1 Samuel 22:1, 2; 2 Samuel 23.
This time of David's history was somewhat illustrative of our own; there were two parties in the land — Saul's and David's. They were very distinct, and so different that they could not be reconciled. Saul, the natural man of self-will and pride, was the head of the party which represents the world — its greatness, glory, strength, and religiousness. David, however, was God's man, the man after God's own heart, and God was most remarkably with him. The mass of the people was with Saul; only a little flock with David. The royal court and its grandeur clustered around Saul, while David was hunted like a partridge upon the mountains, though anointed and chosen of God. But divine judgment was in store for Saul and his associates, while David, though despised and rejected, was destined by God to be set upon the throne of the kingdom. Those, therefore, at this time whose sympathies were with Saul were among the prosperous and honourable of the world, while those who cast in their lot with David had suffering and conflict before reigning with him. The great, and noble, and wise of this world were trying to satisfy themselves with the social, political, and religious occupations which revolved around the royal throne of Saul; while David was the centre of gathering for those who were in relationship with him, as well as a sure refuge for the destitute and distressed. True there was a religious camp in Israel professedly owning the true God; but David was outside it with God. Not the royal throne of Israel yet for David, but Adullam's cave; for he was to shadow forth this present time when Jesus is despised and His rightful claims disowned by the world. The vital question in those days was whether Saul or David should be honoured and obeyed. The vital question now is, whether to be of the world, or confessing and serving the Lord Jesus Christ. It must be one or the other. To be subject to the claims of both is simply impossible. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." To be of the world is to be thoroughly opposed to Christ. Nothing can be more distinct and sweeping than the divine statement, that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." We know that Jesus said of His own — "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." The aged apostle John most solemnly declared — "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness (or the wicked one)."
Adullam, then, which means "their testimony," was the place where those who were in relationship with the man after God's own heart were gathered. It was really the outside place — outside the camp — the place of rejection and testimony. David was the attractive centre. We are told that "his brethren and all his father's house went down thither to him." (1 Sam. 22:1.) And so now; it is the One whom God gave and sent, His beloved Son, whom men despised and rejected, and still refuse, who is really the centre of gathering for all who are in relationship with Him. We remember His precious words: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." This is enough. And those whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren know the blessedness of being thus gathered in His name, and of enjoying His presence as the great and only centre of gathering. The Spirit gathers them thus.
But more than this; the poor, and needy, and distressed found a refuge in David. And what could more strikingly show forth the grace of the Lord Jesus in saving sinners, who still calls, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely!"
"Welcome, all by sin oppressed,
Welcome to the Saviour's breast."
Hence we are told that "every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them." (v. 2.) And is not this the gracious attitude that the earth-rejected Jesus still takes toward guilty man? Is it not sinners, enemies, lost ones, that He receives? "Not the righteous sinners Jesus came to call." Is it not toward such that His compassionate heart yet moves? Does not His long-suffering mercy linger over men in their guilt and misery? Is He not the alone Saviour, the only refuge and door of escape from the wrath to come? Surely. He welcomes and gives eternal life and peace to distressed and anxious souls! Blessed be His name, He still forgives the vilest sinner that turns to Him. He dries up the tear, and delights to hush the groan of the sin-stricken, to make the most discontented heart to find rest and real joy in His most blessed presence. His loving cry to lost and guilty ones is as true as ever, "Him that cometh to Me, I will in nowise cast out;" yea, more than this, He brings the soul to know what peace and joy in believing are; for He "suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring its to God." How blessed this is! Well might an inspired apostle exclaim, "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich." (2 Cor. 8:9.)
But observe, it is said that "David became a captain over them;" and here we have illustrated the two great principles of Christianity; viz., receiving Christ Jesus as the Saviour whom God sent, and then being subject to Him — owning Him as Lord. The latter all, sooner or later, must do; for "at the name of Jesus every knee must bow," in heaven, in earth, and in the infernal regions. It is simply a question as to time. Those who now thus bow to Jesus, and own Him as Saviour and Lord, have eternal life, and shall never perish. But it is to be feared that many who speak of Him as "our Saviour" are going on doing their own will, and not owning His Lordship. This is a fatal mistake. As we have said, all must own Him Lord. No doubt that the great religious system around us, commonly called Christendom, is largely built upon this fatal mistake of the lip confession of "our Saviour," without their ever having gone to Jesus, the true David, as distressed, as in debt, and discontented, and tasted the sweetness of His grace in welcoming them; and therefore, as willing captives at His feet, rejoiced to be subject to Him. And yet having to do with Christ Jesus, both as Saviour and Lord, are the essentials of Christianity. Nothing less will do. And it is the attempt to separate these two foundation truths, that Jesus is the only Saviour, and Lord of lords, that accounts for the nominal profession and caricatures of Christianity abounding on every hand. As Jude says, "Certain men have crept in, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ,'' or, as it might be rendered, "denying the only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Those, however, who have had to do with the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, as the One who loved them, and gave Himself for them, know Him to be precious, and the altogether lovely; and their hearts are constrained to take the place of subjection to Him, and consecration to His will, obedience to His word, devotedness to Him as the commanding and absorbing object of their hearts.
