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Growing Through Conflict

Conflict Within The Soul

Erwin W. Lutzer | August 17, 1997

Selected highlights from this sermon

While many people think of David as a hero of the Old Testament, he was also backslider. As he fled from King Saul, he grew discontented with God, and sought to have his needs met from different sources—even the enemies of Israel. 

David finally returned to the Lord and found guidance, strength, and wisdom from God. We must remember that we, too, can turn back to God if we’ve strayed from the path. 

It has sometimes been said that if you like butterflies you have to like cocoons. When we think of David who is, of course, given something like 40 or 50 chapters or more in the Old Testament, we realize that most of us think of him as a butterfly. He’s the one who had the wisdom of a Shakespeare to write the poetry that he did. He had the musical ability of a Mendelssohn. And he had really the giftedness of perhaps a Julius Caesar in his ability to lead and to give guidance and to fight wars. And we know that he loved God, and that God seemed to love him. God and David had this thing going on between them. But the problem was that David also was not only very human, but he was like the rest of us, except only more so. Sometimes we forget that he was a man of many mistakes. His greatest is yet to come in the future, in a future message, as he has a relationship with Bathsheba and then kills her husband.

But today we’re going to see that David became so discouraged in running from King Saul. He’d been doing it for about eight and a half years, and it started to get to him, and because he was discouraged, he backslid. He actually ended up going into Philistine territory where he wrote no hymns, and where it doesn’t appear that he prayed any prayers, and he was there until God got his attention. And when God did, David finally bounced back. But we’re surprised at how much it took before David got God’s message. 

Now, in order for us to understand all the stories that are connected with this, I need to cover today maybe four or five chapters but we shall do so very briefly, hopefully enticing you and tempting you to read and to reread the text on your own. First Samuel, chapter 24. David displays again his greatness because he has an opportunity to kill King Saul, but doesn’t. First Samuel, chapter 24. You can read the story there on your own, but David and his 600 men are in a cave.

Now, I’ve been in the cave of Adullam, and I suppose that the area of this church very easily is the area of the cave. In fact, that cave has many tunnels to other caves. So you get 600 men hiding. The Bible says that Saul came into the cave to relieve himself. He was walking along and he saw this cave and he saw the word “men” over it. What he didn’t understand was...he didn’t read it clearly. It actually said “David’s Men.” So he goes there and he takes care of that which nature dictates, and David actually, in the midst of this cave, sneaks up and cuts off a piece of Saul’s cloak. And Saul leaves the cave, and David then calls out to him because David is confident that he caught Saul in a moment of weakness, and says, “Saul, I have a piece of your coat here,” and he even calls him father. And Saul, of course, who is really a piece of work, he repents after a manner of speaking, and in chapter 24, verse 16 is says, “Now it came about when David had finished speaking these words to Saul that Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son, David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. And he said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have dealt well with me while I have dealt wickedly with you. And you have declared today that you have done good to me that the Lord delivered me into your hand and yet you did not kill me.”

David had this thing about Saul being the Lord’s anointed, and he would not kill him. Hey, listen, do you think that you can believe Saul when he says, “Everything’s going to be okay from now on; I will cease trying to find you?” (chuckles) No way. No way.

Saul is fascinating in terms of human nature. If I were a student in psychology and had nothing to do, and sometimes those things go together, and sometimes they don’t, I would write a dissertation on King Saul. He fascinates me endlessly. And Saul, of course, gives up trying to find David only for a little while, and then he sends 3,000 of his best men throughout all the hills, prowling around, trying to find this young man who did not do him any harm, keep in mind. And David has another opportunity to kill King Saul in 1 Samuel, chapter 26.

Saul and the men that were with him are sleeping one night, and David looks down and he sees Abner, who was the head of Saul’s army, sleeping next to Saul, and they’re sleeping very well. In fact, the text says that God caused them to sleep a very heavy sleep. And David goes down...he goes past that particular rock, and he goes over there and he chooses a trail, and he sneaks up and he steals Saul’s sword and his canister of water, his spear. And then David goes up on a hilltop in the morning and says, “Yoo-hoo! I’m here. Look at what I’ve got. I could have killed you again, Saul.” And Saul says in verse 21 of chapter 26 now (chapter 26 of 1 Samuel, verse 21), “I have sinned. Return my son, David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and committed a serious error.” (chuckles) Can you believe Saul now? Is he finally serious? No.

