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Saul, part 14

David, Fleeing from Saul into Philistia, Receives from Ahimelech the Priest Showbread and the Sword of Goliath.

1 Samuel 21

To his inward trust in the Lord the Christian unites the outward means of resistance. David, while he trusted in the Lord, had the sword of Goliath, which, had occasion required, he would have turned against his enemies, those very enemies whom that sword had defended. He was now in the giant's own city, to whose king he had fled, to seek shelter from the wrath of Saul, the king of his native land, from which he had been driven by a cruel persecution.

The history of David, viewed as a history of Him whom he represented, even David's Lord, presents to the mind some idea of the persecutions and sufferings He endured, and of the glory into which He entered, when He had overcome and risen purified above them. The Christian disciple, to whom the Lord has said, and to whom He still says, "In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world," may see too in this history the path which leads to purity and bliss. That path is not indeed all darkness and suffering. If such were the case the spirit would fail, and the prize would be lost. In the spiritual as in the natural life there is, as a general rule, more of peacefulness and light than of tribulation and darkness. And there is always this additional consolation to the spiritually-minded man, that when he does suffer, he does not all suffer. As, when the tempest is raging below, lashing the sea into fury and agitating the forest with terrific violence, perfect tranquillity reigns in the upper heaven; and as, when dense clouds darken the earth and pour out their inundating floods upon it, the sun shines in all his majesty and glory above them— so when the earthly region of the regenerating mind is dark and tempestuous, there is sunshine and peace in the upper and inner region, which, though it may be concealed, can never be invaded, by the evils that disturb and the falsities that obscure the natural mind below. Even in these natural and grateful vicissitudes of state, which are provided to refresh the mind by the alternations of activity and repose, both intellectual and moral, the inner mind knows less of change both in extent and duration than that which is without; just as the mountain enjoys the sunshine long after the shadows of evening have fallen upon the vale below, and receives it long before it gladdens the earth where are the ordinary dwellings of men. And the higher the mountain rises, the more it possesses of evenness of temperature and continuance of light.

Although, therefore, in this world we must have tribulation, and in both worlds change, yet the higher we rise in the life of heaven, the less does the tribulation inwardly disturb us, or the change inwardly affect us; the nearer we are to Him who is without variableness or shadow of turning, who is the same yesterday and for ever, the more we enter into the tranquillity of settled peace and the unclouded light of eternal sunshine.

Yet in the world of time, the labour of the upward task is still before us. All may have conquered, but none have as yet overcome the last enemy. Tribulation ends only with the present life; and that which continues through life, that from which the present existence is never exempt, and from which no moment of it is entirely secure, demands and deserves our attention, as the frequent occurrence of the subject in the language and symbolism of the Scriptures abundantly show.

The present part of the history, however, does not so much relate to the subject of tribulation itself as to the relief which the troubled soul finds on the way, when driven by the violence of inward persecution to seek refuge for a time in a state which is useful only when it is temporary, or in principles which are useful only when they are auxiliary.

We have instances of this kind in the Sacred Scriptures. One is in the case of Elijah the Tishbite. When in consequence of the sins of Ahab the heavens were shut up for three years and six months, and drought and famine were in the land, the prophet was commanded to go to the banks of the Jordan, where he drank of the brook Cherith and was fed by the ravens; and when the brook dried up, he was sent to a widow of Zarephath, who sustained him with bread made of the meal which he himself miraculously supplied. On another occasion, when he fled from the face of Jezebel, and, weary of his life, he laid himself down under a juniper-tree, and slept in the wilderness, he was awakened by an angel who said to him, "Arise and eat And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a jug of water at his head." Besides these and other instances of the same character there is one still more striking and important. The Lord Jesus Himself, when an infant, to escape the rage of Herod, and be preserved in the massacre of the innocents, was by Divine command carried down into Egypt, where He remained till the danger was passed.

In the teaching of the Lord, the same mode of proceeding is recommended to His disciples, "When they persecute you in one city, flee into another."

These things are written for our direction and comfort. They instruct us what we ought to do and how we are to be provided for, in states of trial or in times of danger.

