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THE UNBELIEVING FEARS OF DAVID
1 Samuel 27:1, And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.
OF the dispositions of men their fellow-creatures can judge only by external signs, either in word or deed: but God discerns them as they exist in the inmost recesses of the heart, and puts a just construction upon every motion there. It does not appear that David had disclosed to any one his feelings on the occasion before us: but the all-seeing God has told us what was the language of his heart: “David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.”
It will be a profitable subject for our consideration, if we inquire,
In what light we should regard these fears of David—
Beyond all doubt, there was great occasion for fear—
[The malignity of Saul against him was deeply noted. From the moment that Saul heard persons celebrating the slaughter of ten thousands by David, whilst they ascribed the slaughter of only thousands to him, he “eyed him from that day, and forward [Note: 1 Samuel 18:7-9.].” The benefit which David had conferred in the slaughter of Goliath was of no account in his mind; so rancorous is “envy, even as rottenness in the bones [Note: Proverbs 14:30.].” Even on the very morrow after this victory did Saul “cast his javelin at David, to smite him to the wall:” yea, twice was this effort made by Saul for his destruction; and “twice,” as it were by miracle, “did David avoid the stroke [Note: 1 Samuel 18:11.].”
Bent on the destruction of David, Saul had recourse to every expedient he could devise. He offered him his elder daughter to wife, and afterwards his younger daughter Michal; and set his servants to work upon his ambition to accept the offer, on purpose to involve him in war with the Philistines, that so he might fall by their hands [Note: 1 Samuel 18:17-25.]. And when David had accomplished double the task imposed upon him, it only provoked the enmity of Saul so much the more against him [Note: 1Sa 18:25; 1 Samuel 18:27; 1 Samuel 18:29.]. Not having succeeded in this device, he “ordered Jonathan his son, and all his servants, to kill David [Note: 1 Samuel 19:1.];” which, if Jonathan had not made it known to David, would, by one or other of them, have been effected. And when, by the expostulations of Jonathan with his father, the order was revoked, and safety was guaranteed to David under the sanction of an oath, yea, and when fresh services to a vast extent were rendered by David, still did Saul’s heart burn with rage against him, insomuch that he again cast a javelin at him to destroy him, and sent messengers to watch and assassinate him in his own house [Note: 1 Samuel 19:4-11.]: and to the fidelity of his wife alone he owed his preservation [Note: 1 Samuel 19:11-17.]. Still, with relentless fury, did this blood-thirsty monarch pursue him, with three successive bands of murderers; yea, and he himself also followed with a fourth, to seize and destroy him [Note: 1 Samuel 19:18-24.]: yet, notwithstanding the clearest possible interposition of God in his behalf, did Saul still determine upon his death [Note: 1 Samuel 20:31.], and even cast a javelin at his own son for presuming to intercede for him [Note: 1 Samuel 20:32-33.]. And when David had fled to Gath, and in his way had obtained from Ahimelech the priest, under pretext of being on urgent business from Saul himself, some temporary supply of food, together with Goliath’s sword, Saul, on hearing of it, slew no less than eighty-five priests by the hand of Doeg his informant, and then smote the whole city also with indiscriminate rage, “both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword [Note: 1 Samuel 22:18-19.].”
Besides his own immediate servants, Saul had traitors in confederacy with him, and armies to execute his murderous projects. The men of Keilah, a fortified city, which David, with great prowess, had saved from the Philistine armies, instead of requiting his kindness to them as they ought, would have betrayed him into the hands of Saul, if David had not escaped from them [Note: 1 Samuel 23:5; 1 Samuel 23:12-13.]. “Every day did Saul seek him” with indefatigable vigilance; so that he must have fallen, if God had not, as it were by miracle, preserved him [Note: 1 Samuel 23:14.]. David had concealed himself in a wood, in the wilderness of Ziph: and the Ziphites, instead of affording him protection, voluntarily offered to deliver him into the hands of Saul, if he would come down to take him: and, in the wilderness of Maon, whither David had taken refuge on a rock, did Saul actually encompass him with his armies, and would have apprehended him, but that he was forced suddenly to abandon his enterprise, in order to repel an invasion of the Philistines. With no less than three thousand men did Saul pursue him, as soon as he had rid himself of the Philistine invaders; so determined was he not to rest till he had slain David [Note: 1 Samuel 24:2.].