Don’t ever believe the promise of someone who refuses to take care of the depth of their sinfulness and deceit. Do not believe their promises. So you’ll notice that David knows that he can’t trust Saul, and David is filled with discouragement. David no longer remembers the promises of God, and so what he decides to do is to actually go into Philistine territory, and he’s going to live there. And that’s what he does.

We pick up the chapter in the passage in 1 Samuel, chapter 27. “Then David said to himself, ‘Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul will then despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.”

Now earlier we noticed that David spent time with Achish, king of Gath (or Gat as it is in Hebrew), and that’s where Goliath came from. And David feigned insanity and was scrawling stuff on the wall, and allowing his spit to run down onto his beard. Now he goes and he wants to become a bonafide citizen of the enemy.

You know all those psalms that David wrote? The Lord is my fortress, the Lord is my strong tower. All those psalms are no longer relevant to him now. He runs to the enemy where he might hide and be safe.

Now, I want you to know that when we do that, and backsliding, by the way, is turning away from God, believing that God isn’t looking out after us anyway. He’s not meeting our deepest needs, and so what we do is we look to the enemy to find the very thing that we should be looking to God for. In David’s case it was protection. When we run like that from God, for a moment we might actually have a sense of relief. We might actually feel better. And I think David did. He crossed over and his 600 men were with him (in verse 2 of chapter 27) and actually he was able to do something he had not been able to do in the desert before, and that is to live with his wives and the men who wear these robes, who had identified themselves with him. Their wives came and their children came, and they had kind of a family focus, and they said to themselves, “We are going to live here amongst the Philistines.”

Now, there’s more to the story. David even said to Achish, “I want you to know that I think it would be a good idea if you were to give me a town. Give me the city of Ziklag, and let us all just congregate and live there.” And that’s exactly what Achish, king of Gath, does. He said, “Fine.” He said, “You can have Achish.”

Do you know that it’s possible sometimes to rebel against God, to do the wrong thing, and for a moment it looks as if it’s good? You can leave a marriage that you should have stayed with, and there may be a sense of relief, a sense of anticipation of something new, but God has not forgotten. And God has not forgotten David. And David is going to find himself suddenly confronted by the Almighty in a way that he never dreamed would be possible.

But meanwhile, he and his men live there in Gath, and David, you’d think he’d say, “Well, you know, I’ve been running a lot now. Sand everywhere in the desert!” Every morning we’d expect him to wake up to kiss his wives, to look into his pouch, to dust the sand off, and then go down to the local Y and to shoot some baskets, and to enjoy himself there. But David doesn’t do that because David is a man of blood. I mean, you just read the text. David loved war. He loved it. That’s why later on he couldn’t built the temple because he killed more people than he should have killed. Sure there were battles, but David used to make raids and he attacked. It says in verse 8, “Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites and the Girzites, and the Amalekites (and the megabites); for they were the inhabitants of the land from ancient times, as you come to Shur even as far as the land of Egypt.” And notice it says in verse 9, “David attacked the land and did not leave a man or a woman alive, and he took away the sheep, the cattle, the donkeys, the camels, and the clothing. Then he returned and came to Achish.”

“And Achish said to him (verse 10), ‘Where have you made a raid today?’” And David lies through his teeth. He says, “Against the Negev of Judah.” When you have the word Negev that’s the Hebrew word for desert. What he says is, “I was carrying out raids against my own people, the Jewish people who live in Judah.” That was not true. In fact, that’s why is says in verse 11, “David killed everybody who he raided so that nobody would come back and tell the truth. And Achish believed David (in verse 12) saying, ‘He has surely made himself odious among his own people Israel; therefore, he will become my servant forever.’”

Well, David and his men are living there. They were there for one year and four months, sixteen months. And one day David goes to his mailbox and he discovers that there’s a note that says, “Congratulations, your country needs you. We’re going to war, David, and we want you to join our army and fight against your own people, the people of Judah.” And David is willing to do that. You know, you read the text and you say, “David, why is it that you don’t seem to show more revulsion at the very idea?”

In chapter 28 it says David said to Achish when Achish said, “I need you for war,” David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” And David signed on.

