Saul throughout his reign has been struggling with the Philistines all along, and his reign is coming to an abrupt and unpleasant end at the hands of the Philistines, but David’s is just beginning. For years Saul has chased David through the country trying to kill him, for Saul knows that God has rejected him and David has been accepted in his place. David for years has been hunted by Saul, and in fact we find him fleeing to the Philistines to escape Saul, the enemy that finally brought down Saul.
The theme that runs throughout the second half of 1 Samuel is that of God intending to remove Saul and make David king instead. Twice David had opportunity to take the life of Saul, on one occasion in 1 Sam 26, the Ziphites came to Saul revealing the whereabouts of David, and Saul pursues him to the country of Hachilah near to Jeshimon. However during the night, the Lord brings a deep sleep over Saul and his men and David sneaks down to the camp with Abishai. Abishai wants to seize the opportunity and thrust the spear through Saul which is standing next to him and pin him to the ground, but David says, no, it’s not for him to remove the King, refusing to lay his hands upon the Lord’s anointed. The other occasion was when David and his men were hiding in the cave and Saul came into the cave to relieve himself while in pursuit and David cut off the corner of his robe.
On both occasions David confronted Saul saying that he could have killed him but wouldn’t touch the Lord’s anointed and on each occasion Saul professed his wrongdoing, promising to leave David alone.
Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly. (1Sa 26:21)
Then Saul said to David, Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt still prevail. So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place. (1Sa 26:25)
So had Saul learned his lesson? Did David no longer have anything to fear? It seems so, but if you turn to chapter 27 it seems that David knew better and knew Saul’s heart.
And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand. (1Sa 27:1)
Saul’s words were one thing but David knew what he was thinking and he didn’t trust that Saul would not try to kill him. So he flees to the land of the Philistines, Israel’s enemy and he lives with the Philistines for about a year and he goes out on raids and is given an area to live in Ziklag with an army of 600 men.
It’s interesting that as we said earlier that God can bring us through trials which can prepare for greater work, and you can see this early on in the life of David because it was many years earlier that he was actually anointed and yet why wasn’t he King?
If you look back to chapter 16 we’ll see that Samuel had anointed David many years earlier but he’s not King yet, why is that? It says in 1 Samuel 16:13…
Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah. (1Sa 16:13)
But in the next verse,
But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him. (1Sa 16:14)
So the spirit rests on David and the spirit is removed from Saul and a distressing spirit is given to him instead. From this time forward it seems that Saul distressing spirit overtakes him. This is where the trouble for David really started.
We know that David was initially brought on the scene to play for him, to play music that would soothe him and Saul got to know David and David got to see the madness in Saul. On a couple of occasions he had to duck when Saul threw spears at him while he was playing.
David was anointed many years earlier and yet he’s still not King. What David needed though was time, God needed to work with him and bring him through these life and death situations, years of testing to build his faith, to prepare him to rule, he wasn’t ready to go right from watching the sheep to taking care of his people and neither are we necessarily, we need testing as much as we don’t like it. We need those times in our lives when our faith is built up, we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen, but God brings us through these events preparing us to become Kings in the future like David.
David could have said why did Samuel anoint me to be King all those years earlier and yet I’m not King, I’m treated like a dog, chased around like a fox in the wilderness with Saul trying to kill me every day. Why is this? Why am I not King? You promised me I would be King, you anointed me with the oil, the spirit came upon me…
You can see how he could go down this line and so could we, you’ve promised us the kingdom, you’ve promised us his return. Where is the promise of his coming? Why the delay? And all these things come to mind and yet God has a plan greater than our own. But David had that great faith, a faith to trust in God to bring him through the trials and give him the promise when he was ready. This was the life of David the one who was to be King, King of all these people, but first he had to go to the Philistines, first hide in dens in caves, flee for his life on a daily basis and pray to God for guidance for years. Yet his faith remained strong and he sought guidance from God throughout.
Meanwhile Saul ends up so disturbed and his people are in such a state of disarray that he goes to see an alternative spirit because God isn’t listening to him, instead he goes to this witch of Endor in chapter 27 seeking guidance. He’s really lost, isn’t he? Saul has kind of created his own religion, like Cain who brought the fruits of the ground thinking that if he brought it to God he would accept it. Well it’s kind of like Saul, he just plays around with what he has learned that God wants and adjusts it to suit himself.
Saul was constantly unable to follow God’s orders and his downfall had come many years earlier. Samuel had told Saul in ch 10 to go to Gilgal and wait there seven days until he joined him to offer sacrifices. Saul waited seven days, but:
And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. (1Sa 13:8)
Saul becomes afraid because the Philistines were gathering around them and panics,
And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering. (1Sa 13:9)
As soon as Saul has finished offering the burnt offering Samuel walks up. Samuel asks him what he is doing, why he’s done this thing and Saul shows his lack of faith in thinking the Philistines would come down to Gilgal.
