Two years ago I regained consciousness in a hospital bed, realising that I had deeply traumatised the people I loved the most and that I had permanently messed up my life. No one was ever going to trust me the same way again. It was the most horrifying thing I had ever been through. I couldn’t make it better; I couldn’t hide what I had done wrong, as it was publicly reported. It could affect my future employment potential and could tar my reputation for a very long time.
Thankfully, we don’t all go through experiences quite as dramatic, but regardless of the comparative size of the mistake made, if it feels like a destructive disaster to you, then it’s big and somehow, you have to get past it. That is not easy, especially if it’s had a huge, negative impact on your faith, but it can be done with patience and persistence.
David made a terrible mistake before he became the King of Judah. In 1 Samuel 26:17-21 we see the toll that Saul’s relentless pursuit of David had taken.
“Saul recognized David’s voice and called out, “Is that you, my son David?”
And David replied, “Yes, my lord the king. Why are you chasing me? What have I done? What is my crime? But now let my lord the king listen to his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, then let him accept my offering. But if this is simply a human scheme, then may those involved be cursed by the LORD. For they have driven me from my home, so I can no longer live among the LORD’s people, and they have said, ‘Go, worship pagan gods.’ Must I die on foreign soil, far from the presence of the LORD? Why has the king of Israel come out to search for a single flea? Why does he hunt me down like a partridge on the mountains?”
Then Saul confessed, “I have sinned. Come back home, my son, and I will no longer try to harm you, for you valued my life today. I have been a fool and very, very wrong.”
Despite Saul’s confession, he continued to deploy both his time and his army to try and kill David, his rival to the throne of Isra’el. After years of this, an exhausted David fled to the Philistine city of Gath for sanctuary, where he knew Saul wouldn’t dare to follow him.
To summarise David’s time in Gath, to survive he repeatedly lied to the King of Gath; he raided the people living between Gath and Egypt’s borders to ensure the survival and wealth of his family and his men, and in those raids he killed every man, woman and child to ensure there would be no survivors to dob him in; then he wound up being marched into battle against his own people. David had been leading a precarious double life. The Lord saved him from fighting his own kinsmen, but many scholars believe that it is at least partly because of the atrocities that David committed at this time, that he never got his heart’s desire, to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant.
The young David was still building his faith and learning to tame his tongue and his character. From earlier events, we’ve seen that David was a popular, charismatic leader who could talk his way out of incredibly tight situations. [Ref. 1 Samuel 24:7 and later 1 Samuel 30:6] He was also battling with keeping his temper under control and learning how to be a righteous leader. [Ref. 1 Samuel 29] The fact that he had two wives by this stage (three if you count the exiled Michal,) shows that he was already acting like a man in power and that could easily lead to corruption. Yet, God was using that tough time in exile to build dependence on Him, and to shear off rough edges which could potentially become massive stumbling blocks, had they not been dealt with.
At that time David was also surrounded by several hundred men who maybe weren’t the most godly of influences. “Then others began coming; men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented, until David was the captain of about 400 men.” 1 Samuel 22:2 Perhaps their complaints and suggestions had contributed to him stepping away from having faith in God’s deliverance and escaping over the border?
Despite how badly he’d messed up and how tragic the consequences could have been, there is one thing which saved David from disaster: he always turned to his faith in the Lord.
We see it demonstrated in 1 Samuel 30:3-7 “When David and his men saw the ruins and realized what had happened to their families, they wept until they could weep no more. David’s two wives, Ahinoam from Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal from Carmel, were among those captured. David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the LORD his God. Then he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring me the ephod!” So Abiathar brought it. Then David asked the LORD, “Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?” And the LORD told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!”
This faith always stayed with David and is what kept him from becoming an unrighteous, power-crazed mess as a King, throughout the rest of his life. During the time he was in Gath, his faith would have been pushed to its limits, as the Israelites believed that if they were outside of the borders of their country, God could not reach them. As the Scripture above demonstrates, David believed that within Philistine territory, they were estranged from His delivering power. That a man of God was willing to take that risk and move to Gath shows his desperation. David’s mind must have been blown when he discovered that it didn’t matter where he was, or what he’d done, God was with him! It defied everything he’d been taught and must have been a joyful, humbling realisation.
There are two lessons from David’s experience which can help us get through the gigantic mistakes we’ve made in our own lives, regardless of how great the mess is. The first is get back to the basics of your faith. Get back to prayer, studying the Word of God and asking for help and obeying His lead. You don’t need to engage in any fancy acts of faith, pushing yourself into deeper waters than you feel you can swim in; just get back to a child-like dependence on Him, where you are secure and allow God to build you up again over time.
The second is, listen to the council of righteous people. David had the son of Isra’el’s high priest with him. Abiathar must have been an encouragement and support. In times of great need, we need to be around other Christians with strong faith, who will pray and help us find out how the Word of God applies to our life. The answers are not found in the bottom of a bottle, self-pity or escapism. Spending hours online or watching television won’t assist us: we need good, solid, reliable input from the Christians in our lives that we know have also gone through hard times and overcome them. Saul had killed Abiathar’s family, so he was in the same precarious boat as David; but he still had the Ephod the priests wore; he hadn’t thrown away his faith either.
David got through this trial and more, and in his old age, wanted to keep exhorting the next generation of young people to serve God. In Psalm 71, even as a King, his enemies are still after him, wanting his power, but despite a life of hardship, in verses 7 and 8, David says this:
“My life is an example to many,
because You have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising You;
I declare Your glory all day long.”
Life can be a very long haul, filled with many trials and heartaches, but there will also be many occasions of victory and praise. I encourage you, whatever you are going through, to hold onto your faith, even when you’re in a place where you’re sure God can’t reach you. He will push through; just go back to the basics and pray study and praise your way through. You’ll be stunned at what His faithfulness will deliver for you.
The image at the top of the post is a screenshot from this lecture on the Philistine city of Gath: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAZPJRtdjmk
Aren Maeir | New Light on the Biblical Philistines: Recent Study on the Frenemies of Ancient Israel
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