Now unfortunately we have to skip chapter 28. This would be the chapter we’d spend some time on if we ever get a series on the life of Saul because Saul again, that 90-day wonder, puts out all the witches from the land. And now that he’s in trouble (remember he is the king now of Israel) what does he do? The Bible says he goes to a witch. It is called the Law of the Grand Exception, where leaders do not think that they have to follow the same laws that they give their people.

Well, there’s going to be a final battle now between the Philistines and Israel. Saul is going to the witch to try to find out what to do, and the witch is shocked to death when Samuel shows up. This is an unusual story, by the way, in chapter 28, and Samuel, in fact, comes back from the dead and in effect says, “Why in the world are you disturbing my sleep? You know you go through all that to die and then you have to do this.” That’s a very loose translation, but we pick it up in chapter 29.

The Philistines are gathered together and their armies come to Aphek, which is not too far from modern day Tel Aviv, and the lords of the Philistines are preparing for war. And when you prepare for war, you have the troops march past you, and they are parading their stuff. They are marching in uniform, making sure everybody’s present. Everybody has a spear. Everybody knows which regiment he belongs to. And suddenly the commanders, the heads of the armies, are watching this parade, and they begin to look around and somebody says, “I think I smell some Hebrews here.” You’ll notice it says in verse 3, “The commanders of the Philistines said, ‘What are these Hebrews doing here?’” Well Achish said, “Look, David’s here, and everybody.” And the commanders say, “Look, we can’t have these guys fight on our side because when the battle goes tough against Judah, they are going to defect. They are going to become our adversary.”

So Achish, the king, says to David...he says, “David, you know, you’ll have to go back to Ziklag.” And look at what David says in verse 8. “And David said to the king, ‘But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant from the day when I came before you to this day, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord and king?’” (laughs) David, I think, inside is so relieved. He’s saying, “Oh, thank God, I don’t have to fight against my own people.” But on the other hand, he wants to be thought well of by the king of the Philistines, and so that is his reply. Remember David is going through a time of vacillation here. This isn’t the day that we normally think of when we think of King David.

Well, he and his men go back to Ziklag, and as they go they sing, “We’re marching to Ziklag.” They’re glad they are out of the army. They’re on their way home. They’re going to see their wives and their kids, and all is going to be wonderful and sweetness and light. Three days’ journey they march to Ziklag, and guess what? Chapter 30, verse 1: “And it happened when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid on the desert and Ziklag, and have overthrown Ziklag and burned it with with fire; and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great without killing anyone (though David didn’t know that) and carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters have been taken captive. And David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep.” Hang onto that phrase, “There is no strength in them to weep.”

“And David’s two wives had been taken captive, Ainoam and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. Moreover, David was greatly distressed (hang onto that word too) because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”

If David were to write a book sometime (it would be his own story) he could entitle it, “What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do.” Notice he was weakened because he was discouraged because of the long chase, the psychological warfare that Saul had against him. He was weakened when he joined in the Philistines to live there, to look to them to receive what he thought God wasn’t giving him, namely protection. He was further weakened when he began to defend the Philistines, the enemies of God. And now he found himself in a predicament from which he could not seem to extract himself. Now what, David?

Do you know, that’s the way backsliding is, isn’t it? There are some people who say, “You know, God is not giving me any peace.” And because God does not give them any peace they look to alcohol, and they say, “Alcohol can do for me what God can’t do.” Or because God does not bring into their lives the proper relationships, they may say, “I’m going to find relationships that I want to find and do what I want to do because God is not meeting my demands for friendship and the loneliness that I find within, so I’m going to do my own thing.”

And then there are people, watch it, who lose money. They make investments, they overextend themselves, the bubble breaks, and many of these are God’s people, and many of them endure it. They say, “This is of God. We simply accept it. If we have to lose our house, we lose our house. We’ll begin over again.” But then there are others who say, “Oh no, not me, not me,” and they begin to make deals, and they begin to get involved in illegal kinds of things. They begin to cut corners. They begin to make sure that they are going to get their money back somehow, some way. And they soon discover that once they have crossed that line and look to money or to relationships or to anything else other than God, God begins to get their attention. And He usually does it by allowing the thing in which they put their trust to disappoint them and to lead them to despair. That’s where we have David here.

