1 Samuel 25.
In order to have practical communion with the mind of God, through the Scriptures, whilst the conflict still remains between the flesh and the Spirit, it is needful that the soul be established in grace. Now Satan seeks to hide the simplicity of this grace; but it is simple grace towards those who were dead in trespasses and sins that has met us. As the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so was Jesus on the cross, and He is presented to us by God as the object of our faith. When we look to Him, God says, "Live." The next thing that Satan seeks to hide from us, is God's preserving grace; and this he does by bringing in many inventions of His own. God preserves us by something hidden in heaven. We may be looking at our experience, to outward observances, to an outward priesthood, and the like; but if it is not that which is hidden in heaven, connected with the precious blood of Jesus and His priesthood, to which we are looking, it must come from him who is the "father of lies." All those things which tend at all to promise the soul preservation, apart from this, lead astray.
There is, then, to all believers, sure and everlasting acceptance, because of the precious blood of Jesus which has been shed for them. "Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves; but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption." (Heb. 9:11, 12.) This secures their blessing and peace for ever. Nothing can shake or alter the peace that subsists between the Father and the Son, nothing that crosses our path here, none of the circumstances of earth, can alter the peace of the sanctuary. It is established for ever between the Father and Jesus. So that whenever a believer seeks it, whatever the condition of soul in which he may turn towards God, the peace of the sanctuary is there - unchanged. How precious the assurance of this! The soul that has learned any thing of God, and of His holiness, knows how every hour many a thing crosses the path likely to affect this peace - that soul must prize the unchanged peace of the sanctuary.
But we know other blessings also. God would have the saints understand and love Him and His ways here - His actings in the midst of an unholy earth, where Satan's seat is. He (God) desires that we should have communion with Himself in His thoughts about all around. By-and-by the Church will participate with the Lord in the exercise of power towards the earth - we shall share His glory, for we are "joint-heirs with Christ." But besides this there is the place of present association in service. And this must be in humiliation. Jesus served God, in the midst of circumstances of evil, and the "contradiction of sinners."
We read of the apostle Paul saying, "By the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but, the grace of God which was with me." Now very often (our thoughts are apt to dwell so much and so exclusively on acceptance) this passage, "By the grace of God I am what I am," is looked at as only having to do with acceptance; but the Lord desires that we should abundantly serve Him in the midst of Satan's world - having, it may be, to conflict not only with evil in ourselves, but with evil in others; and nothing but His grace can enable us to do this. It is as much the "grace of God" that has given us to serve, and the "grace of God" that strengthens for service, as it was the "grace of God" that saved us at the beginning.
When "Christ ascended up on high," He "gave gifts unto men. Some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for (or in order to) the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (Eph. 4) You will perceive how the grace of God leads that way; viz., to strengthen and qualify for service. Thus, if any teach you, they do it, not merely that you may be blessed, but so blessed as to become servants to others - life in you ministering to life in them, and strengthening that which needs to be strengthened. Now, suppose this be not understood, that I do not see it to, be my privilege, I may be very thankful to have one to teach me, but my faith will be weak, and my prayers hindered, I shall not have the right object before me. Teaching amongst the saints is not intended simply to open up truth unto them, to tell them what salvation is, or to give them comfort; but also to open out and direct the soul to those things which God desires should be the objects of service in faith, as it is said, "Your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father." I need not say, beloved friends, how often we stop short of this, and rest in our own personal blessing. When the soul once recognizes it to be the intention God has in view, in strengthening us, that we should serve Him in serving others, it gets quite a new motive for which to live - something worth living for.
Now, I know nothing more important or more blessed than the being able to discern the true service of Christ in the world. Nothing more marks the difference between a soul taught of the Spirit, and one untaught of Him, than this. It was a blessed thing - the great test of faith, when the Lord Jesus was here, to be able to discern and confess Him, as what He really was - the Son, and sent One of God. And so, at the present moment, the leading of the Holy Ghost is always towards the distinct recognition of that which is of God in the world. Till Jesus comes again, this will be found in the lowly place, that which the flesh likes not to own, but which the Holy Spirit loves to recognize. He leads the enlightened soul to say, "There will I cast in my lot; for there blessing is."
