for food, but the priest only has the Bread of the Presence—holy bread which was baked for Yahweh every Sabbath, and eaten by priests who had gone through appropriate purification rituals. Non-priests were not supposed to touch the bread, let alone eat it. But David looks famished, and he’s making up a phony story about being on a royal mission for Saul. So Ahimelech finally decides that the moral thing to do would be to help out his fellow humans and he hands the bread over. When David asks for a weapon, Ahimelech gives David the spear which David used to kill Goliath. Armed with only this one weapon, David then rushes on to the Philistine city of Gath [găth]. This marks a new low point in David’s life: having to hide out among the hated Philistines because he’s afraid to be in his own homeland. Gath was the hometown of Goliath—what an ironic twist. And yet even here David isn’t safe, because his reputation of being a fearsome warrior is so great in Israel that even the Philistines have heard of it, and they’re really not fans of harboring an Israelite commander who has been responsible for murdering countless numbers of their own soldiers.
King Achish [Ā-kĭsh] is the fellow in charge of the city of Gath, and David thinks that if he can visit Achish in person, perhaps he can get permission to stay in the city peacefully. But when David’s arrival is being announced, David hears Achish’s officers warning the king that David is trouble.
So David escaped from Saul and went to King Achish of Gath. But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances while they sing: ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”
David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard.
Finally, King Achish said to his men, “Must you bring me a madman? We already have enough of them around here! Why should I let someone like this be my guest?” (1 Sam. 21:10-15)
Pretending to be mentally unstable gets David kicked out of Achish’s courts, no doubt amid a shower of mocking taunts. So much for his great reputation among these Philistines—will the pride stomping moments never end? To be reduced to some drooling maniac when he was once looked up to as a great military commander—David’s life has become a total misery. And his efforts to lie his way out of things isn’t working so well. Sure, he’s saving his neck, but he’s not getting any real solutions.
Since living among people is proving too dangerous, David runs to a cave. Here’s a new low point: the great warrior is hiding out in some lonely cave because he’s afraid to show his face anywhere. By now all of Israel probably knows that David is a wanted man, and rumors of his drooling performance are no doubt circulating through Philistia. So this is what it means to be anointed? What a bitter disappointment.
Well, David doesn’t stay alone for long. Word spreads about his location and soon his brothers come with their sympathies. Then the rabble start to collect: society’s failures and angry grumblers. They all start to rally around David, and soon he’s got an army of 400 guys looking to him to give them a new purpose in life.
Well, by now David is concerned about the safety of his family. Afraid that his parents will be targeted by Saul, he relocates them to the neighboring nation of Moab [MŌ-ăb] and pleads with the king there to let his parents live there peacefully. Moab and Israel are also enemies, but Jesse’s grandmother is a Moabite, so the king agrees and David’s parents remain in Moab the whole time that David is struggling with his situation. By now, he’s feeling totally disillusioned and frustrated, as his comment to the king of Moab reveals:
“Please allow my father and mother to live here with you until I know what God is going to do for me.” (1 Sam. 22:3)
What is God thinking? What is His point in having David so endlessly persecuted when David hasn’t even done anything? Let’s hear it for being anointed.
Well, one day a prophet named Gad [găd] suddenly gets a word from Yahweh and he tells David to leave his cave stronghold which was close to the border of Philistia and return to the tribal state of Judah. David plays it safe by moving his men to a forest within Judah’s territory and of course Saul soon hears about it and he’s ticked. Saul is in the state of Benjamin sitting under a tree holding a spear at the time he hears the news and he immediately starts yelling at all the men around him. Saul always looks dangerous when he starts going on a bender, and by now everyone knows he has a history of suddenly hurling his spear when he’s mad. So when Saul accuses everyone around him of being a dirty traitor and secretly siding with David, Doeg [DŌ-ĕgg] the Edomite [Ē-dō-mīte] tries to win the king’s favor by ratting out one of David’s allies: that priest who once gave David and his men the sacred bread. That was a while ago now, but Doeg is desperate to get Saul to calm down.