The case of Elijah teaches us how the faithful are to act, and how they shall be succoured, when the heaven of the inner man is shut up and the gentle showers of spiritual truth no longer descend, and the streams of spiritual intelligence no longer flow; and the mind languishes under that most terrible calamity, a famine, not of bread and water, but of the hearing—the inward, peaceful, and obedient hearing of the Word of God.

For what is it that shuts up the windows of heaven, so that the blessing is not poured out upon us from on high, and our minds are turned into deserts? Is it not the evil of looking outward to the world for our blessings, instead of looking for them upward to heaven? to natural rather than to spiritual, to temporal rather than to eternal things? What is evil in its root b«t reliance upon self? and what is good in its root but trust in the Lord? "Trust in the Lord, and do good; and verily you shall be fed." And where does the Lord send us to learn this trust? "Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them: how much more are you better than the birds?" God not only feeds the ravens, but He sends the raven to feed the prophet, and instructs him to be our teacher.

It might seem that when man takes the double security of providing both for his present desires and for his future wants, he might have more perfect contentment than the birds of heaven, that take no thought for the morrow, and therefore do not gather into storehouse or barn. The raven feeds us when we learn from him to take no anxious or distrustful thought for the morrow, especially when, in a spiritual manner and in spiritual things, we lay not our treasures up in the earthly storehouse of the outward memory, and say to our souls, "You have much goods laid up for many years, take your case, eat, drink, and be merry;" but when, through the loving affections of the inner man, we daily receive from the Lord out of heaven the true bread, which is His flesh, and which He gives for the life of the soul that hungers after righteousness.

In those instances in which safety and sustenance were sought in times of hunger and scarcity, the place and the supply were generally inferior to those from which the sufferer was driven. Philistia and Egypt were not infrequently the places of sojourn. Abraham and Isaac sojourned in the land of the Philistines, Jacob sojourned in Egypt, and the whole of his house went down there to be nourished by Joseph, when the famine was sore in the land of Canaan; and there the infant Saviour was preserved. The reason of this is to be found in the representative character of these places, Philistia when friendly being the type of intelligence, and Egypt of knowledge; and the going down there represented initiation into knowledge and intelligence, as the means of improvement in the life of religion.

David, when he fled from the face of Saul, was on his way to Achish, king of Gath, the very city of the Philistines to which Goliath had belonged. He did not indeed remain long there, but passed into the land of Judah, where he found a place of security in the cave of Adullam.

It was on his way to Achish that he obtained from Ahimelech the priest bread out of the sanctuary and the sword of Goliath.

This circumstance derives additional interest from the reference which our Lord makes to it on the occasion of the Jews accusing His disciples of breaking the Sabbath, because on that day they had plucked the ears of corn and had eaten of them. "Have you not read," said our Lord, "what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread,. which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them that were with him, but only for the priests?" The Lord further vindicated His disciples, and Himself as their Master, by declaring to the Pharisees that "the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath-day "(Matt 12). If Jesus, by allowing His disciples on that day to pluck and eat the ears of corn, showed that He was Lord of the Sabbath; David's act of eating the showbread was intended to represent that He was Lord also of the Temple; for in the highest sense David represented the Lord, and those that were with him represented His disciples. The Temple was the holiest place, the Sabbath was the holiest day; and both were types of Him as the Holy One. The Temple itself was not indeed built in David's time, but the Tabernacle then existed; and both were the house of God, and both had a holy signification, as had every place where the Lord was duly worshiped. But not only did the Temple and the Sabbath represent Him; the sacred bread of the Temple and the corn of the field pointed to him as the bread of eternal life. The Lord in His own person was Priest as well as King; and He promises to make His disciples priests and kings also. He is the Priest as the dispenser of love, and His disciples are priests as the recipients of His love; He is the King as the dispenser of truth, and His disciples are kings as the recipients of His truth.

When David and them that were with him did eat of the show-bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, but for the priests only, he showed beforehand that Jesus should enter into the holy place, and introduce His disciples into the holy things of the Church, and give them to eat of the holy principle of spiritual goodness, by which the soul is spiritually nourished. This holy good is especially precious in the state of the spiritual life which David's present condition represented. He was fleeing from the face of his enemy, and going to seek protection, in another country than his own; and like the prophet Elijah, he was to go in the strength of that meat to the place of safety. The meat which is in such states received is that which is from God, and which nourishes the inward man during times of labour and trial. The Lord Himself was sustained by this food, and He indeed above all others. To this food He alluded when He said to His disciples, "I have meat to eat which you know not of." That meat was the Divine Good, which He inwardly received from the Father, that dwelt within Him, and of which no man knew. This was truly the hallowed bread, which it was not lawful or possible for any but Himself to eat, and which none but Himself could receive in its Divine fullness, holiness, and power.