Such parts of Scripture as that on which we are now meditating bring us into communion with the servants of God - the family of faith in past ages. They show us that in principle their trials were like our trials, their conflicts like our conflicts, and thus knit our hearts to them in a way which nothing else can.
David had gained the place in which we find him here because he was of faith, and because Saul was one who was not of faith. He represents the person with whom the truth and the calling of God is. As a simple stripling, David had been taught to trust in God - the God of Israel. When the lion and the bear came, he had faith to meet the lion and the bear, and to overcome them. This was a matter between David and God in secret. But very soon after, David's faith enabled him to come forward, not for his own deliverance, but for that of God's Israel. Faith led him to take up the current of the counsels of God. As a Christian goes onward in his career, though the trials he has to encounter may be greater, he goes on in the current of the counsels of God; and thus, as Paul says, he is led about in triumph in Christ. Greater things may be done, yet in one sense they are felt to be easier, because he becomes more acquainted with the strength of God. But this path must begin in secret, and then shall we be led onward of God.
To return to the scene before us. God had anointed David king. Saul was still in power, having offices, etc., which none but one who was of faith could sustain. David did not lift his hand in vengeance against Saul - he left all that was connected with the place of the flesh, and took his place as an outcast, simply and singly in the wilderness. There he was glad of any countenance, of any support. Just so is it at the present hour with the servants of Christ, who seek to walk in the truth - those, in a spiritual sense, of the lineage of David. The more they walk in it, the more sensitive will they become to any thing of kindness and love which comes in their way; for their hearts will be often worn and weary. I suppose there is nothing more gladdening to the soul that desires the good of others and the glory of God, than to see any uniting with itself for the truth's sake. The "cup of cold water," any little act of kindness, connects such with the truth of God. In this there is distinct and precious service - "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto ME." God only sees the heart; but where there is one who says, "I receive, and countenance, and desire to cast in my lot with persons who are walking in the truth, suffering for righteousness' sake" - there blessing will be.
David was in need - here was another not in need. Rich in the earth, surrounded by this world's goods, living in abundance - such was the character of Nabal. (v. 2.) David grudged him not his prosperity (nay, doubtless, he felt that he would not have exchanged his place for Nabal's); it was no hard message that he sent: "I do not ask thee," he says, "to leave thy riches and follow me; I say, Peace both to thee, and peace to thy house, and peace unto all that thou hast; only wilt thou show kindness unto me; wilt thou give me that which I need?" (vv. 6-8.) The heart of David was large enough to have rejoiced in any thing that would have identified Nabal's place with his. And so ever, when the heart of a saint is in a gracious state, there will not be the grudging of those around, nor yet the disposition to say, "See what I am, and what you are not." No, that heart will rather seek to bind the connecting link between another and itself.
God deals in grace. He knew what the end of Nabal would be, yet this was the gracious test which He put to him. And if there had been a spark of grace in Nabal's heart, of any thing according to God, it must have answered to the test. But there was not. His eye was fixed upon outward circumstances; his rough, outward thought about David's position was this: "Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants that break away nowadays, every one from his master." (v. 10.) Now we must remember, dear friends, that we have all of us, naturally, this Nabal feeling (there is no heart without it) as well as other evil; and about this, even as believers, we have to watch and judge ourselves. I ask you, whether, because you desire to serve God, there is ready willingness, in full freedom of heart, to give all that countenance and fellowship which you are able to others who may stand in need of it? This may be done in the way of support, or comfort, or sympathy, either in temporal or spiritual things. Love will find out many a way.