Saul immediately orders priest Ahimelech and his whole family of priests to be brought to him. When they are, Saul demands an explanation. Of course Ahimelech has no idea that he helped a criminal because David lied and pretended to be on a mission for Saul at the time he conned the priest into helping him.
“But sir,” Ahimelech replied, “is anyone among all your servants as faithful as David, your son-in-law? Why, he is the captain of your bodyguard and a highly honored member of your household! This was certainly not the first time I had consulted God for him! May the king not accuse me and my family in this matter, for I knew nothing at all of any plot against you.”
“You will surely die, Ahimelech, along with your entire family!” the king shouted. And he ordered his bodyguards, “Kill these priests of Yahweh, for they are allies and conspirators with David! They knew he was running away from me, but they didn’t tell me!” But Saul’s men refused to kill the Lord’s priests.
Then the king said to Doeg, “You do it.” So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. (1 Sam. 22:14-19)
David’s attempt to handle his own problems by lying to God’s priests has just backfired on him. When he finds out, he feels terrible about it. He also confesses to seeing Doeg around at the time and worrying that he might tell. So David takes in Abiathar [uh-BĪ-uh-thar]—the one son who survived the massacre—and promises to protect him.
As we start 1 Samuel 23, David hears rumors that Philistines are attacking a Judean city named Keilah [KĒY-lah] that is close to their border. Having neighboring nations always nipping at their borders was a common problem for kings in Bible times. The nipping would test the strength of a king’s response, and if he didn’t react strongly, then the invaders would seize the territory and claim it as their permanent property. If David was still working for Saul, he might be ordered to address this Philistine invasion. But right now David is a rogue commander who isn’t working for anyone. And yet David is also a fierce patriot, and these Philistine jerks are hassling his own people. So David wants to help, but first he asks priest Abiathar [ŭh-BĪ-ŭh-thar] to consult the will of Yahweh. It seems David is learning to slow down and ask God instead of just rushing ahead—perhaps the massacre at Nob has helped to get his priorities back in line. After Abiathar tosses a set of sacred lots which were specifically used to seek the will of Yahweh, David gets the green light to go take on the Philistines. But David’s army is nervous. They’re hiding out in the trees right now—why would they want to risk going out into the open to take on a bunch of angry Philistines? But David is determined, so they go and God gives them victory.
Now you’d think the folks in Keilah would be grateful to David and his men for saving their city. But what will happen when Saul finds out that David has come out into the open like this?
Saul soon learned that David was at Keilah. “Good!” he exclaimed. “We’ve got him now! God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself in a walled town!” So Saul mobilized his entire army to march to Keilah and besiege David and his men.
But David learned of Saul’s plan and told Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod and ask Yahweh what he should do. Then David prayed, “O Yahweh, God of Israel, I have heard that Saul is planning to come and destroy Keilah because I am here. Will the leaders of Keilah betray me to him? And will Saul actually come as I have heard? O Yahweh, God of Israel, please tell me.”
And Yahweh said, “He will come.”
Again David asked, “Will the leaders of Keilah betray me and my men to Saul?”
And Yahweh replied, “Yes, they will betray you.” (1 Sam. 23:7-12)
Well, what a ray of sunshine Yahweh is being. Would it really be the end of the world for God to step up and rescue David from Saul’s murderous thugs? Probably not, but Yahweh does what Yahweh wants to do, and rescuing David isn’t something He’s offering. So David has to run—again. This time it’s off to roam in the desert for a while, then it’s off to roam endlessly through the hill country, always looking for signs of Saul tracking him down. And Saul is trying to track him down—the man is obsessed and he just won’t let it drop. How very tiresome.
Now one day David hears that Saul is getting very close to his location. But before he can start to run, Jonathan shows up with a word of encouragement.
One day near Horesh [HŌR-esh], David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph [zĭff] to search for him and kill him. Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before Yahweh. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh. (1 Sam. 23:15-18)
How encouraging to hear that Jonathan still believes David’s anointing means something, because by now David has got to be wondering if the whole thing has been a bad joke. But in David’s hassled life, the good moments never last long, and shortly after Jonathan leaves, more trouble comes.