Those who were with David received of the hallowed bread as well as himself. The followers of the Lord receive indeed of the bread that is sanctified; but they receive it in a different measure and degree. It was to give His disciples this bread that He Himself received it: and it is through Him only that they can receive it also. Our Lord said, "No one knows the Father but the Son; "but He added these all-important words, "and he to whom the Son will reveal Him." This is the mystery of godliness—God manifest in the flesh—" No man has seen the Father at any time; you have neither heard the voice of the Father at any time nor seen His shape." Had not the Son brought Him forth to view, the Father would have remained for ever unseen, unheard, and unknown. How full of significance and of consolation and blessing are the Lord's words to Philip, "He that has seen Me has seen the Father, and from now on you have known Him and have seen Him!" The incomprehensible Divinity brought to our apprehension by the Humanity is the glory of the Incarnation. And the divinity is brought to us, so as to be with us in all our Christian experience, because that Humanity passed through all human experience. The Lord hungered and thirsted, not for the bread that perishes nor for the water that fails, but for the hallowed bread that feeds the soul and for that living water that flows from Him as its eternal and infinite Fountain. And it is because He hungered and thirsted for, and ate and drank of this bread and water, that He now ministers to the spiritual wants of His children. He has in the proper sense a feeling of our infirmatives. "Have you not read how David did eat of the showbread, and them that were with him?"

How consolatory is it that this bread is given us in states of affliction. During the travail of the soul it is satisfied with the food of the sanctuary; it is inwardly sustained by the bread of life, when the ordinary means of support fail, and in the strength of that meat we go on during our forty days' journey.

But David inquired of Ahimelech if there were not under his hand spear or sword. The spiritual, like the natural life, requires defence as well as sustenance, and the means of its defence are signified by arms of war. The particular inquiry which this narrative suggests is the meaning of his receiving the sword of Goliath.

In treating on a former occasion of the single combat between David and Goliath, we spoke of the meaning of the sword of the giant, with which his youthful conqueror cut off his enemy's head. Armour, offensive and defensive, symbolizes the truths, in their pure or perverted state, by which principles are maintained and defended. The weapons that the evil employ against the good are not absolute falsities, for these have no power against them, but are truths falsely interpreted and applied; and these have power against the good, so far as the good can be deceived by the fallacy that they are the true teaching of the Scriptures. The sword of Goliath represented the truths of the Word perverted, so as to give a seeming support to the false principle that salvation may be obtained by faith, whatever the life may be. When this sword was taken from Goliath, and made the instrument of his own destruction, it represented, in the hand of David, truth restored to its true author, and employed in destroying the evils which, in the hand of the giant, it had been the means of supporting. As laid up in the sanctuary, it represented the truth that is consecrated to the service of God. When this sword was given by Ahimelech the priest to David, who was now anointed as king, it represented truth from the Lord's divinity, received into His humanity, as the instrumental means of subduing the powers of darkness, and accomplishing the work of human redemption. In harmony with this meaning, considered in reference to the Christian, the sword thus given out of the sanctuary is truth derived from good, coming into the life, where it is in its fullness and its power. When told by Ahimelech that the only sword he had was that of Goliath, David said, "There is none like that, give it me." To this instrument of war he gave a preference above all others, teaching us that the truth which is delivered from the perversion of evil is capable of being more serviceable than any other, since it can be turned more effectually against the power of the enemy, which is self-love or the love of the world.

In the history before us, then, we are instructed that if in our spiritual straits and distresses we take ourselves to the sanctuary, we shall receive that relief which our necessities require. The bread that sustains and the sword that defends are there laid up for those who are entitled and able to receive them. When we are driven by severe internal trials into the land of the stranger, when we mourn our removal from those inward states of confidence and joy which bespeak the presence of the light and love of God in the mind, it is consolatory and hopeful to carry with us those spiritual gifts that will preserve our souls alive, and bring us again to our home in peace.

