2 Samuel 22; 23:1-7
There is a remarkable contrast between the two songs in these chapters: the song of David after he had done with all his enemies (that is, after his trials by Saul), and the song of David after he had done with himself; here brought together by the Spirit of God.
At the end of his trials, when looking back at his enemies, he sings of joy and triumph: all is exaltation. After his experience of the blessing, it is, “Although my house be not so with God.” The end of all the sorrow and trial with Saul is rejoicing, exaltation, and strength. “The waves of death had compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid, the sorrows of hell compassed me about, and the snares of death prevented me”; yet, the result of all he thus went through, in deep and bitter exercise of soul, is triumph, thanksgiving, and praise in the first instance, when he recounts God’s deliverance; while, in the second, the result of the place of honour, blessing, and triumph, is deeper and bitter sorrow—the confession, “my house is not so with God!” Not that he was without something to sustain his heart under it all; for he adds, “yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” For this he waited until the “morning without clouds.” But the end of all his blessing here is, “my house is not so with, God.” This contrast makes trouble precious, and is a check to any desire to get out of it.
So practically is it with us. We need to guard against the effects of success; the pressure of circumstances which keep me down produces nothing but joy and praise in the experience of God’s goodness; the effect of circumstances which lift me up is sorrow. How often has a saint, when in trial and conscious weakness, cast therein upon the Lord, cried unto Him, and as a faithful servant been sustained, had blessing and acquired influence, godly influence too; but how often satisfied with the blessing and the influence thus acquired and losing the sense of his weakness, has he stopped suddenly short in his course, been arrested in the point of influence obtained, and become comparatively useless in the church of God! This should lead us to desire conformity in suffering to Jesus. The path of grace is, like Him, to be getting on nearer and nearer to the Father, but to be getting nothing here.
There are three things brought before us in these chapters: one of them intended to give us solemn warning: First, the result of David’s trials at the hand of Saul. Then, second, when set upon the throne, the consequence of his being surrounded with all the earthly blessings. And, third, the joy at the end, of “the sweet psalmist of Israel,” in anticipation of the “morning without clouds.”
Whilst the heart receives the warning against the effects of success, or anything in present blessing, are we looking out for and resting on, the full, distinct, and perfect blessing, which will be in that day when the Lord Jesus comes? We see here the way in which the Spirit of Christ gathers up the history of Israel in Christ as a centre, and makes the harp of David that on which it should be played. There is perhaps nothing of deeper interest than to see how God takes up the history of David in the Psalms, writing as it were upon the tablets of David’s heart the history of the Lord Jesus.
In the first song there is a remarkable allusion to the whole history of Israel, to dealings of God with them, of which David felt the moral power in himself. We have a wonderful variety of circumstances, backward, forward, and around, gathering up all the history of David, and the triumphs of David; unfolding the sympathies of Christ with the heart of David in sorrow, until he is made the head of the heathen, his own people being blessed under him.
In chapter 23 we get “the last words of David.” And here we learn where his eye and heart rested, amidst consciousness of his own failure, and the failure of his house. He was looking for the “morning without clouds,” for the One who should rule over men in the fear of the Lord, who should build God’s house, and in whom the glory should be manifested. These men of Belial too, there must come one in the sternness of judgment to set them aside: then “they should all of them be as thorns thrust away.” There is the deep consciousness of all the ruin, but the effect of the coming morning shining into it. The effect of the coming of the Son of David on David’s heart, and the failure of everything around, leading him to reach forward in spirit to the full triumph of that day when all should be full of blessing.
We thus, in the two chapters, have the unfolding of the sympathies of Christ with the heart of David, gathering up all the sorrows of the history of Israel; and also the heart of David resting in the consciousness of what the “morning without clouds” would be. We should seek so to get the power of the Spirit in the sympathies of Christ, and at the same time to reach out to the hope which the Spirit of God sets before us, as by the way to be thrown upon the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.
Let us now trace a little what David was, up to the time of this success. It is ever just the very thing that seems hopeless in the eyes of man, which is taken up of God. See Sarah, Rebekah, Zecharias, and Elizabeth, so too here with David. In him there was everything contrary to the thoughts of the flesh. Contrast him with Saul. Saul was the comeliest man in Israel, taller than them all by the head; “from the shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people”—strength in the flesh. But all this is passed by, and it is the “lad keeping sheep” that is taken up! Saul is unfaithful—rejected from being king, and then God sets His eye upon David.