But there is another thing. This is the time when faith is tried, and the Lord is served. Few think what wonderful things are going on. Now we are in great ignorance as to how far people are true to the Lord or not; but the time will come when every one will be made manifest, every hidden thing be unmasked, and every secret matter brought to light. Then every thing will appear in its true value. Those who are thought much of now may be altogether absent then from the list of the faithful; and many whose service is now esteemed at a low value, may then shine forth to the abundant praise and honour of the Lord Jesus. But every thing now hidden shall be disclosed, for we must all be manifested at the judgment-seat of Christ, according to the deeds done in the body, and then shall every man have praise of God. So with David's men. From the starting from Adullam's cave many a conflict was gone through, many a peril endured, many a battle fought; but at the end the worthies appear, according to the real worth of their service and character of their devotedness to David. The record stands in connection with the "last words of David," and remarkable disclosures take place. The service, too, was most varied. Like the members of the body of Christ, each seems to have had a distinct path of service; but the honour of David was the touchstone, and the centre around which all revolved. No doubt every believer has a distinct line and measure of service allotted to him by the Lord now, and which no one can do but himself; "for to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." (Eph. 4:7.) He gave to every man his work. As has been said, "Now we little know what is being done for the glory of God, but by and by all will come out according to its real worth." So it was with David's men; and we find it recorded in 2 Samuel 23. David's career had well-nigh come to a close, and the judgment and glory of Solomon were soon coming upon the scene. It is here, therefore, before the glory of the kingdom, that David's worthies have their honours publicly set forth.
In glancing at the divine record, we may notice that in verse 8 it is said that Adino the Eznite slew eight hundred with his spear at one time. His service therefore stands forth in all its worth; and the detail is most accurate. The exact character of his victories are recorded. And no doubt by and by it will be seen that many servants of Christ have succeeded in vanquishing by the power of the gospel many hard-hearted enemies to God, and in bringing them as willing captives to the feet of Jesus. All this service and its detail will not be forgotten. It is evident that the apostle Paul looked forward to the joy of seeing the persons in glory as his crown, to whom he had been made useful by the preaching of the gospel. "For," said he, writing to the Thessalonian believers, "what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy." (1 Thess. 2:19, 20.)
The service, too, of Eleazar the son of Dodo is particularly brought out; for he stood manfully for the claims of David in the face of mighty Philistines, and at a time "when the men of Israel had gone away." His persevering faithfulness is recorded by the Spirit. We are told that "he smote the Philistines till his hand was weary, and his hand slave unto the sword." It is also noticed that he wrought a great victory, and that others in consequence came after only "to spoil." So it is now. At times, when almost all have turned away from contending for the truth, some valiant servant of the Lord has withstood the foe, his hand cleaving to the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and has accomplished a great victory, of which many a child of God coming after has reaped precious fruit.
Nor could the service of Shammah be unnoticed; for though it was only a piece of ground full of lentiles which he defended and secured for David, yet he determined not even to yield that right of David to the enemy. It is worthy of remark also that the courage and faithfulness of this man came out at a time when the people, instead of standing true, actually "fled from the Philistines." But both in verses 10 and 12 the Holy Ghost carefully notices that "the Lord wrought a great victory;" for while God accepts the valiant deeds of His servants, and puts them to their account, yet it is all done in His strength, and by the grace He gives, so that to Him all the glory is due. If in one place it is said that "God gave testimony to the word of His grace," an apostle also speaks by the same Spirit of one whom he had begotten in his bonds, as if he had actually accomplished the man's conversion. But it shows how gracious God is in owning our instrumentality, and making much of our little service and faithfulness, though we can truly add, "Not unto us, not unto us, O Lord, but to thy name be all the glory."
The devotedness of the mighty men at the well of Bethlehem, also stands forth in brightness and distinction in the records of divine truth. In it we see not so much victory, except it be victory over self, but personal devotedness to the man after God's own heart. They counted not their lives dear to themselves, so that they might cheer and refresh the heart of David. Like another in a later day, each might have said, "Neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy." (Acts 20:24.) So then these mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem to refresh the spirit, and gratify the desire of their beloved king. But precious as this self-sacrificing service was to him, he would not drink, but poured it out unto the Lord, saying, "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? therefore he would not drink it." (v. 11.) But the devotedness of these mighty men stands out conspicuously among David's worthies.
Abishai's courage also in slaying three hundred of the king's enemies is next recorded; and Benaiah's valour in accomplishing many mighty acts is not forgotten. The two lion-like Moabites, of whom it had been said that not one should enter the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation, he defied and overcame. Nor did he hesitate in a snowy day to go down into a pit and slay a lion, like the faithful now who have sometimes to enter into closest conflict with Satan under most distressing circumstances, and overcome him by the sword of the Spirit. He slew also an Egyptian with his own spear; as may sometimes now be witnessed, when the worldling, who opposes the servants and truth of God, is vanquished by the very weapon he himself wielded against them. Thus God turns the wrath of man to praise Him. Many other names are also ranked among David's worthies without any special mark of devotedness, or of victories being recorded.