And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee. (1Sa 13:13-14)
This is the life of Saul isn’t it? He can’t quite go that last step and go the whole distance. Who do we identify with most? Are we like the Jonathan who was willing to put his trust in God should the Philistines come upon them, even though he and his armour-bearer were outnumbered at least 20 to 2 when they attacked the Philistine garrison? Or are we like David who goes out saying God can save him from the giant Goliath? Or are we like Saul, who becomes afraid after waiting for seven days? Saul said he was forced to make the burnt offering, but he was weak.
In chapter 15, Saul is commanded to attack Amalek, the enemy of Israel, and to go and destroy them, not to spare anything. What does Saul do?
But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly. (1Sa 15:9)
And then when Samuel comes to him in verse 13
And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD. And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? (1Sa 15:13-14)
And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1Sa 15:22-23)
And we know his failure to destroy Amalek was to be part of his undoing, if you look at ch 28:18,
And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David: Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day. (1Sa 28:17-18)
Saul gave in to fear and to be fair it was a lot of fear. There’s no doubt about that, we live with many things that make us afraid, we have a lot of uncertainties in our lives. But that’s what separates the Saul’s and the David’s and the Jonathan’s, how we deal with that fear, do we seek God’s guidance or do we try and go it alone?
Later when David is returning to Ziklag in ch 30 he finds the town burnt down and all the wives and children taken captive. Does he run after the captors or does he accept it as a judgement from God? I think he had learned his lesson with Nabal when he was going to act of his own accord and kill Nabal for the insults he received from him, and it was only Abigail the wife of Nabal at the time who prevented him from making this serious mistake. So David, now a little wiser, a little better prepared for his future reign over Israel seeks advice from God, he has learned to stop and think, to seek wisdom from God. The advice is to pursue the raiders, and although he doesn’t know how he would do it, or what to expect when he finds the raiders, he puts his trust in God and everything is recovered including David’s wives.
He takes some of the spoils he gets and look how wisely he uses them in 1 Sam 30:26,
And when David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends, saying, Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the LORD;(1Sa 30:26)
In fact he spreads it all around, trying to establish his rule and favour in the land. David had become very wise, he was not only faithful, he not only knew what decision to make and when to acquire guidance from the Lord, but he’d become politically astute and gathered the people together around him. Did he have that skill when he was just a shepherd boy, did he have that kind of wisdom when he was anointed? He probably gained this as he went along, by God’s direction, just as he’s trying to create in us, a similar wisdom that we might use carry out his work in the future. So while David is consolidating his future kingdom, Saul and his sons are fighting the last battle of their lives. If you look over at ch 31:1,
Now the Philistines fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul’s sons. And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers. Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. (1Sa 31:1-4)
This is how the lives of Saul and his sons, including the beloved Jonathan, ended, and the reign of David began. And we know how David felt about Jonathan, 2 Sam 1, as we read David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan, and how he talks of his love for Jonathan. Jonathan wasn’t like Saul at all, all Saul could see was what was in front of him, he could see there was a lot of Philistines and only a few of his men – totally outnumbered. He can’t win, there’s no way! Jonathan could see, like Gideon, that God could save by one person, or by many, it didn’t matter. David saw that too. He knew earlier on that he couldn’t be King way back when God first rejected Saul, and Jonathan would have known that his chances of being king were very slim, but he saw in David somebody who fully supported the Lord’s anointed, God’s chosen, even though he was trying to kill him. David was now the Lord’s anointed and Jonathan all through his life was always willing to selflessly give up anything that he could for David. His faith was like David’s. They saw beyond the natural things of life, they saw that God was in control. Nothing stops the Lord from saving by many or few and he certainly put David and Jonathan to the test, didn’t he?
Life isn’t easy, it’s difficult to stand up and face death, but that’s what we’re all facing, without Christ we face it every day. We are not going to live forever without his help, but he can develop that faith in us, and we can in effect then say the battle is the Lord’s, not ours.
It’s best seen really in the Lord Jesus Christ, because he gave up his life to fight the greatest enemy of all, which is the flesh, the flesh that we all have, the power of sin that dwells within us, because the last time I looked I didn’t need anybody to tell me how to do wrong. None of us need telling, it’s in our very natures, but Jesus conquers that flesh, that nature of wanting to do wrong and he completed it, he conquered it, he went up alone to take it on, one man against the enemy of God, but he kept up the fight all the way to the end, never losing his faith or trust in his Father to bring him through.