The scriptures reveal that David’s life was filled with prayer. From our study of the Psalms we were able to see that most of the psalms are prayers to the Lord. The books of 1 & 2 Samuel repeatedly show David “inquiring of the Lord” before taking action (1 Samuel 23:2,4,12; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19,23). But even people after God’s own heart hit difficult streaks in their lives. In chapter 27 of 1 Samuel we read about David losing his way.
Let us not forget how difficult the circumstances were for David. Saul is hunting David down and making every effort to kill him. We have read about David and his men hiding in a cave. We have read about David and his men acting as the Israel highway patrol, protecting people from raiding thieves. But notice how low David now sinks:
But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.” (1 Samuel 27:1; NIV)
When we think of David, I know we are able to remember the victories, like against Goliath. We also remember the sins David committed. But we may not realize the amount of despair that David felt in his life. Running from a crazed king, hiding in the hills, leading a motley crew of soldiers, and having to feed an army, David finally collapses under the weight of his trial. Rather than talking to God and inquiring about what he should do next, David listens to his heart and simply consults himself. David figures that there is only one way to get Saul to quit chasing him and that is to move out of Israel completely.
Notice that David figures his future is certain: “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul” (ESV). “It has all been predetermined and there is no way I going to make it out of this alive” is the conclusion of David. He had forgotten the promises that had been given to him from the Lord. Remember that Samuel anointed you to be the next king over Israel, David? Remember that Jonathan, the son of Saul, declared that you would be king over Israel, David (23:17)? Remember the assurances of Abigail who came out to you declaring that the Lord will keep all of His promises toward you, David? Abigail said that God was going to make you king (25:30). Even Saul declared that he knew that David was going to be king (24:20). Yet all of these promises and assurances are erased from David’s mind. David is worn out from Saul’s persistent attack. All that David can focus on are his own thoughts and feelings. “Saul is going to get me” (NLT).
So David gathers up his family and his armies and moves to the land of the Philistines. David comes to Achish, who is the king of Gath. Now we have some irony. If you recall, Goliath was the champion warrior of the Philistines whose hometown was Gath. Notice that David was correct in his assessment that Saul would give up chasing after him. When Saul finds out that David is in Gath, Saul no longer pursues David. I would imagine that David enjoyed some initial relief by moving to the land of the Philistines. Now David can sleep with both eyes shut. The family can unpack their belongings. The children can start school. Notice that David stays for a year and four months (27:7). This is not a temporary residence or a temporary solution. David has found deliverance by his own hand in the land of the Philistines. But he is hiding in enemy territory. He is not in God’s land, but in the land of the Philistines. David has given up. David believes he is not going to be king. Saul is going to kill him. God’s promises are not going to come about.
POINT: This is what happens when we allow our feelings of despair overwhelm us. We let go of hope and trust in ourselves. We no longer believe in the promises of God and turn to our own wisdom to get us through. Of course, often the times we turn to ourselves are the times of disaster. Satan wants us to cave into our fears. Satan wants us to listen to ourselves and not put our trust in God any longer. How often Satan is successful as he was with David! In our despair, we turn to enemy territory. We plunge ourselves into things that we think will fix our feelings of despair. We may decide that we need alcohol or drugs. We think sexual immorality will be the fix we need. We think abandoning our marriage will help us. We think that giving up on God will be the medicine. So we stop coming to services as often, but just enough to keep people off of our backs. We no longer are actively involved in worship and with the saints. We simply throw in the towel. We may even decide to move, thinking that a change in zip code will make everything better. It is what David thought. But physical changes never fixes spiritual or emotional problems. Do you think moving is going to make you happy? You are wrong. Do you think that drinking is going to help solve your issues at home? You are wrong. You think abandoning your marriage is the fresh start you need? Your problems will still follow you. Do you think that sexual immorality is going to feed the demons you feel in your heart? The demons will only clamor louder. I have tried to run. How do you think a California boy finds himself in Florida? Not by accident. Physical tweaks in life are not going to solve the problems.
David is given the city of Ziklag to live in, which is controlled by the Philistines. This reflects how bad things are in Israel because Ziklag was formerly a city given to Simeon in the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 19:1-5). But the Philistines have been attacking the southern portions of Judah and have been successful in their attacks. Achish, the king of Gath, has been sending David and his men on attacks against Judah. Rather than attack the southern portion of Israel, David has attacked the Gershurites, Girzites, and Amalekites, who are enemies of Israel. David and his soldiers utterly destroyed the people when they would attack so that no report could be given to the Philistines that he is not attacking Israel as they think. David perpetuates this deception by telling Achish that he is attacking the southern portions of Judah. David did this for the year and four months that he was living in the land of the Philistines. Achish trusts David figuring the people of Israel now hate David because of these successful attacks, which were supposedly against Israel. David has not completely lost his moral compass. He refuses to attack his own people, but he is not doing well, utterly destroying peoples to perpetuate his lie.
Chapter 29 continues the rest of the story. The Philistines are about to engage in a great battle against the Israelites. As the Philistines are lining up, preparing for battle, David and his soldiers come out and line up along with the Philistines to attack the Israelites. I think this reveals how far David had defected from Israel. But the other Philistines do not want David and his men to fight for fear that David will turn against the Philistines in the midst of battle. It seems that David was willing to attack Israel and that this was not a trick. Notice verse 8, “But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” David is upset to not help bring victory against Saul and the Israelites.
But things get even worse. As David and his men go back to Ziklag, they find that the city has been attacked by the Amalekites. The Amalekites had overtaken the city, burned it with fire, and taken captive the women and all who were in the city. Included in the capture were David’s wives, including Abigail. The soldiers had their wives and children captured by the Amalekites also. This is the lowest of lows thus far in David’s life. David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters (30:6). David is in trouble. His motley crew of solders are now going to kill David who has led them to living in Ziklag, a Philistine town.
But this seems to be the moment where David comes to his senses after nearly a year and a half of nonsense living in the land of the Philistines. “But David found strength in the LORD his God” (30:6). Finally, the light bulb comes on that it is time to put himself in the hands of the Lord. David goes to Abiathar the priest to inquire of the Lord what he needs to do. God tells David that if he pursues the Amalekites, God will give David victory. David attacks, God grants victory, and they are able to recover their families unharmed. David has finally come back to the Lord after a great detour. Victory comes now that David is seeking the Lord once again. In verses 23 and 26 we see David attributing the victory to the Lord. Welcome back, David.
- Even “a person after God’s own heart” will hit life’s lows. But what decisions will we make while in the valley of distress? Will we rely upon ourselves or rely upon God? Will we make physical changes rather than deal with the difficulty? Will we stop praying? Will we succumb to our fears? Running does not fix our problems. Engaging in sinful activities will not fix our problems. Giving up on God will not fix our problems. Don’t forget God’s promises to you that things will work out, God will not forsake you, and eternal life is promised, reminding us that this life is not what living is all about.
- Be quicker to pray. I saw this as a very important lesson from David’s life. For some reason, this ordeal was so great that David was not quick to turn to God for guidance. The longer we wait to turn to God and longer we rely upon ourselves, the easier it becomes to stray away from God. Prayer helps us focus on the problem and depend on God for the solution.
- You are never too low to return to God. For a year and four months it seems that David is wandering in life in the wrong place, living in the land of the Philistines. But David could come back to God. His decisions were never bad enough that he could not find his strength in the Lord. It does not matter how bad things have been in your life. It does not matter how bad your decisions have been. It does not matter the amount of wickedness you have committed. If you will change your heart and seek the will of the Lord, you can come back. You can receive the promises of God by coming to Him in obedience.