But now the men of Ziph went to Saul in Gibeah [GĬB-ē-ŭh] and betrayed David to him. “We know where David is hiding,” they said. “He is in the strongholds of Horesh on the hill of Hakilah [hŭ-KĪ-lŭh], which is in the southern part of Jeshimon [jĕh-SHĪ-mŏn]. Come down whenever you’re ready, O king, and we will catch him and hand him over to you!”
“May Yahweh bless you,” Saul said. “At last someone is concerned about me! Go and check again to be sure of where he is staying and who has seen him there, for I know that he is very crafty. Discover his hiding places, and come back when you are sure. Then I’ll go with you. And if he is in the area at all, I’ll track him down, even if I have to search every hiding place in Judah!” (1 Sam. 23:19-23)
What a royal pain in the neck Saul is. When David hears of the betrayal, he flees into the desert. Saul pursues. David moves even further into the hostile terrain. Saul pursues. Soon Saul is so close that there is only one wimpy hill between the two armies. But then, just as Saul’s men are closing in to start the bloodbath, urgent news comes that Israel is getting invaded by those pesky Philistines once again. So Saul calls off the hunt and rushes back to do his royal duty. Whew, what a close one. But why does Yahweh have to cut it so close? Is He trying to give David ulcers? No, but He is teaching David dependency. Yahweh doesn’t want David going through life depending on his own wits and muscles to get him out of jams. Yahweh wants David to depend on God and give God alone the glory. These aren’t easy lessons to learn for a guy as talented as David. So Yahweh is putting David through many years of pride-grinding experiences in order to prepare him to be the kind of king that Yahweh wants him to be.
A DELICATE TRUCE
As soon as Saul deals with his Philistine problems, he returns to hunting David. A fellow has to go to the bathroom at some point during these endless walks, and when Saul feels the need, he heads into a cave to relieve himself. Little does he realize that David and some of his men are hiding farther back in that same cave—talk about awkward! But with Saul separated from the 3,000 soldiers he has brought with him, this is a prime opportunity for David to free himself from his tormentor once and for all. David’s men all urge him to make his move and strike Saul down. So David slinks forward craftily and get so close that he cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe without Saul even noticing. Such is the way when you’re a king—you end up hauling around a lot of extra layers of fabric.
Well, as soon as David cuts Saul’s robe he feels convicted by God not to go through with his murderous plans. So he sneaks back and tells his men to forget it, then he waits for Saul to leave the cave. Hurrying after him, David shouts out to Saul. When Saul turns around, David unloads a volley of complaints that all come down to Saul being utterly unfair to treat David as a traitor when David has always been true blue. Saul is so impressed by David’s speech—and especially by David’s decision to spare his life—that Saul apologizes and promises to back off.
“May Yahweh reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today. And now I realize that you are surely going to be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will flourish under your rule. Now swear to me by Yahweh that when that happens you will not kill my family and destroy my line of descendants!” (1 Sam. 24:19-21)
Because the heirs of kings feel entitled to the throne, mass murdering all the members of a royal line was a common precaution to take when you took over the throne as an outsider. Now that he’s acknowledged that David’s anointing is probably worth something after all, Saul wants David to promise that he won’t kill off all of Saul’s line when it’s his turn to rule. So David promises and the two part ways.
At the start of 1 Samuel 25, we’re told that the prophet Samuel dies. So much for David being made king in Samuel’s lifetime. That had to be a confidence shaker. But what can a guy do? David has now relocated his men to another position in Judah, and there he runs into a real sour apple named Nabal [NĀ-băl]. When David politely asks Nabal for some supplies, Nabal responds with a bunch of insults. Well, in these times, it’s dangerous to insult an army. Instead, you’re supposed to understand that when an army commander asks you for supplies, he’s not really asking, he’s ordering you to share. Then you’re supposed to be grateful that the commander is being polite about it instead of just attacking you outright.