On the other hand, however, it is most solemn to notice the absence of some of the best known among David's men. And why are they not found here? The silence is quite arresting, and bids us search the Scriptures for the reason. It is true that the name of Jonathan does appear in verse 32; but whether it be the Jonathan who loved David as his own soul or not we cannot tell; but certainly, if it be so, there is no particular record of his devotedness. The reason is obvious; for Jonathan was most earnest and thorough in his attachment to David up to a certain point; but he never broke with his kindred, and the royal court, to bear the reproach of David, nor took the place of rejection outside the camp. Consequently, we scarcely hear of Jonathan after they had made a covenant in the wood, when it is significantly stated that "David remained in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house," until we are told of his very solemn death. (1 Sam. 23:18.) Having left David in the wood, and gone to his home, he went out to battle with his father against the Philistines, and was slain with his father, and their bodies fastened as a spectacle against the wall of Bethshan. Though Jonathan's deep and warm attachment to David remain without the smallest room for question, yet his adherence to the house of Saul by natural ties reads us a most solemn and instructive lesson, because it seems to have cost him his life, and hindered his full character of service to the man after God's own heart.
But however it may be as regards Jonathan who so loved David, other names are entirely absent from the list of mighty men, nor is Scripture quite silent as to the reason why. We may notice that the greatest warrior, the wisest counsellor, and one of the chief religious officials are all absent from the list of the king's worthies. We refer to Joab, Ahithophel, and Abiathar.
Joab was nephew of David (1 Chronicles 2:18), and commander-general of his forces. He showed much warlike courage, but was revengeful, and all through seems not to have been in communion with the king's mind. He treacherously assassinated Abner to revenge his brother Asahel, whom he had killed in self-defence (2 Sam. 2:23), and he also slew Amasa, whom David had promoted to be his general-in-chief, out of jealousy of his being his rival. (2 Sam. 20:10.) These, according to Solomon, were better men, and more righteous, than he; and these assassinations, as well as his slaying Absalom with his own hand contrary to the express command of the king, were matters of great sorrow to David. However, Joab went on for many years outwardly and officially espousing David's cause. When many in Israel fell away in the time of Absalom's conspiracy, Joab remained with the king; but in after years, when the king grew old and feeble, he sided with the self-willed Adonijah, contrary to the will of God, and the express desire of the king. Instead therefore of Joab being in the list of David's worthies (though his brother Asahel and Joab's armour-bearer were there), this man of rank and power, of celebrity too among men, fell under the judgment of Solomon when he took unto him his great power, and ruled the kingdom in righteousness. According to righteous judgment he had not been true to David, "had shed the blood of war in peace," so that his hoar head was not allowed to go down to the grave in peace. Thus was he humbled instead of being honoured.
Ahithophel, David's counsellor, and highly extolled for his wisdom, is also absent from this list of worthies, though Eliam his son ranked among them. Though he was David's companion and familiar friend, yet in time of temptation he wholly fell away, and showed that, with all his sagacity, his heart was not true to God's anointed. His wisdom was so remarkable, that it is recorded that "the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God;" but no amount of wisdom will compensate for lack of uprightness and true devotedness. Accordingly, in David's time of adversity, when his interests seemed weak and declining, through the people's unfaithfulness in the time of Absalom's conspiracy, he, like another Judas, turned traitor, and afterwards hanged himself and died. Thus we see that the man accounted so wise in Israel was not ranked with David's worthies by the inspired penman, neither with the man so celebrated for his courage and warlike power.
Now let us look at the religious man in Israel, one of the chief priests, the highest character of official dignity in Israel. Why was not his name in the honoured list? True it is that David had shown him special favour and affection, in trying to allay his troubled spirit, by saying, "Abide thou with me, fear not: for he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life: but with me thou shalt be in safeguard." (1 Sam. 22:23.) And is it possible that after this he was not found true to the king? Indeed he was not; for when the usurping Adonijah said, "I will be king," he, with Joab, fell away, and helped Adonijah; and when Solomon entered upon the kingdom in righteous rule (type of a greater than Solomon, who will ere long establish His throne in righteousness), Abiathar, instead of being commended, was the subject of public humiliation by being deposed from the office of priesthood.
Thus we see, while the unpretending, devoted, and afflicted Uriah the Hittite (v. 39), and many more remained in time of trial true to David, there were those who stood foremost in Israel for their strength, wisdom, or official religiousness, who were judged and abased instead of commended and exalted when the kingdom was set up in glory. And, in applying this to ourselves, have we not need to cry, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe"? What lessons of peculiar solemnity the record of these people presents to us, and surely awaken in our consciences the grave importance of seeing that we are true to our Lord Jesus during this time of His personal absence and rejection, so that when He comes we may have His precious commendation — "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
These omissions in the list of David's faithful ones are painfully significant, and forcibly remind us of the prophet's words: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in His might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord." (Jer. 9:23, 24.)