A Man After God’s Heart: Long Year
The ascent only makes the fall farther.
Brian Picollo was a white fullback for the Chicago Bears in the 1960’s. His teammate, Gale Sayers, was his best friend and star of the team. He was also a black man living in America in the 60’s. The movie Brian’s Song shows how their friendship evolved over the years despite the racial divide of the country and their rivalry and competition on the field. At one point in the movie, Picollo is helping Sayers rehab his torn up knee for the season. Picollo wants to beat out a healthy Sayers for the running back position. Picollo says that Sayers doesn’t know how lucky he has it. The starting spot and the guaranteed contract and all. Sayer’s response is classic: “You (Picollo) think I have it great. You sit and wonder ‘will it ever come?’ (referring to a starting spot, money, fame), but I sit and wonder ‘when’s it all gonna go away?'”
Sayers has reached the top and a fall from there would be catastrophic.
It had been years since David’s life was normal, let alone mountain-top worthy. The moment that the stone left his sling in the valley, his life became hectic. There were few high points from then to now. Even the high-points only made the bulls-eye on him grow. But for the last year and four months, things had been normal.
He had a place. For the last decade David has been sleeping in caves and crags, moving from desert to desert, and finding refuge wherever he can find it. As soon as his pursuers come within earshot, he packs camp and goes to find his next home. In 1 Samuel 27, David realizes that one of these day’s Saul might get a shot at him. So his best bet is to escape to the enemy, the land of the Philistines. He settled in Gath, the home of the vanquished Goliath, and a place familiar to him (21.10-15). The royal city life wasn’t for David, however, and he asked for King Achish to give him a place. The town of Ziklag was given to David to live in (27.6) and for the first time in years, David has an address…and a home.
He had peace. For the first time in a decade, David didn’t close his eyes at night wondering when he would be roused. He didn’t fall asleep to baying dogs giving chase. When Saul heard David was hiding among the Philistines, he gave up his search (27.4). No more running, hiding, or eluding. David had the rest he longed for.
He had a people. His men were with him. And with them were their families (27.3). When he first took off, it was just him. It was 10 years ago that David fled (20.42-21.1). Even Ahimelech was perplexed by this, asking David: “Why are you alone?” (21.1) But hiding at the Cave of Adullam, his family came to him (22.1). Then it was the indebted, the distressed, and the outcasts numbering in the 400’s (22.2). Eventually 600 men would join his ranks (23.16). Now, they lived in Ziklag: him, his wives, his men, and their families. He was part of a community.
He had a purpose. When Joshua led the conquest of the land of Canaan, he sent each tribe to their allotted land with some homework. They were to finish conquering their area. Ziklag was allotted to both the tribe of Simeon (Josh 19.5) and Judah (Josh 15.31) but neither one bothered to take the city. David, by asking and receiving the city of Ziklag, achieved what his forefather’s hadn’t (1 Sam 27.6). David was completing the conquest, 400 years after it had begun. The same can be said of the land of “the Geshurites” (Josh 13.1-2), “the Amalekites” (Ex. 17.15-16; Dt. 25.17-19), and “the Girzites” who lived in the land that was supposed to be Judah’s (27.8-9). His purpose was fulfilling what God had begun many years prior.
He had power. He raided land with his men and brought back plunder. He gave it to Achish, the King of Gath, to gain standing. He accumulated wealth and animals. His people were happy and well fed. He was so successful (in the same way that he was with Saul) that Achish trusted him (1 Sam. 27.12). When it came time to go out to battle, Achish wanted his right hand-man with him as his “body guard for life.” (28.2) David had now achieved second in command status in two different armies…pretty good resume.
David and his men marched out to battle with Achish (29.2) but on the way the other Philistine Kings questioned Achish’s decision to bring David along. They knew how many Philistine men had fallen by David’s sword, his battle accomplishments, and his reputation (29.4-5), so they pressured Achish to send him back to Ziklag. David took offense to this, as he had done nothing to upset, usurp, or dishonor the king (8). But the Kings wishes were not to be questioned and David was asked to return home. His power was in gone.
David and his men left early the next morning for a three day journey home (29.11-30.1). They returned home to a smoldering Ziklage. The Amelikites had raided the Negev and Ziklag while David was marching with the Philistines. The territory that David had fought for was plundered by the Amalekites. His purpose was challenged. In doing so, the Amalekites took all the families of his men, all their possessions, and all their livestock. The men had lost wives, daughters, and sons. Both of David’s wives had been taken captive (30.2) and Ziklag was left burning as the Amalekites led their captives home. David’s place was gone.
It only makes sense that David and his men would weep until he had no more strength (30.4). They cried together until the men made a startiling realization…they had marched out with David. They left their wives, children, and things to follow David. And as they were out with David, the Amalekites came. This was David’s fault. They wanted to stone him. His wives were being marched away and his men were in mutiny (30.6). His people were gone.
The story of David’s time among the Philistines turns on the last half of verse 6: “But David found strength in the Lord his God.”
The Hebrew word for strength, chazaq, is the same word that is used of Pharoah’s heart becoming “hardened” to the requests of Moses. It is the same word used throughout Joshua, as he leads the people in conquest, he reminds them to “be strong” and courageous. In each of those instances, the verb is used in a way different than it is here in verse 6. The verb tense in 1 Samuel 30.6, is reflexive, known in the Hebrew as a Hithpael verb. Only a tenth of the time the verb chazaq is used, it is used in this tense. The doer of the verb, does it to themselves. A King with brothers “establishes his throne” by killing them all (Jehoram; 2 Chron. 21.4). Or the way a King prepares for war by “strengthening” the walls and “fortifications” (1 Kings 20.22). The way an old man (or old bullfighter) “rallies his strength” to sit up in bed (Gen 48.2). In the same way, David “found strength” in the Lord (1 Sam.30.6).
At the low point, David entrenched himself in the Lord. He stood in a spot, standing in God, and refused to budge. The Cheyenne tribe had a group of soldiers called the dog men who in the midst of a battle would choose a piece of ground and tether themselves with a rope to an arrow pinned in the ground. They fought fiercely to defend it, until the end of the battle or their death. David has stuck his arrow in the ground and tethered himself to God.
But how is David fortify himself in God?
David has a history with God and he remembers [hb.zakar]. It is a favorite word of his to use in Psalms. He has trusted in God in the past and God has come through. How often do we fail to take strength in God because we never made preparations for the storm. One of my favorite stories about this in Job. Job survives his test by worshiping, the same thing he did before the test. When we have a history, we can survive the future.
David found strength in scripture, worship, and prayer. Jesus on the cross quotes scripture 3 times and prays twice. When the world is falling apart around you, where does your mind go. What did David do? He “inquired of God” (1 Sam. 30.8) something that he was prone to do. He sought God. We fortify ourselves in God when we seek Him.
David knew his responsibilities. He was the husband of Abigail and he knew it was his job to serve and protect. He knew what he needed to do and he did it. The responsibilities that we have, especially to God and to our wives and kids, don’t change because the world falls apart around us. So David went and rescued.
As a man who has seen his world rocked and recently only brought more strife to his life, David’s strength shows where our strength needs to be. I am finding now where my strength needs to be. Watching how life has been sucked out of my wife because of my choices, watching ministries fall apart because of my doing, and looking back at the hurt I caused because my strength was found in me and me alone. The spears I tossed, the thank you’s not extended, and the pride an arrogance has left my city smoldering…but now its time to start finding strength in the Lord.
As David wrote:
“I love you, O Lord, my strength.
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18.1-2)
Where does a man look when it all falls apart? The only answer is the Lord’s.