Well, Nabal isn’t grateful. He tells David’s messengers to step off. When David hears about it, he gets into an entitled rage and decides to let Nabal have it. Here’s where Nabal’s wife Abigail acts fast to appease David’s army and try to make up for her husband’s bad manners. Abigail not only sends a bunch of food, but she delivers a real ego-stroking speech that no man could resist, so David calms down. Ten days later, Nabal dies and David takes honey-tongued Abigail as his wife. He also picks up a third wife from another city. So now he has two wives on the road and one back home at the royal castle. But then Saul takes David’s first wife Michal and marries her off to another man—ouch.
THE BROKEN TRUCE (1 Samuel 26)
Now of course Saul’s promise not to harm David doesn’t last long. Soon he’s on David’s heels again, and in 1 Samuel 26 we read about a second time when David spares Saul’s life. Once again he makes a big scene in front of Saul and in front of Abner, Saul’s top commander—demanding to know why Saul is persecuting him. Once again Saul responds with apologies and sweetness. Saul tells David to come home, but David refuses because he knows what a liar Saul is. But he is so tired of always being on the run.
But David kept thinking to himself, “Someday Saul is going to get me. The best thing I can do is escape to the Philistines. Then Saul will stop hunting for me in Israelite territory, and I will finally be safe.” (1 Sam. 27:1)
It’s time to return to Gath and give King Achish [Ā-kĭsh] another try. This is the fellow that David acted like a drooling dingdong in front of a while back. Now that David’s reputation has been totally soiled, he’s hoping that Achish won’t feel so threatened by him. And Achish doesn’t feel threatened—instead, he lets David and his 600 men settle in the Philistine town of Ziklag [ZĬK-lăg].
Now if you’re going to be welcome in Philistia, you’d better be loyal to Philistine causes. An army commander like David is expected to express his loyalty by raiding Judean towns and assaulting his fellow Jews. David does indeed spend his days raiding—but not Israelites. Instead, he attacks desert dwellers who were common enemies to both Philistia and Israel. He loots these places, then murders everyone in the town. And when he returns home all sweaty and victorious, he sends lying reports to King Achish that he spent the day sacking villages in Judah. Achish is fooled—God, not so much. And the more David lies, the more Achish believes that David’s loyalties really have switched to Philistia. So when it comes time for the Philistines to launch another major assault on Israel, Achish commands David and his army to join the attack. David agrees enthusiastically—but he’s also aware that this turn of events is a major problem. When David is not being supervised, he makes sure to murder anyone who might rat him out to Achish regarding where he’s doing his pillaging. But if he is fighting with Achish’s men side by side, they’re going to notice that David’s guys aren’t attacking their fellow Jews.
Now when word reaches Israel that the Philistines are amassing for a major attack, Saul panics. He is so desperate for help from Yahweh that he gets a witch to try and bring the spirit of Samuel up from the underworld (see Lessons Learned When King Saul Consults a Dead Man). That plan backfires and Saul only ends up being told he’s going to die the very next day.
Meanwhile, as multiple Philistine kings combine forces for this massive attack on Israel, King Achish starts getting a lot of flak for bringing along a bunch of Hebrew helpers. Achish insists that David is a trustworthy ally—which David is not. But the other Philistine kings don’t trust David, and they demand that he leave the battlefield. So Achish sends David home, and David goes off in a big pout that he puts on just to keep up his act of being pro-Philistia. David has been telling a lot of lies lately, and it’s time for him to stop being so clever and return to depending on Yahweh to do his fighting for him. So when David and his men return to their home base of Ziklag, they are shocked to discover that the whole place has been burned to the ground and all of their families kidnapped by Amalekite [ŭh-MĂL-lŭh-KĪT] raiders. Cue the massive Jewish meltdown as grown men cry their eyes out and wail at the top of their lungs. Next comes talk of mutiny as David’s men all blame him for this disaster. Suddenly David is looking upward again, and calling on the priest Abiathar to inquire of Yahweh for him. Yahweh tells David to go after the raiders, so David does, and Yahweh gives him a miraculous victory. All of the stolen people and property are recovered and David gets his angry army to calm down. Big sigh of relief.