But that which most of all shews the reason which David had for fear, is, that Saul persevered in his efforts, amidst all imaginable checks, both from God, and from his own conscience. In the wilderness of En-gedi, David and his men were hid in a cave. Saul, unconscious of any danger, went into that very cave wherein they were: and David, unperceived by Saul, who possibly might have lain down to sleep, cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe; and then followed him out of the cave with the skirt in his hand, and shewed him how easily he might have put an end to the contest by the destruction of Saul himself. On that occasion the murderous tyrant was overcome with gratitude; and with tears acknowledged, that his enmity against David was unmerited in the extreme [Note: 1 Samuel 24:4; 1 Samuel 24:8; 1 Samuel 24:16-17.]. Who would suppose, that, after such kindness, this wicked monarch could ever again renew his murderous attacks? Yet, on the Ziphites again tendering their traitorous services, did Saul go down again to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand men to seek him: and there again did he experience, at the hands of David, the same forbearance as before; and had the same decided evidence of it given him as before, by seeing the very spear that was at his bolster, and the cruse of water that was near it, in the hands of David, who might have slain him with the same facility that he had taken them [Note: 1 Samuel 26:5-16.]. On this occasion, Saul, a second time, acknowledged the injustice of his conduct towards David, and foretold that David would ultimately prevail [Note: 1 Samuel 26:21-25.]. But how was it possible for David to place any reliance on the professions of such a man? or, when the enmity of Saul was so rooted, so inveterate, so active, so widely diffused, and so continually persevering, how could David, who was the object of it, do any thing but fear, and anticipate at last a fatal issue? It is but justice to the character of David to state thus minutely the grounds he had for fear, more especially because we are constrained to say, that,]
Nevertheless, in entertaining desponding fear, he sinned—
[God had promised to David that he should sit upon the throne of Israel [Note: 1 Samuel 15:28-29; 1Sa 16:12 with Psalms 89:19-24.]: and it was not in the power of man to make void the divine decree. Indeed, God had already shewn, by his various interpositions in his behalf, that under his protection we are safe, even though men and devils should combine their efforts to destroy us. David should have remembered this, and not suffered any thing to shake his faith in God. I mean not to say, that it was easy to exercise faith under such circumstances, and to preserve unruffled composure in the midst of so many perils: conscious of our own infirmity, we can easily make allowance for him: but the point we have in hand is, to determine the quality of David’s conduct on that occasion: and we are constrained to say, that he should have, like his great progenitor, “against hope, believed in hope [Note: Romans 4:18.];” and have believed, that though he were actually slain, God would rather raise him again from the dead to sit on the throne of Israel, than suffer one jot or tittle of his word to fail [Note: Hebrews 11:17-19.]. Thus it was that Abraham acted in reference to Isaac: and thus should David also have been “strong in faith, giving glory to God [Note: Romans 4:20.].”]
But that we may bring this matter home to our own bosoms, it will be proper to inquire,
What similar apprehensions we have to guard against—
God has given to his people promises of exaltation to thrones of glory. But they also are surrounded with many enemies, and are exposed to many and severe conflicts. Hence they also are sometimes overcome with desponding fears; and are ready, “in their hearts” at least, “to say, I shall one day perish by the hands of my great enemy.” Now it is no uncommon thing to hear the parallel drawn between David and them; and to infer, from the sinfulness of David’s fears, a corresponding sinfulness in theirs. That we may enter justly into the comparison, I will state,
The correspondence there is between the cases—
[God has doubtless given us “a covenant ordered in all things and sure;” and his promises are so “exceeding great and precious,” that we may well rest upon them with most unshaken affiance. In that covenant, God provides for our acceptance with him, through the blood of his dear Son; for our renovation after his own divine image, through the influences of his good Spirit; for our perseverance in the ways of holiness even to the end, and for our final admission to his heavenly kingdom. He assures us, that he will “never suffer any one to pluck us out of his hands [Note: John 10:28-29.]:” and, because we may well suspect the effect of our own weakness, he engages “never to depart from us to do us good; and to put his fear into our hearts, that we may never depart from him [Note: Jeremiah 32:40.].” This covenant He has even “confirmed by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for him to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18.].”