Samuel, by the Spirit of prophecy (1 Sam. 16), goes down to Bethlehem, to select from among the sons of Jesse one who should be king in the room of Saul. He causes them to pass before him. Seven come in. Samuel asks, Is there not another? Yes, a lad keeping the sheep. “Send and fetch him.” David comes, and is designated by the Spirit of prophecy as the anointed of Jehovah. All that is great in Jesse’s eyes is suffered to pass unnoticed; the seven were personable men, but it is the lad keeping the sheep, the eighth, the weak one, that is preferred and taken up!
From that time the Spirit of God departs from Saul, and an evil spirit falls upon him. David is brought into his company as one who could play upon the harp. Here we find him of no importance, so that afterwards, when he had killed the giant Goliath, on Saul’s inquiring of Abner, “whose son is this youth?” Abner says, “I cannot tell.” His brethren too ask him, “with whom he has left the few sheep in the wilderness.”
But what traits do we find in David? Deep consciousness of having God’s strength, and forgetfulness of self in all the difficulties which come in the way of duty. He keeps his father’s sheep: a lion and a bear come to take a lamb of the flock. It is his business to guard sheep, and he goes at once against the lion and the bear, and slays them. These energetic works are done with simple reference to duty: therefore the difficulties are as nothing.
Here we see faith in operation. Faith recognises God and duty to God; and then the thing is a matter of course. Put a child to raise up a stone, and it is all effort; put a strong man, and the thing is easily accomplished. Faith realises the strength of God without reckoning on self, and so does that which comes in the way, and thinks nothing about it. David here in the path of duty gathers up the consciousness of having God’s strength with him to be used in after trial. The secret of strength, thus learnt in retirement, prepares him for that which the Lord has subsequently for him to do. Blessing still followed the career of Saul; we read “whithersoever he turned himself, he vexed his enemies.” Though evil, seeking his own, and rejected from being king, there is blessing to Israel through him. But the Lord in secret had set His eye on David.
The Philistines are gathered together to battle against Israel (chap. 17): David goes up to the camp, sent by his father, with provisions for his brethren, where he hears Goliath challenging Israel. Having learnt in the simplicity of the path of duty with the God of Israel, when no eye was upon him, that He was a faithful God, now that he comes to see the people of God, and Goliath against them, he is astonished at finding them all afraid, and asks, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Why, he is an uncircumcised Philistine, and he is defying the armies of the living God! Bad motives are imputed to him by his brother, for coming to the camp; but there is in him such simplicity of heart in recognising God, that the path of duty is straightforward, and in power. Whether as a shepherd, whose business it was to guard the sheep, if the lion came, he took him by the beard and slew him, or the bear in like manner, he slew it, without display and without boast; they were simply matters of duty, and are untold until there is a needed occasion for mentioning them; or, if afterwards, it be this uncircumcised Philistine, it is the same thing, “he shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God!” Onward he moves in the energy of faith; he looks not to Israel for help; he rejects the proffered armour of Saul; he thinks not of the spear like a weaver’s beam. Is this uncircumcised Philistine to defy the God of Israel? that is the question; and he says, “This day will Jehovah deliver thee into my hands!” His heart is on Israel, he takes up the relationship of God with Israel. Although the exercise of faith depend on a single individual, “the battle is Jehovah’s”; he identifies the glory of God with Israel, and then the “uncircumcised Philistine “can have no power at all. With a sling and a stone from the brook he destroys the Philistine, and cuts off his head with his own sword; as it is said of Jesus—that He destroyed through death him that had the power of death, by the very weapon of him who had the power.
His heart rested on the faithfulness of the God of saints. This was the secret of his strength, learnt by himself, to be acted upon in any circumstance. And this is always the character of faith. Faith, when acting, brings in God—makes God everything, circumstances nothing. Whether it be the lion and the bear, or the uncircumcised Phihstine, it is the same thing. The secret of God’s strength, learnt when alone, is that by which faith looks upon every circumstance as the same, making God the great circumstance that governs all else.