THE DEATH OF SAUL (2 Samuel 1)
Just as Yahweh predicted, Saul dies in the battle with the Philistines. Jonathan dies along with his father, and David learns of their deaths at the start of 2 Samuel. He’s crushed by the loss of Jonathan, and of course there are mixed emotions about Saul. But now comes the big question: is Yahweh finally ready to make David king of Israel? When Yahweh tells David to move back to Judah, things are looking up. When David settles into the Judean city of Hebron, the men of Judah come and anoint him as king over their tribal state. Well—it’s a start. Now he just needs the other eleven states to get on board and he’ll finally be able to—wait, what is this? Abner, Saul’s top military commander, has just anointed Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth [ĬSH-BŌ-shĕth] as king over all of Israel. This can’t be happening. But it is happening. All of Israel except for Judah is rallying behind Ish-Bosheth. What is Yahweh doing??
Well, now David is king over one tiny little tribal state and he’s ruling from Hebron [HĒ-brŏn]—a city 19 miles from Jerusalem. Whoop-dee-do. This is hardly a fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy. In fact, it’s just downright embarrassing the way all of the states except one have rejected David as their king.
Now while Abner is the top general for Ish-Bosheth, Joab [JŌ-ăb] is David’s top general. When Abner suddenly moves some of his troops to Gibeon [GĬB-ē-ŏn]—which is only five miles from Jerusalem and very close to the northern border of Judah—naturally Joab rushes to respond. The two generals end up glaring at each other across a pool. The air is filled with tension and testosterone. Then Abner proposes a little contest. How about some of his guys face off with some of Joab’s guys for the sake of proving whose army is tougher? Joab agrees, of course. In this cultural context, it was unthinkable to back down from such a challenge. Both generals then pick twelve of their best guys for the contest. But no sooner does the test of manliness begin than it is over. Each man seizes his opponent by the hair and rams him in the side with a sword. Twenty four bodies then plop onto the ground and, wow, that was a total waste of twenty four skilled warriors.
Now everyone is angry and of course a major civil war breaks out right then and there with Jews slaughtering Jews. Joab soon gets the upper hand while nasty old Abner is forced to flee. But while Abner’s trying to get away, Joab’s brother is in hot pursuit. We’re told Asahel [ĂS-ŭ-hĕl] could run as fast as a gazelle and Abner can’t shake him. Abner also can’t let Asahel kill him, because Abner is a general, and generals can’t be bested by underlings. So Abner warns Asahel to back off because he really doesn’t want to turn Joab into his mortal enemy by killing Joab’s irritating brother. But when gazelle-boy won’t listen to reason, Abner has to kill him to save his own neck. It’s one of those bitter moments in war, and of course it escalates the whole thing because Joab now feels he must avenge his brother at any cost. So Joab goes in raging pursuit of Abner, who at least has the wisdom to see that this whole thing is getting way out of control. Gathering his men together at the top of the hill, Abner looks down at Joab and tries to reason with him to stop the madness.
Abner shouted down to Joab, “Must we always be killing each other? Don’t you realize that bitterness is the only result? When will you call off your men from chasing their Israelite brothers?”
Then Joab said, “God only knows what would have happened if you hadn’t spoken, for we would have chased you all night if necessary.” So Joab blew the ram’s horn, and his men stopped chasing the troops of Israel. (2 Sam. 2:26-28)
Wow, what a mess. Both armies finally retreat, but the war is far from over. Instead, it lasts for many years, with Abner becoming more and more powerful among the eleven tribes that were loyal to the family of Saul. Meanwhile, King Ish-Bosheth [ĬSH-BŌ-shĕth] is becoming quite the ungrateful irritant. When Ish-Bosheth has the nerve to accuse Abner of sleeping with one of the royal concubines, Abner’s disgust with his king becomes too much to bear, and he decides to change his loyalties over to David.
One day Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s son, accused Abner of sleeping with one of his father’s concubines, a woman named Rizpah [RĬZ-paw], daughter of Aiah [Ā-yaw].