Let us pray and labour to be endued with patience and perseverance, and be led to a right and truthful use of the means which a bountiful Providence bestows upon us. Times of adversity are seasons of improvement. They prepare us, when rightly employed, for using with advantage seasons of prosperity. This is the end for which they are permitted. The Lord desires to bestow upon His suffering ones the blessings of His kingdom, peace and rest, by leading them through tribulation. Let them be of good courage and He will strengthen their heart.

But the land of the stranger to which David now fled was like be as dangerous, and proved as inhospitable, as that of his own kindred and people from which he had been driven.

When David had obtained the showbread and the sword of Goliath, he "arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath." Arrived there, his fears were awakened by the words of the servants of Achish, "Is not this the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?" Fearing Achish, he feigned himself mad, and scrabbled on the doors, and let his spittle fall upon his beard. So well did he act his part, that he became the object of the king's contempt and aversion, which enabled him to escape this new peril. The appearance of madness which David so successfully assumed, was like those appearances we read of in Scripture, which are produced by the mental states of those who see them. What David feigned to be, the apostle appeared to be. "We commend not ourselves again to you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that you may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause" (2 Cor 5:12, 13). "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to us which are saved it is the power of God "(1 Cor 1:18). "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14). How did our Lord Himself appear to the spiritual Philistines, the uncircumcised in heart, of His day? They said, "He has a devil, and is mad; why hear you Him?" (John 10:20.) And what say natural men of the Scriptures of truth? Do they not consider them to be the scrabbling of the foolish or the designing? When Jesus stooped down and wrote upon the ground, as a mark of His condemnation of the hypocritical accusers of the sinning woman; when He spat upon the ground, and made clay of the spittle, to anoint the eyes of the blind, He gave the true sense and use of the truth, which, to the unbelieving, appears only as scrabbling upon the doors, and as spittle upon the beard. But there is another side of this subject, which will be considered when we come to treat of David's second visit to Achish and his favourable reception by him, when he finds a refuge from the enmity of Saul with Saul's last and conquering enemy. Meanwhile the anointed of the Lord, and the potential king of the land, is hunted like a partridge upon the mountains, with no covert in which to find shelter and repose.

It would appear from the superscription of the 56th Psalm, which was composed in reference to this part of David's experience, if not at the very time he was passing through it, that his danger was even greater than the narrative would lead us to suppose. The psalm is there said to relate to David, when the Philistines took him in Gath. If the expression does not mean that the Philistines actually seized David, it at least implies that they held him as securely as if he had been their personal captive. The psalm itself describes a state of persecution and distress. But as the captivity, peril, and distress of David on this occasion typified those of the Christian, and even those of the Lord Himself, in a corresponding state of trial, the words of the Psalmist may be taken up by every spiritual sufferer. In the "summary exposition" we are told that this psalm treats of the Lord's temptations, in which He put His trust in the Father; therefore it treats of the Christian's temptations, in which he puts his trust in the Lord. The malice of the tempting spirits is described by the people gathering themselves together, hiding themselves, and marking his steps, when they wait for his soul. This gives us an idea of the combined, hidden, watchful enmity of the spirits of evil, when they wait for the soul, that they make it their prey. But the language of the Psalmist should be that of the Christian. Prayer for the Divine mercy gives confidence in the Divine protection. "Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up. What time I am afraid I will trust in You. In God I will praise His word, in God have I put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do to me." The efficacy of trustful prayer is exemplified in David's experience. "When I cry to You then shall mine enemies turn back; this I know; for God is for me." This trust, when it is earnest and persistent, is sure to be turned into triumph. "Your vows are upon me, O God, I will render praise to You. For You have delivered my soul from death; You will deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living." It is singularly appropriate that so much should be said about his steps and his feet, and of these being delivered from falling.

The Philistines representing those who are in faith alone, a temptation of the kind which their assaults describe is one that marks the steps, to draw one away from the practice of the law of life. And therefore one who is tempted to yield to the seductive influence or the specious reasonings of faith without works, which, is the doctrine of devils, who believe and tremble, will especially mingle with his thankfulness for the past deliverance of his soul from this death, the trust that the Lord will deliver his feet from falling, that he may walk before God in the light of the living.

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