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David, part 26

David's Mighty Men: Three Bring Him Water from the Well of Bethlehem.

2 Samuel 23:8-29.

The feats of the leaders of David's army form the principal topic of the remaining part of the 23rd chapter, and occupy a conspicuous place in the 21st. Their extraordinary valour and prowess were not unworthy of those who led on the hosts of him who was the dread of the enemies of Israel.

So long as war shall continue, these qualities will be prized, and their chivalrous exercise will command admiration. And justly so. War, though a great evil, is, as yet, an unavoidable one. Wars may be regarded as the eruptions of the moral volcanoes which relieve the internal fires that produce them, which diminish and will finally exhaust them, so far as they require a visible outlet. As thousands of extinct volcanoes on our globe attest the diminution of the cause that produced them, and give a certain promise of the gradual and complete extinction of the whole; so war, once the almost natural result of the collision of the tribes and nations of the earth, is gradually becoming less wide in its extent, less ferocious in its character, and less frequent in its occurrence. The internal fire of the lust of wealth and power, with the cruelty and revenge which that lust inspires, has now fewer outlets. And although these may be in themselves extremely formidable and in action truly terrible, yet is the evil of war, though more concentrated, greatly moderated; and humanity and religion, as they obtain ascendancy over men, will convince them that peace and goodwill are the only true means of securing national as well as individual prosperity and happiness.

The wars and warriors of the Scriptures are, however, designed to lead us to the contemplation of far other subjects than national strife and personal deeds of martial glory. They are designed to lead us to a consideration of those inward strivings, those conflicts between the principles of spiritual light and darkness, which constitute the warfare of the spiritual life. In considering these we do not exclude the indirect consideration of natural wars. Men war against each other because they do not war against themselves. The ultimate fate of war itself is to be decided, not on the battle-field, but in the human mind. Within us is the world of causes, without us is the world of effects. So far as men conquer evil and establish the empire of good in themselves, they will cease to war against each other. As they become the subjects of the kingdom of Jesus Christ they will desire and strive to overcome the world in themselves, that they may be unworldly in their conduct towards each other. The Author of Christianity, who was the pattern of the Christian life and character, exemplified this in His own person, both in His inward experience and in His outward life. He came into the world for the purpose of overcoming the world and bringing it under obedience and into harmony with Himself. But how did He seek to effect this great object? Not by outward physical war, but by inward spiritual conflict. He resisted and overcame the world in Himself. At the same time, and by the same acts, He subdued the kingdom of darkness, which prompts us through our worldly-mindedness to deeds of aggression against our fellow-creatures. While the Saviour was thus engaged in an inward strife with the principles of fallen humanity, which He in mercy assumed for the redemption and salvation of mankind, His life was one of purest love and beneficence. His warfare was within, mercy and peace marked the progress of His life without. As this was the character of the true Christ, it is also the character of true Christians. "In this world," said our Lord to His disciples, "you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." The world which the Lord overcame is that which the disciple is to conquer—the world in himself, with all its principalities and powers.

As this warfare is spiritual, so are the instruments and agents by which it is to be carried on. It is not to be engaged in with carnal weapons, but by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; nor is this sanctified and powerful instrument to be wielded by mighty men, but by mighty principles. The principles in which such extraordinary power resides are those of love and truth, in their various forms of goodness, meekness, humility, patience, sincerity, simplicity, integrity, prudence, but clothed with zeal for the accomplishment of great objects or the performance of great deeds. By these and their kindred qualities the Lord effects our deliverance from the power of our spiritual foes, those of our own household. For we have the Philistine, and the Egyptian, and even the wild beast in our own natural understandings and hearts—we have the spurious intelligence, the false science, and the savage lusts and appetites that spring up in our minds spontaneously, and find in our hereditary nature their native and congenial home. That pride of personal wisdom, too, which has an overweening confidence in its own power, without the wisdom and power of God, is the giant principle, the parent of self-reliance, whatever shape it may assume. The thoughts that obtrude themselves into our minds, inspiring them with the notion that the objects and ends of life may be attained by mere human wisdom and skill, and leading us to suppose that meekness of heart and lowliness of mind are only other names for feebleness of purpose and lack of intelligence—these are the Rephaim and the Anakim, in whose sight the true Israel are as grasshoppers.

It was in the valley of Rephaim that the troop of the Philistines had pitched when the circumstance took place which is here narrated. The relation carries us back to the beginning of the reign of David, the circumstance having taken place soon after the tribes had anointed him king over Israel. In the 5th chapter, at the 17th verse, we read that "when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines came up to seek David; and David heard of it, and went down to the hold. The Philistines also came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim."