Abner was furious. “Am I some Judean dog to be kicked around like this?” he shouted. “After all I have done for your father, Saul, and his family and friends by not handing you over to David, is this my reward—that you find fault with me about this woman? May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t do everything I can to help David get what the Lord has promised him! I’m going to take Saul’s kingdom and give it to David. I will establish the throne of David over Israel as well as Judah, all the way from Dan in the north to Beersheba [bĕr-SHĒ-bŭh] in the south.” Ish-Bosheth didn’t dare say another word because he was afraid of what Abner might do.
Then Abner sent messengers to David, saying, “Doesn’t the entire land belong to you? Make a solemn pact with me, and I will help turn over all of Israel to you.” (2 Sam. 3:7-12)
Well, well, what is this? General Abner is changing sides? It sounds too good to be true, so as a test of loyalty, David demands that his first wife Michal [mĭh-CALL] be returned to him. Abner makes it happen. Abner is so done with supporting that twit Ish-Bosheth. Abner knows that many of the leaders in Israel are also wanting to switch loyalties, so he meets with them, gets them stoked about the whole idea of unifying all of the tribes, then he heads on down to Judah for a “let’s be friends” diplomacy dinner.
Now when the big dinner happens, General Joab is out raiding somewhere for the glory of Judah. Just as he comes home with a bunch of loot, he learns that David and Abner are getting all chummy and that Abner is promising to hand over the rest of Israel. Well, Joab’s not buying it. When he sees Abner, all he can think about is how Abner killed Joab’s baby brother. So Joab goes after Abner, who is happily on his way home with bright plans for his future. Joab sends messengers to con Abner into coming back to receive some message from David. Then when Abner shows up, Joab knifes him in the gut. Exit Abner.
Can anything ever go smoothly for David? Apparently not. When he hears what Joab has done, he is furious.
When David heard about it, he declared, “I vow by Yahweh that I and my kingdom are forever innocent of this crime against Abner son of Ner. Joab and his family are the guilty ones. May the family of Joab be cursed in every generation with a man who has open sores or leprosy or who walks on crutches or dies by the sword or begs for food!” (2 Sam. 3:28-29)
David can’t afford to kill Joab, so he does the next best thing by verbally cursing him. The Jews were big believers in the power of the spoken word, and they really thought they could mess people up by speaking curses against them and their families—especially if Yahweh’s Name was thrown into the mix. Do such curses really have power? Not at all. The whole cursing package is a bunch of superstitious nonsense, but it’s what the Jews did.
So now that Joab has done this crime, the only way to try and stop a huge bloodbath from breaking out between the tribes is if David convinces the northern states that he really had nothing to do with killing Abner. So David puts on a grand funeral ceremony for Abner and he orders Joab and all of his top guys to go around in torn burlap. After letting the whole world know how he was fasting and wailing with great sorrow for Abner, David wins over the loyalty of the northern kingdom.
Now when Abner died, he took Ish-Bosheth’s spine with him, and when the king finds out about his general’s death, he is paralyzed with fear. What good is a king who completely crumbles under pressure? Ish-Bosheth’s people are tired of enduring him, so they cook up an assassination plan and kill him while he’s taking a nap. Exit Ish-Bosheth.
Now when the two assassins bring Ish-Bosheth’s head to David as proof that they did the deed, they expect to be rewarded. But David kills them instead, because he feels that the murder was morally unjustified. After all, Ish-Bosheth was napping, and he did have a legitimate right to take the throne after his father.
DAVID BECOMES KING
After the death of Ish-Bosheth, the northern tribes finally come to David and ask him to be their king. By now David has reigned seven and a half years over lonely little Judah and he’s thirty years old. He’ll reign over the rest of Israel for 33 years, bringing his total time as a monarch to 40 years. It’s been a very long, arduous journey from the time he was first anointed to the time that he actually saw that promise fulfilled. And the thirty-three years that are stretching out ahead of him won’t be a cakewalk. He’ll have his ups and downs. He’ll make some very bad choices and get hit with some major discipline by Yahweh. But over all, he’s going to end up in a good place with God because God forced him to wait so long and ground his pride down so hard. You see, it’s the relationship that God cares about, not the circumstances. When He prophesies grand things for our futures or calls us to serve Him in some highly public way, He knows how easy it is for us to get distracted by the excitement of it all and totally forget His Name. So He begins to prepare us to stay on course, and those preparations are quite miserable to endure. But we need them—we need them desperately. If we lose a ministry or a career, we have lost nothing. But if we lose God, we have lost everything.
