Summary: Here is an example both of God’s providence and God’s grace in action as David’s wilderness years approach their conclusion.
What we find today is an example both of God’s providence and God’s grace in action as David’s wilderness years approach their conclusion.
David has been with the Philistine king Achish on their way to attack Saul and his army, when God intervenes in a providential way to release David from his oath to support the Philistines against the Israelites. You can imagine that David and his men were in something of a bind. They could hardly have refused to go with Achish, yet their real desire would have been to fight with the Israelites. So when the other Philistine commanders refuse to let them come along, one would assume there’d be a great sigh of relief from David and his men.
But God’s providence isn’t just directed towards saving them from a sticky situation. It’s also intended to bring them back home to do something about what’s been happening there.
They reach Ziklag, their home town, only to find that it’s been raided and sacked during their absence with the Philistine army. Their joy at their reprieve quickly turns to anger at the desecration of their homes and the kidnap of their wives and children. But, sadly, their anger turns not against the raiders but against their leader, David. He’s the one who agreed that they should go off with Achish rather than staying behind to protect their village! It’s his fault! In fact their anger is so great that they’re ready to stone him.
So what is David going to do about it? How will he deal with this distress that he and his men are feeling.
When insulted by Nabal, remember, he simply went off to do battle with hardly a thought for whether it was the right thing to do. But not this time. First he needs to deal with this crisis of leadership then he needs to check with God what to do. So how will he do it? First, notice what it says in v6. Where does David draw his strength from? "David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." He turns to God for strength.
Now lets just pause there and think about the fact that this is the final episode in what are described as David’s wilderness years. He’s spent the past few years in the wilderness, being hunted by his enemies. And now even some of his men are against him.
Time spent in the wilderness is a repeated theme in the Bible isn’t it? It’s characteristically a time of formation, a time of testing, and a time to explore the true nature of your relationship with God.
The wilderness is the place where Moses and the people of Israel are tested and in the process discover what it means to be the people of God, obedient to him and utterly reliant on him. The wilderness is the place where Jesus is tempted by Satan for 40 days and 40 nights, where he shows that he has what it takes to be the anointed king, the one who is faithful in every respect. And similarly, the wilderness is the place where David learns what it means to be a leader of Israel.
And if the parallel wasn’t great enough already, what is it that happens when Jesus’ time in the wilderness is finished? Matthew tells us that the angels came and ministered to him. Luke tells us that "Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee." It’s a striking parallel isn’t it. Look at v6: "But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." God gives him strength to go on, to lead his people even in the face of opposition in the same way that he strengthened Jesus.
And how does he go on? Well, he asks God for guidance. At the same moment that Saul is arranging a seance with the medium at Endor, David takes the approach provided by God for his people. He asks his priest to bring the Ephod so he can enquire of God what action he should take. Should he pursue these raiders or not? And will he catch them?
Notice that this is a different situation to that of Nabal and his insult to David’s person. This is more than just a police action. Although David may not realise it as yet, there’s more to this situation than that. This involves what God has in mind for the Amalekites.
Again we find a connection, this time with the downfall of Saul. Remember that it was his disobedience in the battle against the Amalekites that was the last straw for Saul. He failed on that occasion to do what God had commanded. And here, as Saul’s time comes to an end and David’s moment approaches, David is given the opportunity to fight the Amalekites one more time.