The cave of Adullam is celebrated as having afforded David shelter and concealment when, at a still earlier period of his history, he fled from the face of Saul, an incident which was considered in its place. It describes a state of deep temptation and of great mental suffering, so well expressed by David himself in the 142nd Psalm: "I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cured for my soul." In the present instance David was pressed by another enemy. The Philistines who had slain Saul now sought to destroy his successor. David was compelled to seek refuge in the hold; and the hosts of the enemy were spread out in the valley of the giants, and their garrison was at Bethlehem, not far from Adullam. Though now surrounded and watched by a powerful enemy, David was not in that condition in which "no man cared for his soul." The people of Israel were on his side; "and three of the thirty chief went down, and came to David in the harvest time to the cave of Adullam." Shut up in the hold at that season when no shower falls in Palestine, when the ground is parched and the streams are dried up, David, in the extremity of his suffering from burning thirst, called to remembrance the cool refreshing spring of which he had so often drunk, and exclaimed, "Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!" Almost every one has had some slight experience of the intolerable nature of extreme thirst, and of the longing it produces for that most delicious, and, one might almost say, that most precious of all the natural gifts of God's bounty to His creatures, the cool and limpid water-spring. But this has its analogy in the experience of mental thirst, the desire not merely for knowledge but for truth, which is almost as universally felt as the thirst for water, and the defect or want of which, where the desire is ardent, is not less intolerable. In no sound mind is the desire for knowledge entirely wanting, although the knowledge desired may be extremely various in different minds. There is a love of knowledge common to all minds in this state, and there is particular love of knowledge which has for its end the attainment of special objects. The man of science makes a special pursuit of scientific knowledge, the lawyer of legal knowledge, the physician of medical knowledge, and every other one that which relates to his function, and even the evil-doer cultivates the knowledge which promises him the means of success in evil. In all these cases the desire of knowledge is in particular instances not less ardent and distressing than the thirst for water. How does the philosopher, attempting the solution of some profound problem, thirst for the knowledge that may enable him to accomplish his purpose, and with unwearied toil dig deep into the mount of science, in hopes that the well-spring may burst forth to satisfy the desires of his longing mind. Still more intense perhaps is the desire for knowledge when some beloved object is far away in the midst of danger and imminent death —exposed to the perils of war or of travel, in the burning sands of Africa or in the ice-bound regions of the pole.

If mental thirst or the love of natural knowledge is thus intense, still more must be the desire of spiritual knowledge, which may be called the thirst of the soul. If the nature and ardency of the desire increase with the excellence of the object, religious desire must be the highest and most intense of all. If it is not felt to be so, it must be because we do not so ardently desire the solution of the religious problem, or the pursuit of the religious life, or the realization of the religious hope. If we truly prize life and immortality, we cannot but desire the knowledge which brings them to light; and any obstacle that comes between us and the knowledge we desire, that cuts off the communication between the soul and the water of life, will produce a sense of severe privation, and bring the soul into a state of deep distress and suffering. The spiritual knowledge of which we now speak is not that which may be called the science of religion—a knowledge of the doctrines of the Bible. It is that which is felt to come immediately home to us as beings who know that we stand between life and death, and in whom the fear of eternal death and the love of eternal life have been truly awakened. It is not your men of mere religious science, but those of religious life, that feel this thirst of the soul. Men may indeed thirst for the water of science, but that is entirely different from thirst for the water of life. The water of science is desired as the means of imparting a pleasurable sensation to the mind, but the water of life is desired as the means of securing spiritual existence to the soul. The want of the one is only the absence of pleasure, the want of the other is the absence of happiness and eternal life. Temptation arising from the defect or want of Divine truth is only experienced by those who have entered on the life of truth, and to whom therefore truth is the means of life. Such a temptation did our Lord experience in the passion of the Cross. He of whom David was a type, and whose conflicts, trials, and sufferings were shadowed forth by those of the king of Israel, was then pressed upon by the whole power of the enemy, the kingdom of darkness. In that temptation despair for the salvation of the human race, which was the end He had in view in coming into the world, and for which He suffered and died, fell upon the Saviour; and the ardency of His desire for the salvation and happiness of His creatures produced in the suffering humanity its analogous state. When the Lord said, "I thirst." He expressed the agonizing desire of His holy mind infinitely more than the raging thirst of His body. His thirst was eminently the desire for eternal life, and for securing the means of attaining it; but it was for the eternal life of others, not His own. His thirst was also for the water of life; for His desire was to be filled as to His humanity with that living truth which was equally necessary to His overcoming in temptation, and to His becoming a fountain of living water to His famishing children. Nor is the water of the well of Bethlehem without its typical significance in reference to the Lord and His people. Bethlehem literally signifies "the house of bread;" and here it is to be regarded as the house of water also. Bethlehem, the place of the Lord's birth, may be understood to point to Him as the bread of life, in whom is the fountain of the water of life.

In reference to the Christian disciple in his states of trial and temptation, when there is a famine, not of natural bread or water, but of the hearing of the Word of God, longing for the water of the well of Bethlehem is expressive of the desire of the soul to drink of the living water of the fountain which has been opened up for us in the house of David —the living truth proceeding from the love of God in His Divine Humanity. The well of which David desired to drink was beside, literally in, the gate of Bethlehem; a gate being introductory; from which the Lord calls Himself the door, His Humanity being the medium through which there is access to His eternal Divinity, the Humanity itself being the immediate fountain or well of water from which men draw their supplies.

