“But David strengthened himself in theLORD his God.” 1 Sam 30:6
The context of this passage is a heartbreaking scene where raiders from Amalek have captured the wives and families of David and his loyal soldiers. His most faithful followers are so angry with him that they threaten to leave David under a pile of rocks. The larger context of this passage is David’s stint in the wilderness of Judah and Ziph.
The period of his exile from Israel was forced upon him. Something he didn’t choose–something no sane person would ask God for. But in the seven years of desert living he’s learned that the wilderness is God’s gift. The desert teaches us the virtue of leading in imperfect conditions. It strengthens our resolve and clarifies our calling. It forces us to suck it up and tough it out when followers are few and resources are scarce. He had lived for six years in the opulence of Saul’s palace in Gibeah. Had achieved rockstar status among the people. He even had his own theme song. His path to the throne seemed a sure thing. His mentor and father-in-law, Saul, would surely hand the Kingdom over to him when the time came–graciously recognizing God’s supernatural endorsement on the hotshot warrior from Bethlehem.
Then it all went horribly wrong. Through no fault of his own.
And he has had to endure being chased by a man he’s loved as a father. He’s experienced the indignity of feigning frothing madness to escape Gath. He’s known hunger and been so destitute that he almost murdered a man for not sharing a few sheep.
And his followers? A bunch of misfit toys. 600 Malcontents show up to provide aid and comfort–to join him in his exile. And he looks over that group and finds a bunch of square wheeled trains. How can he ever take the world by storm with this group of distressed, indebted, and discontented folks? But that’s what he’s got. Because that’s what God gave him. And he embraces their imperfections and leads them and they become welded to him for life. The desert is the place where he learns to make the best of it. If he can lead well in obscurity he will be fit for prosperity.
He and his men (those who aren’t exhausted from the previous battle) pursue the Amalekites and strike them down in the night. Not a single child or wife of Israel is lost, and he returns with the riches of Amalek. Abundance is coming his way again. In God’s timing and in God’s way. This final, most punishing test (1 Sam 30) comes right before his ascent to the throne. His nemesis Saul dies in the next chapter. And it’s only a matter of time before David is anointed at Hebron and consolidates the throne at Jerusalem.
It’s taken me a while to marinate on these texts and the lessons are beginning to absorb into my blood stream. Here are 3 ways that you and I can strengthen ourselves in the Lord this holiday season…
1. When the going get’s tough, cry out to God. Obviously a preacher is going to advise you to pray. But I don’t mean neatly packaged little Sunday School prayers. I’m not talking about the Thanksgiving day sermon-in-a-prayer that many of us will hear from a well-meaning family member this holiday or those unbiblical “unspoken” requests we learned about as good Southern Baptists. What I’m talking about is a praying-your-guts-out, crying-out-to-the-Lord kind of prayer. In the OT, the Hebrew word for “crying out” is tsaw’ak and it is used about 55 times or so. God heard “the cries” of his people in Egypt. The nation cried out for a judge to rescue them from their oppressors. Samuel cried out to God for an answer to his dilemma. The psalmist said, “Hear my cry of LORD! Listen to my prayer!” (Ps. 61). Let me ask you, when is the last time you cried out to God for an answer to your situation? Find a trail to walk or drive a lonely road or a lock yourself in a basement room while everyone else is at school or at work and let it rip. And don’t stop crying out until you have unloaded that burden to God. And when the burden comes back, reload and unload and cry out to God for his provision and his help and his presence.
2. When you are a victim of injustice, don’t succumb to vengeance. David was unjustly pursed by Saul. “What have I done? What sin have I committed to deserve this?” was David’s question to both Jonathan and Saul. I have a friend right now who is being unjustly persecuted for his faith. He is a former Muslim who converted to Mormonism and has since found the true Jesus by reading the NT for himself. Now he’s a Christian and his LDS university is putting terrible social pressure on him to reconvert to that cult. He faces deportation and if that happens, it will be a grisly end for him back in the UAE. His Islamic family has cut him off financially and relationally. He’s destitute and it’s not fair. He’s doing the right thing. He’s loving Jesus in impossible circumstances. But the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. Stuff happens. And when we face situations that are not fair and not right we should respond the way David did. He didn’t take vengeance on Saul when he had the opportunity (twice). He didn’t take vengeance on Nabal though he wanted to. David refuses to justify payback. And we should follow his instincts on that.
3. When you’re unsure of your next step, inquire of the LORD. This is the statement that sets David apart from Saul. Earlier in his career Saul “inquired of the LORD” about his battles. After a while, after a string of successes in battle–Saul stops seeking the LORD’s counsel and will. In the meantime, David is constantly seeking the LORD’s will for outcomes. “Will the people of Keilah give me up to Saul?” “They will” Said the Lord. David seeks God’s direction and his promptings throughout his life. In the end, Saul tried to inquire or to seek God’s direction (1 Sam 28:6). The text says “And the LORD did not answer him.” Sometimes the heavens are silent even though we are right in the center of God’s plan for us. But sometimes they are silent because we have wandered far from God’s heart through sin. Let me be blunt about this. If we nurse a secret area of sin–living unrepentant and not practicing regular confession before God then we should not expect to hear anything from the LORD. Sometimes God will get our attention and by his grace–he will speak to us in spite of us, not in light of us. But those are exceptions. God leads and speaks to the heart that is humbled and surrendered. Not the perfect heart because no one is Jesus. But the surrendered life.
While in the desert, David sinned on multiple occasions. He lied to Ahimelech in order to save him from Saul’s wrath. But it was a lie nonetheless. He resorts to subterfuge in Gath. He angrily cuts of the Kannaphim of Saul–the most holy piece of his robe and is filled with murderous rage toward Nabal.
But David has something Saul never had. He’s genuinely sorry for his sins. When he finds out what happened to Ahimelech he wails in sorrow. When he realizes the indignity he’s caused Saul by cutting his royal tasseled robe, he feels holy guilt for that. He inquires of the LORD for his direction. He surrenders his heart before God even though he is a flawed man. And in the process, David’s character is hammered and folded and burnished like steel.
In the midst of your struggles, how do you strengthen yourself in the LORD?