In the present day there are not a few who, it may be, seem to some of us to shrink from and shun the circumstances in which they find themselves placed. But about this we may misjudge them, and be saying, in principle, the same thing that Nabal said, little aware of the deep inward struggle and anxiety there has been. David had given up much; many a tie had been broken, many a struggle gone through, ere he took this position. So that, though it was true, in one sense, that he had "run away from his master," how different was the act in the eyes of God and of man. That which is outward soon attracts the eye, when perhaps it requires patient, diligent investigation to find out the truth. If the soul desire fellowship with God in His thoughts and ways, there must be this diligence, otherwise we shall never know what to encourage and what not. Depend upon it, all truth, the more it is known and acted on, the more will it lead into the isolated place.
But we may learn a deep and practical lesson from what is shown out here of David's heart - David was like many of us are often found, when any thing comes upon us unexpectedly, he was unprepared to meet, in steadfastness of grace, that which God allowed to be in his path.
No doubt he considered the slight and dishonour put upon him by Natal "most uncalled for," "most unjust," "rather too much to bear." But he was wrongly roused. And how often is this the case with the saints of God. They dwell on circumstances, instead of turning from circumstances to God, and then acting amidst them according to Him. They say, perhaps, 'How unkind! How unjust! Do I deserve this treatment? Is it not quite right to be angry?' Thus the place of grace is lost. Day by day a thousand things act on our spirits in one way or another, which are calculated to produce trying and painful effects. Now, if these be met in fellowship with God, they afford an occasion for bringing forth blessed fruit; but if not, we ourselves become contaminated, and have to confess sin. So that instead of (as the hymn says) Satan trembling and fleeing from us in every conflict, he often thus gains advantage over us. It is a blessed thing to be able to praise God for having enabled us practically to triumph and overcome. And this we should seek to attain. The apostle Paul could say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith," and "none of these things move me," etc. We can always praise God for what He is in Himself, and for what He has made us in Christ; but we might also praise Him for our own practical victory over Satan and over the world.
"'Mid mightiest foes most feeble are we,
Yet trembling in ev'ry conflict they flee;
The Lord is our banner, the battle is His,
The weakest of saints more than conqueror is."
Very often, beloved friends, the state in which we are would forbid our thus praising God. I mention this, not at all to discourage, but rather that we may be able to separate between what we are in Christ, and our own practical condition as overcomers. Look again at David: he was in danger, not only of not overcoming, but of being overcome and falling into deep sin. How did he act, as the servant of God, bearing meekly Nabal's taunts and cutting reproach? Did he take it up in the name of God? No; it was in the spirit of his own wounded pride.
There was one, however, in the house of Nabal, and bound to him too by a tie which none but God could break, of altogether a different character to Nabal; one who belonged to the Lord - a woman of faith. Abigail was able to discern in David (outcast and needy wanderer though he was) the anointed one of the God of Israel, him whom God was surely about to bring to greatness, as the chosen head of His people: "The Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord." Abigail was able to follow the path of David with the eye of faith, and to put herself on to the hour of his glory. Now this shows that her soul was deeply taught of God. But then the very circumstance of her being thus taught of God must have made her situation in Nabal's house most painful, and her connection with him a yoke. Harassed every day - finding hindrances from, but having no communion with him to whom she was bound - able to see the folly of Nabal's position, and to contrast it with that of the man of faith, she might have felt this to be a strange dealing of the Lord towards her. But her heart was being prepared for a service which before she knew not. She might have said, 'Why is it thus with me? were I in other and different circumstances, what blessing, what happiness should I feel in serving the servants of God; but here I am hindered.' Many a soul is thus brought (not by self-chosen paths) into a very trying and painful position, distinctly from the desire to serve God. Now no real desire to serve God will ever be in vain. God may make some way for its being answered, even now, and the time will come when this will be fully the case. Meanwhile there is great profit and discipline of heart in having our neck bowed to the yoke, in being brought to submit to God. Moses was not bound to Pharaoh's house, and therefore in faithfulness he quitted it for the Lord's sake. So with Abraham and his father's house. But there may be circumstances, as those of Abigail, which must be endured, where the soul is called to bear the yoke and to wait upon God. Yet these will be full of abundant blessing. There is in them a secret breaking of the will, and bruising of the flesh, which will be found most profitable in after service to God.