But I want you to notice: David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. You’ll notice in verse 6 it says he was greatly distressed. Now keep your finger in 1 Samuel 30, and turn to Psalm 18. Psalm 18 very probably was written during this period of time. Psalm 18 was written when God delivered David from his enemies, from the hand of Saul, and I want you to notice how David pours out his heart to God.

I love Thee, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress.

Well, David, why didn’t you say that right at the beginning? Why did you have to go to Philistine territory for your rock and your fortress?

My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.

I’m going to pick it up in verse 6. In verse 4 he talks about the cords of death encompassing him. Verse 5:

The cords of Sheol surrounded me.

But verse 6,

In my distress I called upon the Lord,
He answered me. I cried to him and he was there.

The Hebrew word for distress there in verse 6 is the same one in 1 Samuel, chapter 30, verse 6, where it says, “David and his men were greatly distressed.” Greatly distressed. But he says, “I now cried unto the Lord and He heard me.” What do you do when you don’t know what to do? You finally cry to God. “They that wait upon the Lord renew their strength.”

God got David’s attention. God had jerked his chain, and now he was back in fellowship where he belonged. What happened as a result? Very quickly, number one, he experienced the guidance of God. Verse 7: “David said to Abiathar the priest, “Please bring me the ephod.” Now this was a linen cloak, or I should say more like an apron that was worn that enabled people in those days to discern the guidance of God. We don’t know exactly how, and we don’t use that today. We have the Scriptures. We have more information about God than other people do, than the Old Testament people, I mean to say. And as a result of that, we don’t use such things as Gideon who left a fleece. We follow the path of wisdom through the Word, through the counsel of others, through the guidance, but in those days, they used an ephod.

And he inquired of the Lord saying, “Shall I pursue the band? Shall I overtake them?” And God says, “Yes, David, I will help you to pursue the Amalekites who devastated Ziklag and took your wives and your kids.” So he experienced the guidance of God.

By the way, if you’ve not experienced that guidance, it’s maybe because you’re backslidden. You’re out of fellowship. Psalm 32 shows that when I confessed my iniquity to thee, and I no longer hid my sin, it is then that God says that I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go. I shall guide you with mine eye upon you.

He experienced the guidance of God. He experienced the strength of God. We’re back in 1 Samuel 30. You’ll notice it says that David and his men wept (last part of verse 4) until there was no strength for them to weep. You can’t get much lower than that. When you’re exhausted and the fear that David’s wives and the children and the wives of his men were dead was so devastating. And he knew that he was at fault. That’s why the text says the people were going to stone him. They were saying, “David, this is your fault.”

What did God do for David when he really began to cry to the Lord? He experienced the wisdom of God. That’s just in a moment, but he experienced the guidance of God, and he experienced the strength of God. You’ll notice that David and his men had something to eat, and then they decided to chase the enemy, the Amalekites who had devastated them, and God gave them the strength to do that.

I have a friend who, because of a sin that he committed, and because of the embarrassment, the incredible embarrassment, moved to California, set up a series of circumstances to make it look as if he died in one state and ended up in California and even changed his name so that he could live there. And I had met with him many times because he long since has come back into fellowship with God, but I remember how he told me that to be alone in a place where I didn’t know, with a changed identity to live deceitfully...he said, “When I got out of bed in the morning I did not know how I could take one step and then a second step and a third step.” Wow! What do you do when you don’t know what to do? You cry to God. You cry to God. The guidance of God, the strength of God, the wisdom of God.

Here’s what happened. Let me tell you the story. David has 600 men with him, his motley band of volunteers. The Bible talks about them as being base. They are kind of a crass group, but they are loyal to David. And 200 of them were so weary, they could not run with David and the others to overtake the Amalekites. And so what they decided to do is they stayed at Ziklag. All the other ones, the 400, went with David. God providentially provided an Egyptian who told them where the raid and the band were, the band of Amalekites. You have to read the story there to see God’s providence.

And so David and his men go and they treat the Amalekites just as David always treated people. He kills everybody, and guess what? These people, for all of their wickedness, had not killed David’s wives and the people that they had taken from Ziklag: the other wives and the kids. They probably intended to but they wanted to have a little bit of sport with them first. And it says in verse 16, “They were [spread] over the land eating and drinking and dancing because of all of the great spoil that they had taken from the land of the Philistines.” That’s the Amalekites. They were in a really giddy mood. Verse 17: David slaughtered them from the twilight until the evening and the next day.” Wow! And his wives and his kids come back.