David's longing for the water of the well of Bethlehem was not without its effect, though the final result was not that which his friends intended. Three of the thirty mighty men of David, hearing the words of the king, "break through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out to the Lord."

Naturally considered, David evidently regarded this daring feat as an act of courage, but not of prudence; the risk was too great for the object. His will and judgement were not in it, but were against it; and had he been previously consulted he would have condemned and prohibited the attempt. Thus in spiritual things do we sometimes act from the ardour of zeal untempered by discretion, and afterwards find, in the moments of cool reflection, that the understanding does not approve the deed, however generous and well intentioned it may have been.

In the operations of the mind and thence of the life there is a continual action and reaction of the inner and outer man. The inner man occupies a higher and more peaceful region of the mind; the outer man treads the earth, and has to engage in the toils, share in the excitements, and endure the storms of life. The inner man is the seat of our principles, our conscience, our essential and ruling life. The outer man has more to do with ways and means than with principles and ends. The inner man may be considered as the legislative, the outer man as the executive, branch of the government of the soul. From the inner man come forth the laws of life, but the outer man is left to interpret and to execute them. The outer man is not a passive instrument, but an intelligent and reactive agent. Our inner man expresses his desires or enunciates his laws, our outer man has to interpret and execute them. But he does not always interpret them rightly, nor execute them faithfully. Indeed it is sometimes extremely difficult to do so. As the popular will may be so strong as to impede or defy the law, so may our natural man greatly modify or entirely resist the will of our inner man. This kind of action and reaction between the inner and outer man goes on continually. Great must be the difference in the character and results of this reciprocal action in the different stages of the regenerate life—in the early stages when the natural mind is yet turbulent, passionate, impatient, and in the later stages when it has become reconciled and accustomed to the mild and easy yoke of heavenly love and truth. In this case the inner and outer man act as one; and this unity of action constitutes regeneration, producing true peace and solid happiness. This unity of action does not imply a blending of the agents and reagent. On the contrary, as the inner and outer man, the spiritual mind and the natural, become more harmonized and united, they acquire a more distinctive character and action. The line between them becomes more distinct, and so do their functions. The inner man retires more within himself, and yet acts more powerfully upon the outer. He is more remote from the turmoil and more secure from the dangers and the conflicts of life. And so, the more any one is a Christian the more he enjoys the tranquillity of inward peace, however his natural man may be suffering from outward tribulation. When the life of David had been endangered in the encounter with one of the sons of the giants, the men of David swore to him, You shall go no more out to battle, that you quench not the light of Israel."

During the progress of the regenerate life much of the reaction of the natural mind must imperfectly represent the action of the spiritual. The desires of the mind may be carried out with zeal and energy, but not always with wisdom. And when this is the case, that which had been the object of the desire, though it may be secured, cannot be appropriated; for nothing can enter into the inner life which does not unite in itself, or is not the result of, both love and wisdom, zeal and prudence.

Although David refused to drink the water of the well of Bethlehem, for which he had longed, he "poured it out to the Lord. And he said, Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?" To have drunk of the water thus procured would have been equivalent to accepting the blood of a human sacrifice, since the water was regarded as the blood of these men. However such sacrifice may be the fruit of religious zeal, it is greatly deficient in religious wisdom. In one sense human sacrifice is too great an offering. God's acceptance of human sacrifice, and especially of voluntary human sacrifice, would represent the absorption of the human soul into the Divine essence—a notion which, being a corruption of one of the highest truths, is itself one of the greatest errors. Christianity requires us indeed to offer ourselves as sacrifices to God; but it requires us to offer ourselves living sacrifices—to devote the affections of our hearts and the labour of our lives to His service; and to strive to attain conjunction with the Lord, which enables us to feel, that the more fully we are His the more distinctly we are our own.

To pour out to the Lord the water of the well of Bethlehem, as the blood of those who obtained it, is to acknowledge that life, which is the gift of God, is His, and is to be ascribed to Him alone, and to look to Him to sanctify it, and render it fit for His sacred service. This pouring out of the water reminds us of the truth that "we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again." Man cannot give life, neither can he restore it. This is true of spiritual and eternal, as well as of natural and temporal life. The breath of natural life and the spirit of regenerating life are equally the gift of God. To Him should they be poured out, in the spirit of devout acknowledgement, that every good and every perfect gift comes from above. And where we have erred in the right employment of the powers which the Lord confers upon us, or of the graces which He bestows, when zeal may have carried us where wisdom would have forbidden us to venture, may we listen to the dictates of that Divine voice, which never fails to speak out clearly and distinctly when even the generous impulses of the mind have carried us beyond the bounds of prudence.

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