Abigail, in her place of quiet retirement, stood much more in the place of communion with the truth than David. She was able to check the wrong feeling of even the man of faith. Whilst David was lost, as it were, in the mist of his own thoughts, Abigail brought in the clear light of the truth to bear on his actions. And David owned, and thanked God for her counsel. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand." (vv. 32, 33.) These were the words of David, when alive to the sin in which his pride had set him.
Now, beloved friends, who would have thought that Abigail would ever have been the counselor of David - one, suffering so much for, so beloved of God, so distinctly his servant, high in grace and in faith - one far beyond Abigail, as she would have thought. And yet she was tried, and kept where she was alone, until the time came for her to be the effectual monitor of David, and intercessor for Nabal.
Observe the teaching of God. She took the blessed place of intercession. David, in his wrath, was just about to give the blow, to avenge himself with his own hand, instead of leaving the case in the hand of God. Now this would have taken away one of the most blessed features in the character of David - the leaving all things to God. In Abigail's words we see the strong power of faith. She said, "The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when the Lord shall have done to my lord according to all the good that He hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel, that this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the Lord shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid." (vv. 29-31.)
If David had placed himself forward thus to the time of his glory, he would never have thought of raising his hand to give the blow, or of shedding causeless blood; whereas, we know that his hands were nearly imbrued in that of the very young men who spoke so kindly of him to Abigail. (vv. 14-17.) Had he thought, 'How, in the hour of my glory, will this action appear to me?' he would have been checked.
The place of faith is always to look beyond present circumstances, on to the time of the end; then we begin to see and judge of things according to God. Thus it was with Abigail. And when we realise our association with God, and the appointed end of glory, we shall act as she did. In the most trying things which happen to us, if we can by faith associate ourselves with God, if we can see Him with us as our friend, the One who hath said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord:" we shall never feel disposed to avenge ourselves, or think of anything, save intercession, as it regards those who may have grieved and wronged us. The present actings of God are in grace and mercy. We should rather seek to bring down, and subdue, and melt. "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." There is nothing so suitable, now, as taking the place of grace, and desiring to bring under its power whatever meets us individually.
How highly honoured was this poor tried and solitary witness for God in Nabal's house. The honour will come when the hand of God will give the final blow. Nabal was spared by David, but God was about to deal with him in his own way. He cared for none of these things that were transpiring around him. He understood them not. Intercession had been made for him, he was careless about it; the recipient of mercy, he passed that by. "He held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal's heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken. (v. 36.) But when that was over, his wife simply told him what had happened - a tale of mercy and of grace. Yet though told in the simplicity of truth, it was as words of death to Nabal, it withered his heart, and "he became as a stone." (vv. 37, 38.) The hand of God was against him.
Now this is intended to throw a very solemn shade over the chapter. Such is the end of all that is not of faith. The very things that are truly blessed turned into the power of withering. This will be felt to the full by-and-by, when persons are able to look back at mercies received, but see themselves entirely separated from all blessings, and from the God that gave them. This is remorse. There is nothing so painful as remorse, the sense of circumstances of mercy which have eternally passed away, and the person who has received them for ever separated from God.
Nabal's way was "folly," and his end was that of "the fool" But thus will it be with every thing around that disowns communion with the ways and with the lowly place of David. He said, "Shall I take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give them unto men whom I know not whence they be?" (v. 2.) Abigail knew whence they were, and she thought lightly of all these things compared to the service of God. Now, although we may not be like Nabal, yet still we have each of us this Nabal propensity to watch against the habit of soul which would incline us to say, 'my bread,' 'my goods,' 'my reputation,' 'my standing,' etc., wherever the word "MY" comes across the blessed privilege of being identified with Christ in the lowly place. No heart can be more miserable than one having the Spirit condemning its ways, and if there be this seeking of our own things and not of the things which be Christ's, the Spirit of God must condemn and be against it. Very often you will find in saints who have sought to serve God that when they come to die they have not the same joy as those who have been just converted. Look at the thief who believed in Christ after he hung upon the cross, and at one who has served God, it may be, for twenty years. Though both are equally accepted and made complete in Christ, yet the latter ought to be able to say, in addition to that which the poor thief said, "I have kept the faith." It is a thing of deep importance even to the practical peace and joy of the saints to be in circumstances where the desires of the Spirit are met. This is not said to hinder or take away the joy of the feeblest saint. If there be need for humiliation, let it be. But whether we be led to prayer, or praise, or humiliation, let it have the character of truthfulness before God.