And then the men who fought with David said, “We’re not going to give any of these spoils to the 200 guys who were too tired to fight with us.” And you’ll notice the text. It says in verse 23, “David says, ‘You must not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us, who has kept us and delivered into our hands the band that came against us. And who will listen to you in this matter, for as his share is who goes down to the battle? So shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike.’ And so it has been from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day.”

You missionaries who are listening, you know how important it is, not only if you are out there doing the fighting so to speak, figuratively speaking, it’s important to have people who stay at home and who guard the spoil as it were. They are your home crowd who keep you informed and who pray for you, and who help you fight home battles. You know what? David made a big mistake in the first place. All the men should never have left Ziklag. They should have had a contingent of soldiers there. And so David said, “From now on those who fight the war and those who stay home and guard the stuff, they are going to share as well.”

Two very important concluding and brief lessons. Number one, do you understand, my friends, today why backsliding is such an insult to God? An insult. Do you realize how David insulted God by going to the Philistines for his refuge and strength rather than to the Lord? Because what the backslider is saying is this: “God, You aren’t meeting my needs. You are not all that You promised. You are not taking care of me the way I think that You should. And because of that I’m going to do my own thing. You only live once.”

Well, listen. God was with David. Yeah, I know eight and a half years is a long time, but David really copped out of the race when he was very close to the finish line. Saul was about to die, as we read in the next chapter. It was near the end. David should have hung in there even if he had to go from cave to cave. He should have hung in there with God. Better to be in the wilderness with God than to be in Ziklag with all of its perks under the protection of the enemy.

You who today have wandered from God, you know that you hurt God by doing that because what you are saying is, “I can’t trust You and You’re not coming through.” Well, God is coming through with His people. He does. He hangs in there with us.

The second important lesson. When you repent, God is there. Some of you don’t know what to do. If the truth were known, maybe this past week you wept until there was no strength to weep. You are finished. There is no way for you to turn. No way.

The Bible says in Psalm 18, the passage we just read, that David wrote in his distress. He said, “In my distress I cried to the Lord, and the Lord heard me.” The Lord heard me. How low down does God have to bring you and me until we cry to Him? Does it take an accident? Does it take cancer? Does it take a broken relationship? Does it take a bankruptcy? I don’t know what it takes. I suppose for everyone it’s different, but God is reaching out to us, even by the tragedies and the heartaches of life. It is God who is saying, “Cry to Me, cry to Me.” And David had to learn that lesson again and again and again.

You know, the Bible says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” When Jesus was on the cross, He was forsaken by God. At least the fellowship was broken. He said, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” but here’s the good news. Because Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners, and because He was forsaken by God, you and I can have the promise that we will never be forsaken by God. “I will no, never leave you. I will no, never forsake you.” Even in the desert with all of its sand and its thirst, and its broken relationships, and its loneliness, and its caves, God is with us. God is with us the whole way.

How much better for David to be able to say, “God, God is my refuge. Not the Philistines. God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Let us pray.

Father, today we do want to pray for those who have wandered away from You. And they’ve been disappointed in You because they’ve been weary. They trusted You for certain things and You haven’t done them. And they expected certain privileges that didn’t come their way. They anticipated with great hope, a life of happiness, and a relationship that was satisfying, and instead they’ve experienced hurt and grief and brokenness and woundedness.

Father, would You come to Your people today, and would You teach all of us that You are still with us. You are there. You haven’t left us. And for those who need to cry to You today, help them to do that. For the weary, for the sin-laden. We ask, Father, that those who have drifted might come back to the warmth of Your home and the fellowship of Your love. And for those who do not know You as Savior, to whom this message may not really apply because they don’t know the warmth of the Father’s home, we ask today, Father, that You will draw them to Christ. Help them to understand that Jesus died, and if we accept Him we will never be rejected by You.

Father, complete what You’ve finished. We pray that the activities of this afternoon, whether it is eating or going home, or fellowshipping with friends, we pray that that might not disturb what You intended to do in the lives of all those who are here. Finish it we pray, in Jesus’ name.

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