In the world today, so many souls are fighting hard against the preparation God is offering them. They resist His methods. They refuse to listen to His convictions. They try to use submission as a bartering tool instead of casting themselves entirely into His hands. For many, they resist too long and God gives them up. He backs away as He did from Saul and refuses to ever offer them a second chance at succeeding with Him. If you are wise, you’ll choose to cooperate with God’s methods.
In the Church today, the term “anointed” has come to be associated with a life that is filled with blessings–worldly blessings, that is. The kinds of benefits and perks that other humans can see, count, and envy. If we’re honest, that’s a big part of what we’re looking for down here: we want a life that others consider worth envying. That’s why we spend so much time trying to flaunt and exaggerate what we already have–we want others to notice us and think we’re going somewhere. And yet what does it really matter if we land that great career or start that thriving ministry or score that attractive spouse? None of these things can satisfy the needs of our souls.
As a Christian, you need to decide what kinds of blessings you want to go for–what kind of “anointed life” you want to experience. There are two basic choices: you can chase after the things you can touch and see and wave in other people’s faces. Or you can pursue the invisible things–things which you won’t be able to even describe to anyone else, much less flaunt.
The accounts that other men chose to record about David don’t make the man sound particularly good. He certainly had moments when he displayed good character–like the times when he refused to kill Saul. But he also spent his early years murdering countless men, women and children just because of their location and ethnicities. David’s moral compass was clouded by a lot of hypocrisy. He was swift to justify his own actions while condemning others for the same kinds of actions. So today should we be exalting David in the Church and saying he is some fabulous spiritual role model? No, we shouldn’t. David certainly had some good moments, but he had a lot of bad ones, too. Like all humans, David was a mixed bag. We need to be discerning when we’re reading about him and not start calling carnality righteousness just because David is the one being carnal. Like all of us, David had a lot of growing up that he needed to do, and what we find in the accounts of his early life are evidence of God making room for that growth to happen by plaguing David with trial after trial.
If David had had things his way, he would have ruled over all of Israel right away. He would have quickly ascended through the social ranks of Israel and been showered with praise the whole way. But God knew that it would be far better for David to have to live like a wanted criminal for many years first. God gave David what David needed in order to thrive spiritually later on.
We human set our sights on treasures in this world, because this world is all we’ve known. But if we listen, we can hear God whispering to our souls, calling us to set our sights on higher things: things of eternal value which will truly satisfy our souls. The question is, are you going to settle or are you going to ask God to have His total way with you? No matter what you choose or how much you compromise, you’re never going to have a perfect life on earth—God will make sure of that. But if you choose wisely by embracing His will for your life, then in the end you won’t care about all the sacrifices and suffering you had to do along the way.
Today the kind of “anointing” that the Church teaches you to crave is nothing more than a carnal lust for fame and acclaim. Don’t settle for something so cheap and meaningless. Instead, go for the higher prize that God wants for you. His version of success doesn’t come with any fancy titles or degrees. You can’t flaunt it on a stage or sell it on the internet. But you’ll be free, you’ll be filled with joyful peace, and you’ll have learned that God is always worth waiting for.
Toxic Success: How Thriving Ministries Can Drive Us Away From God
Better than Heaven: Pursuing What Really Matters
The Spiritual Cost of Pursuing Fame
Anointed: What it Does & Doesn’t Mean
Understanding Refinement: Why God is Brutalizing You
The Purpose of Spiritual Deserts
Can Christian leaders claim special protection from God?
Being Called by God: The Responsibility & The Risk