We see then the end of Nabal. Nevertheless, awful as that end was, it freed Abigail from her painful situation, and she became associated with him, upon whom she knew the blessing of God to rest. (vv. 39-42.) She gave up her house, her riches, all, it would seem, to cast in her lot with him who was as yet a wanderer, hunted for his life "as a partridge in the mountains."
But soon the scene is changed. Abigail is taken captive, and apparently about to be separated for ever from David. (1 Sam. 30) How strange, after a little moment of blessing, to be placed in circumstances more terrible than before! But this only opened a further occasion for faith. Supposing there had been any undue feeling of elation, any unsubdued thought in Abigail's mind, how must this trial have been felt by her as chastening from the hand of God. Otherwise she may have acted in very distinct and holy faith, receiving the blessing as directly from God. Blessings must be received in one or other of these ways. If exalted, and walking in the flesh, she must have felt the blow as chastisement, and been taught by it to humble herself, to judge her ways, and consider the difference between resting in the creature and in God. But suppose she had received and sustained her situation, in the power of faith, this trial would only strengthen her faith, and thus God would be glorified, whilst she was taught a lesson of the weakness of nature, and of the danger of resting in the creature instead of in God. Sooner or later the time must come, when we are brought to feel the nakedness of the creature. When flesh and heart fail, none but God can be our strength.
It is for us to consider, which of the places brought before us in this chapter is ours. We may not be able to take the forward place of David, but then there is that place of Abigail - at least, we can look at that which is suffering for the sake of Jesus, and give it all, or a portion of that we have. It is not the measure or amount, the question is, whether there be the link between us and them? I trust, through the Lord's mercy, all are able to see distinctly what was the place of Nabal, and to turn from it, as Abigail did. We should be conscious of the trials and difficulties of others, and never think lightly of them, or of any evil in Satan's world.
I know of nothing that will so open the Scriptures, and guide our thoughts as to passing events, and as to those with whom we should seek to become identified, as acquaintance with these things. Seek then to have your souls deepened in the knowledge of them, to judge of present circumstances as placing yourselves on, by faith, to the time of the end. David will then have to see standing before him, Uriah; and Paul, Stephen; to whose death he was accessory. It is a marvellous thought; but will Paul's or David's joy be less on this account? No; there will be a power of blessing, such as none but God can give, that will take away every such bitter sting. I say this, believe me, not to make light of sin, but to associate your minds with that hour. Past sins cannot be undone; seek not to have those things or persons about you now, that you might not be able to think of with joy. If you bring in the thought of that day on your ways, you will soon be able to discern the nature of all around. There never is a soul that seeks to bring in God's judgments on its ways, that does not glorify God. Faith, though feeble, must lead to the glory of God. There may be faith about trivial things, about things that we could not speak of to another; and here we find the nearness of God to us. So, whether you are threatened by coming danger, or tried by past or present circumstances, seek to bring in the power of faith, let God be your counselor. The character of the enemies of God, is that of "children in whom is no faith." May your refuge and strength be distinctly in God. This alone can sustain the soul. "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have received the reconciliation."
It is our privilege to know, not only that we have peace with God, but that He also watches over us, and leads us in the paths of service. May we be able to learn this as being under His hand. Would we desire to be brought into practical fellowship with Him in His ways, let us seek it by prayer and supplication.