But, on the other hand, our conflicts with our spiritual enemies are exceeding heavy, and with little intermission. The world, the flesh, the devil, are all confederate against us; and are diversifying their attacks in endless variety, whilst within our own bosoms there are traitors ready at all times to deliver us up into the hands of our enemies. Thousands of times are we saved from them, almost as by miracle: and enemies, which we thought were slain, rise up against us with renewed vigour; whilst Satan, baffled in one assault, goes and takes with him seven other spirits, mighty as himself, to renew the contest — — —
Is it to be wondered at, then, if the saints are sometimes discouraged, and ready to fear that they shall one day perish by these continual assaults? Or can they be considered as sinning against God, if they sometimes give way to desponding apprehensions?]
To answer this, I will proceed to state,
The difference between the cases—
[David was confessedly and altogether wrong: for the promises which had been made to him were personal, and were irrespective of any moral qualities in him: but those which are made to us, pertain to characters only; and then alone become ours, when we attain the character to which the promises are made. For instance: not a promise in the whole book of God belongs to us, till we repent and believe the Gospel: so that, before we can actually apply the promises to ourselves with an assurance of our interest in them, we must inquire whether we have come to God in his appointed way. To expect the accomplishment of them to our souls without this, were presumption: so that, to ascertain the precise quality of our feelings, we must inquire carefully, what is the special ground of our fear. If we are afraid lest God should forget his promises, or leave us to perish, notwithstanding we trust in him, our belief is highly criminal: but, if we doubt whether we have really come to Christ in his appointed way, we may be doing the very thing which our situation most imperiously calls for. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.],” is a divine command: and, till we have an evidence in ourselves that we have fled to Christ for refuge, any confidence of our acceptance with God would be a fatal delusion. The truth is, that men’s difficulties on this subject have arisen, in a great degree, from not distinguishing properly between the graces of faith and hope: faith has respect to the word of promise; and to be weak in the exercise of it, is highly sinful: but hope has respect to the thing promised; and that ought to vary according to the evidence which there is of our title to it. If, therefore, we would judge how far our state of mind really corresponds with that of David, we must bear in remembrance this necessary distinction, and apply it to our state as occasion may require.]
Let me, then, impress upon your minds these necessary hints:
Learn to distinguish between what is good and what is evil, in Christian experience—
[Distinguish carefully between faith and presumption, on the one hand; and between fear and unbelief, on the other. That which many call faith, is nothing but an unfounded confidence of their own acceptance with God: and a greater curse cannot befall us, than the attainment of such a faith as that. On the other hand, that which many call unbelief, is a sense of our liableness to fall and perish: and a greater blessing than that cannot be bestowed on any child of man. To all I say, and to all God says, “Be not high-minded, but fear:” for “blessed is the man that feareth always.” Of God’s power or willingness to save you, it is not possible to be too fully assured: but of your own actual acceptance with him, your assurance must be in exact proportion to the evidence of it which is displayed in your life and conversation — — —]
Let your anticipations be under the influence of faith—
[Whatever God has spoken in his word, shall surely come to pass. Now the word of God has said, that “except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven:” “Except ye repent, ye shall all perish;” “He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him:” “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.” Now you may anticipate the salvation of every penitent and believing saint, as surely as if you saw him in heaven; and the damnation of every impenitent and unbelieving sinner, as surely as if you saw him already in hell. This, indeed, must be taken into the account, that it is supposed they retain their characters; for otherwise they shall actually change their respective dooms: the man who becomes righteous shall reap the fruit of his righteousness; and the man who departs from his righteousness, shall parish under an accumulated load of guilt and misery. This is God’s own express declaration [Note: Ezekiel 18:26-28,]; and his dealings with men in the last day shall be in strict and uniform accordance with it. Our ways may be unequal: but “his are, and shall be equal [Note: Ezekiel 18:29.].”]
Let nothing operate to drive you from God—
[David said, “There is nothing better for me, than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines [Note: Text.];” and for this he is generally condemned, and perhaps justly too: though I cannot forget, that our Saviour, under somewhat similar circumstances, was carried by divine direction into Egypt. But respecting us there can be no doubt. Every thing must drive us rather to God, than from him. Persecution, temptations, yea, even sin itself, must have this effect. We have no refuge whatever, but in God: and if, like Jonah, we were in the belly of hell itself, we must cry unto him. Then “shall all things eventually work together for good.” Our very fears shall tend to keep us from undue confidence, and constrain us to cast ourselves more entirely upon God. And, if once they produce this blessed effect, we may rest assured, that not all the universe combined “shall ever separate us from his love [Note: Romans 8:38-39.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 27". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany