1 Samuel 30 is not recommended reading for children under twelve or adults with squeamish stomachs. Fire, war, plunder, slaughter, stoning, starvation, and general, all-around inhumanity are just seven reasons that this chapter isn't on the good-for-before-bedtime reading list.
Dianne likes reading about Ruth and Boaz falling in love, Miriam rescuing baby Moses, and Esther winning the Miss Media-Persia beauty contest to become Queen. But chapter 30 is my kind of passage: men escaping mayhem, riding camels across the desert, dividing the spoils of war. Yes sir. I tried using these verses for evening devotional a few nights ago, but Dianne said we should go back to our devotional guide as soon as possible, preferably yesterday -- something about it being a "man thing."
I'm being facetious, but only about the part regarding Dianne. It's not hard to see how some of David's most meaningful Psalms were penned during the days described in chapter 30. And I'll tell you right now, I am going to sit next to David at dinner one of these days and get the unabridged version of the chase scene.
David's hometown had been plundered by marauders, and everything was gone: wives, children, livestock, possessions; the city had been burned to the ground, and the men spoke of stoning David because of their bitter loss and anguished souls. Had you been in David's shoes, what would you have done?
He had several options: Gather up the men ready to stone him and show them a thing or two; take a loyalty poll and decide whether to abdicate or fight; give up and say, "I quit"; blame someone else; or put the troops in formation and march off to get even. Any of these would seem reasonable given the circumstances and distress he was feeling.
But David's reaction was extraordinary: Samuel writes, "David strengthened himself in the Lord his God" (v.6) and then, calmly and methodically, asked the Lord what He had in mind for him to do. Only then did he round up his grieving troops and pursue the scoundrel Amalekites.
How did David strengthen himself in the Lord? Can we follow suit?
David sits alone on the rubble of what was once his home. His heart spasms with despair, longing to hear the ecstatic greeting of his family gathering around him. He's home from his trip and all has gone well, but they are ... who knows where, perhaps dead.
The silence is eerie. It harbors grieving men and bitter souls alone with their thoughts. Like David, they had hopes and anticipation for arriving home. They hadn't been expected back so soon and so had been thinking, What fun it will be to watch the kids' jaws drop in astonishment when I walk through the door. I should make it just in time for dinner. My wife will wrap her arms around my neck. They'll think I'm a dream-come-true.
Nightmare is a more apt description of the reality that lies smoking in the valley as David and his army gaze from the hill outside town at what was once home. Each man labors under the weight of his own burden--except for David. He carries his own as well as the yoke of grief that every man, woman, and child under his care feels. Alone with the weight of the world, the fire illuminates his warrior face. No one sees his tears except God, and He catches each drop.
Deep inside, far into the recesses of the man, where spirit and soul become indistinguishable, David contemplates what he knows and takes issue against the enemy's counsel. It would be sheer folly to depend upon the resources of my army to attack this problem. The Lord doesn't need the strength of my horses or the numbers of my men. God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble and in the day of my distress. I will sing of His strength and joyfully sing of His lovingkindness. My flesh and my heart may fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. I will seek the Lord and His strength and determine to do so continually. The Lord is my strength and song. The Lord is my shield; my heart trusts Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him. 1
And he does, but not like the devil would like for you to think. David does not come to the conclusion that God is still on His throne, resolve to trust Him, and begin dancing on the rubble of his burned estate. Psalm 47:1 "Clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy" was not penned at this moment. I doubt seriously that you would have heard any melodious sound from the soon-to-be king. The intention of his heart and the song of his soul were being measured out deliberately deep in the inner man. If composed, the score for these words would read, "Andante with fortitude." These weren't dance tunes. These were steady, major chords of resolute encouragement. No flowery lyrics; simple words of truth and affirmation fueled the spiritual boiler within David's heart.
Beside the smoldering remains, alone, through tears, and while assassination plots fester in the dark, a deliberate counter-force begins to take issue with the onslaught of the enemy. With mounting determination a spiritual tug-of-war begins. The momentum of the enemy and his contingent degenerates into an apparent stalemate with the hosts of heaven, and then, ever so slowly, like a locomotive turning the wheels of a loaded freight train, the strength of the Lord begins the process of reclaiming lost ground.
Like a fighter, David doesn't bolt and run, suppress or sidestep the pain. He faces the challenge before him and stays in the ring. How else would he be able to write the words we read above? For every conundrum constructed by the enemy, David counters with confidence anchored in truth.
Picture it: The Bible says that all the people were bitter and spoke of stoning David. Had I been in his sandals, I think my first words would have been, "OK. Everybody put your rocks down and let's talk reasonably about this predicament." But this man has been chased all over creation by Saul, dodging hurled spears and hiding-out in the wilderness. If asked, I think he would say, "When the Lord takes me home it will be because He's ready, not because a bunch of guys decide to stone me." I don't think it ever crossed his mind to ask his men to put down their rocks.
I hear only the strength and confidence of the Lord when David says to Abiathar, "Please bring me the ephod" (used in praying). A fearful, insecure man would not say, "Please." That simple word tells us that the internal peace of God was being expressed through David. With dignity and confidence he faced the mounting hardship.
In other words, David wasn't strengthened because the Lord told him that he would recover all that had been lost (v. 8). He was strengthened before he ever asked for the ephod. If the people stoned him, he was strengthened. If he never saw his family again, he was strengthened. If Abiathar refused to bring him the ephod, he was strengthened. He was strengthened even as he sat on the ashes of his home.
Being strengthened in the Lord doesn't mean your emotions get the message or that the circumstances change, but it does mean your confidence in the Lord surges and the locomotive of the Spirit begins to build spiritual momentum.
So, sit down. Right where you are. Your perch may be a charred remnant, the front seat of your pickup, the kitchen table, or your mahogany and leather desk chair. But sit down. Let's strengthen ourselves in the Lord. Personalize these thoughts along with me:
It would be sheer folly to depend upon my resources to attack the issues before me. The gifts, power, influence, and strength available to me are a false hope for victory. God is my refuge and strength. He dwells inside me in the form of the Holy Spirit and has been my stronghold and refuge when I have been distressed before. Why wouldn't He be the same today? My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart now and throughout all time. I will seek the Lord and His strength and determine to do so continually. The Lord is my strength, my shield, and my song. I trust Him. And, just by doing so, I am helped. 1
"Thank you Lord. Now, I have decisions to make, a mess to clean up, people to work with, and a few fires to put out. I realize You don't need reminding, but I do. As I stand up to deal with these issues, I'm depending on Your strength."
1 Compiled from Psalms 33:17; 46:1; 59:16; 73:26; 105:4; 118:14; 147:10; 28:7