After this they begin to sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands”; and then David becomes the object of Saul’s hatred. “Saul eyed David from that day and forward.” Subsequently we find in the character of David, when in the midst of mighty enemies, the consciousness of weakness and infirmity, and the absence of all thought of avenging himself against Saul. He never takes a single step without consulting God, save in one instance; and then he gets chastened for it. Everything is against him: he is conscious of being in the midst of subtle enemies, and of conflicting with a power which he cannot set aside. Saul seeks his life (chap. 18:10, 11), but he has no right to set aside the power of Saul.9 The enemy cannot be got rid of, and therefore he is forced to go to the Lord for guidance as to every step he takes.
So is it with the saints. And this is just what they need now—the consciousness of conflicting with a power which they cannot set aside; and the sense of their own utter weakness, so as to be forced into direct reference to God in every circumstance, to be thrown into dependence upon Him for every step. At last Saul drives him fairly away: full hostility is manifested; and he becomes an outcast. All this is necessary for the exercise of his faith, and he gets practised thereby in waiting on the Lord, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God.” He escapes to the cave of Adullam (chap. 22), is separate from all that God is about to judge, and gathers together his mighty men. The beginning of this chapter opens with a most miserable scene, “Every one in distress, and every one in debt, and every one that is discontented,” gathering themselves unto David in the cave of Adullam; but with these outcasts, we find God’s prophet,10 God’s priest, and God’s king: all that God really owned was there.
Let us follow David in his course. Through all the scene we find him in constant dependence on God’s strength, not avenging himself, but ever gracious to Saul when in his power. See chaps. 24, 26. Such is his constant dependence on the strength of God, that no matter what the consciousness of weakness, however reproach may break his heart, the moment he is in the presence of the power of ungodliness, he confesses unworthiness of self; but still he can take the place of superiority, just as Jacob when recounting all the misery of the days of the years of his pilgrimage, blessing Pharaoh there. That poor weak man became identified with God, could stand in conscious superiority in the presence of the power and glory of the world, as faith always does; and thus, in the very confession of weakness, take the place of the better: “the less is blessed of the better.”
David had led a miserable, sorrowful life, because of Saul; and when Abishai says, “God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand, this day,” he answers, “Jehovah forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against Jehovah’s anointed.” Again, when pleading with Saul, “Jehovah judge between me and thee, and Jehovah avenge me of thee, but mine hand shall not be upon thee.” “Jehovah deliver me out of thine hand.” So was it with the Lord Jesus, “when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed his cause to him who judgeth righteously.”
And this is what the church is called upon to do amidst enemies whom it cannot set aside. If seeking God’s glory, we shall not want to justify ourselves: there may be entreaty (“being defamed, we entreat”), but not haughty self-vindication. Peter says, “If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” This is a strange principle for anything but faith. But as a saint I cannot, whilst the usurper is in power, take my portion (just as David could not touch Jehovah’s anointed); there is “a morning without clouds” coming, when the true King will be set up—then I shall have it: now it is doing well, suffering for it, and taking it patiently, just what the Lord Jesus did; but with this comfort—the consciousness that “that is acceptable with God.”
At last (chap. 28) Saul is in the sad, terrible condition, that Jehovah has departed from him. The day comes when he has to sink down with the consciousness of not having the answer of Jehovah, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. All depart from him, and are with the suffering man who had nothing here. Then Saul falls, Jonathan falls, and David takes the kingdom. And now we come to a sad picture; we see a different line of conduct in David.
What marks his confidence as king in his own house? He trusts in his own power. “I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains”; he is going to build the temple when he had no word from Jehovah to do it. The thing itself is not bad which he purposes, but he has not the perception of the mind of Jehovah about it, because he has not consulted, he has not waited upon Him. We find in him now the want of that direct reference to Jehovah which had so marked his previous course,11 he trusts in his own strength, lives in self-indulgence, and then falls into gross sin.
Self-will having come in, self-indulgence follows; then there is the breaking out of positive sin in the murder of Uriah, and adultery with Bath-sheba: and afterwards distrust of Jehovah, in the numbering of the people!
The end of all this is the word of Jehovah by the prophet, that the sword should never depart from his house. David is chastened, repentance given, and the sin put away; but the sword departs not from his house.
In this latter part of the history of David, we see the consequence of blessing, the result of faith, when used in the flesh and for himself. It is not that he was like Saul, beginning in the flesh, ending in the flesh, and not blest at all. It is a lovely picture of faith, a humble, gracious walk, up to the time of his being king in his own house. Jehovah had said, “I have found a man after my own heart” (not that his conduct was so, but “a man after mine own heart”); he was a godly man with grace shining in a lovely way, and in the end there is rich blessing.
But we see the godly man blessed, and the results of his fidelity too much for the faith that brought him there! Grace shines through, and there is lovely humbleness afterwards, most precious grace; but at the same time we have in his history solemn warning as to the result in blessing of faith being too strong for the faith through which it came.
The only safety for us is in the word in Philippians, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”; the going down, down, down, always humbling oneself. David was blessed as much when king, whilst humble, as when an outcast he was hunted by Saul, like a partridge in the mountains.
In these “last words of David,” as we have seen, there is deep consciousness of the failure and ruin, “My house be not so with God.” Where did the heart of David find rest amidst it all? In this, “Yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, for this is all my salvation and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.”
Where does the church find its comfort, resource, and joy, upon the perception of ruin, when, in looking upon its present state, it has to say, “Not so with God”? And is there a single heart, having the Spirit of God in it, that does not feel thus, as not satisfied with any honour now resting upon the house of Christ? Is there one not bowed down at the condition of Christ’s house, looked at in what way you please? Is it such as can give joy and gladness, or has not one to say, “Not so with God”?
Well, we should have sorrow and humiliation at this, though all turns to practical comfort as to the end; for David’s house shall yet be glorified in the Person of Christ, in the midst of the nation now “scattered and peeled”; and we shall be along with Him in His glory, as the head of His body, the church. There is “a covenant, ordered in all things and sure,” in which we stand, an everlasting covenant, a covenant established before the foundation of the world; and this we need to sustain our souls.
But is it the effect of having the assurance of that covenant to make us content with the ruin, satisfied with the want of honour now given to Christ’s house? When David felt all the ruin of his own house, although he could still say, I have a covenant, ordered in all things and sure, could he be content and happy? Impossible! It was David’s feeling about David’s house. So should it be with us. If we have the Spirit of Christ, there will be grief and sorrow of heart, because the house is not so with God; we shall say, after all the manifestation of Christ’s honour and glory in the day of His appearing is revealed to us as an assured thing, what I have to seek is His glory now. So will there be sorrow of heart at His present dishonour.
It is a most terrible thing to say, The covenant makes all things secure for me for ever, and therefore I do not care for Christ’s glory now; it is just saying, Christ’s glory may go for nothing. This is practically antinomianism as much in the church, as the making the grace of God a cloak for licentiousness is antinomianism in an individual, though not so tangible.
Still, amidst all the ruin around us, it is a comfort to know that that which is before us is blessing. We need, for the sustainment of our souls, what is presented to us as our hope, the coming of the Lord. This it is which really brightens up our hearts. It is most important for us practically to have that upon which our hearts can rest, as a sphere and scene of blessing amidst our present trials. Where will you find the manifestation of happy affection in an individual? It will be in the one who can turn to a home where those happy affections are in exercise. And so with us as Christians: it is most important that we should have a full unhindered sphere where our affections may be called forth, and all our associations be pure and happy. Where is there the man who, being always occupied in cleaning that which is dirty, does not get a little dirty himself? I want to have my soul sometimes undividedly occupied with what is good; it must centre in God. But He has not shut Himself up! Being love, He has come as it were out of Himself and flowed forth in the communication of love. We should seek to have our associations in that sphere where God becomes the centre of communicated blessing.
It is when God shall have put all things under the Lord Jesus Christ, as the one that is “just, ruling in the fear of Jehovah,” when the power of evil shall be set aside, the men of Belial be “all of them as thorns thrust away,” at the revelation of Jesus Christ, that the thoughts of the Lord’s mind may be exhibited.
Then, too, man is set as the head and centre of all this blessing, man as the executor—the Lord Jesus Christ. Man has failed in every dispensation of blessing from the hand of God; left to himself, after he has seen the glory, he will fail. But God’s heart rests on the manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the unfailing Man, as the centre of all the blessing. It is when He, the great Melchisedec Priest, comes down out of heaven from God, that the fulness of the blessing will shine forth. There is that which is from heaven now, but it is the Spirit which makes us cry, as conscious of all the disorder here, “not so with God! “Then there will be an ordered state of blessing in this world, a time when the Orderer of blessing, and the Communicator of blessing comes down from God. This is the great character of “that day,” blessing according to God’s mind coming down from heaven in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Everything takes its place, then, in reference to its relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. If the church is the bride of Christ, the church takes its place in its proper relationship to Him as such. So again with Israel it is the same, “He that ruleth must be just, ruling in the fear of Jehovah; and he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain.” “Behold the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is the name whereby he shall be called, Jehovah our righteousness,” Jer. 23:5-25. But if He shall reign, we shall reign with Him, as the wife, associated in His glory. Israel will be blessed under Him as their king; but still He is “the head of his body, the church, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
So too the Gentiles. Israel will then be the centre of the blessing on earth, yet “in him shall the Gentiles trust.” “In that day there shall be a root of Jesse which will stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek, and his rest shall be glorious,” Isa. 11:10. “All nations shall call him blessed,” Ps. 72:17.
And further, “All things were created by him and for him.” He is a “faithful Creator”: this too is a sphere of blessing which He is to reconcile to Himself, in which His power is to be manifested. Dominion is already put into His hands, “all power is given unto me in heaven and earth”; but the power is not as yet applied. “We see not yet all things put under him.”
It is not for us to be looking for blessing here, apart from the future manifestation of Him in whom the blessing comes, in the “morning without clouds.” Until the power of evil is set aside, the effect of the energy of the Spirit is to make-us groan and suffer in proportion to it. Our groaning, as saints, should ever be that of the Spirit because of holiness of mind, as amidst the evil, and not on account of our own evil. So was it with Jesus: He groaned because of holy affections, and not because of unholy. Until the power of evil is set aside, the greater the energy of the Spirit, the more is the individual in whom it is manifested exposed to the fury of Satan.
These “men of Belial” too, the saint has to do with them. The soft hand of grace cannot touch them; “they shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands; but the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear, and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place.” Tares have sprung up among the wheat; Matt. 13. Grace cannot take the tares out of the field, grace does not turn the tares into wheat! They must be “let alone until the harvest.” Then they are to be gathered together in bundles to be burned.
There was no reckoning in David, of setting the house in order again, when it had failed! He was looking for the “morning without clouds,” when there would be full blessing. So it should be with us. Take Israel, the church, David, whatever it may be, all have failed; the “house is not so with God.” Man has failed—must fail. Paul had to say, “no man stood with me, but all men forsook me; notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” God must be the centre of our blessing. We feel that we need something: the bright energy of faith realises God; not the increased outpouring of the Spirit because of our faithfulness, but God’s faithfulness in spite of our failure. “If we believe not, he remaineth faithful, he cannot deny himself.” But it is a good thing for us, not only to be able to say, “God is faithful,” but to have our affections unfolded and exercised in a sphere where all is perfect blessing, to have them engaged with those things which satisfy His heart. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him; but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” That which the Holy Ghost reveals unto us is the display and character of the glory in heaven and earth, which the Lord Jesus Christ will be the centre and displayer of by-and-by, when He comes again. This is a sphere of joy, comfort, and rest for us. Affections raised by the Spirit of God never can get their rest until they find it where His own heart rests. Here is their centre, their sphere, and their rest, the glory of Jesus.
The practical effect of all this upon our hearts and consciences is to throw us into the first part of the history of David. Be it in what it may, if we are faithful in singleness of eye in the camp of Saul, we shall soon find ourselves in the cave of Adullam, taking, as the portion of our souls, fellowship in Christ’s sufferings. It is there we shall have all the unfoldings of those internal affections, those secret affections of heart, which were in David when humble. It was when David was a partaker beforehand of the sufferings and afflictions of Christ in the cave of Adullam, hunted as a partridge upon the mountains, that he was compassed about with songs of deliverance.
The Lord give us singleness of eye, and in the power of His resurrection to have fellowship with His sufferings.
9 It was righteous power, for God had set him in it j but not rightly used.
10 Saul had slain the priests; but Abiathar, one of the sons of Abimelech, escaped, and fled after David; and, in verse 5, we find Gad, the prophet of the Lord, mentioned as also being there.
11 When about to bring back the ark in the desire to build Jehovah’s house, we see him going to the Philistine, the world, for help.