From the Ruins of Ziklag to the Throne in Hebron.

1893 354 Solomon records a deeply interesting and suggestive fact concerning David. "The Lord said to my father, Forasmuch as it was in thine heart to build a house for my name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart: notwithstanding thou shalt not build the house; but thy son who shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house for my name" (2 Chron. vi. 8, 9). From Psalm cxxxii. we learn how fervent the desire became in David's heart that the departed glory should return to Israel; that the Lord should again dwell, and be worshipped there. As to the accomplishment of this, he had to be put in his proper place, but that which was in his heart was approved. Of which of his deeds is it said, "thou didst well?" We cannot recall one, and if it be so, we have that, in his case, which is full of encouragement for others, for it places all the saints of God on one footing, however much they differ as to ability for service. The counsels of the heart are before God, and this realized will make them regardless of the praise of men (1 Cor. iv. 5). Even Samuel when he was sent to anoint David needed the word, "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." A remark by Adolphe Monod is much to the point: "'Give me thy observances,' says the God of Pharisaism. 'Give me thy personality,' says the God of Hegel. 'Give me thy reason,' says the God of Kant. The living and true God says, 'Give me thy heart'." Yes, the desire for God Himself must precede all service. This David learned — we can appeal to all his Psalms in proof of it; and great was the mercy, and patient was the grace of God in teaching him.

It was at Ziklag and on the third day after his victory over the Amalekites that the news of Saul's death was brought to David (2 Sam. i.). What place so suitable for him to hear it? Everything around would remind him of his own sinful weakness and failure, and of the abounding mercies of the Lord. He and his men had recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, but the flames spared nothing which they received from Achish. The moral of this, for us, may be learned in 1 Cor. iii. 13-18. His self-will had plunged him into great distress, but the grace of the Lord was wonderful. He strengthened him with strength in his soul, so that he received the tidings which assured him that the way was at length open for him to the throne without a selfish thought. He wept when he heard of Saul's death.

Poor Saul! Israel had given up everything for him. Samuel thought that they had rejected him for the sake of the king. No, said the Lord, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me that I should not reign over them." Saul was a gifted man, and attractive to the flesh in many ways, yet never a man of faith though in a position that called for continuous faith. His own soul had no link with God, and he succeeded in reducing Israel practically to the same state. By giving to his followers fields and vineyards, rank and titles, and by clothing the daughters of Israel in scarlet with other delights, and putting ornaments of gold upon their apparel, he maintained for them a fair outward appearance of prosperity, while he was leading them farther and farther from God. But the end came. He and his three sons were slain. What then was the condition of Israel? To whom shall they turn when their reproach was in the mouth of the heathen, in the house of their idols, and among the people? Abner's attempt to set up Ish-bosheth, a younger son of Saul, proclaimed their degradation. He was not anointed, not gifted, a mere tool in the hands of Abner for his purpose, and eventually murdered by two of his captains. His right name, Esh-Baal, had been dropped, and he was popularly called Ish-bosheth, that is, "man of shame."

To rightly estimate all this, and the cause of David's exercises and yearnings of heart, we must go back to their origin as a people saved by Jehovah. On the Canaan side of the Red Sea Moses himself was but as one of them. The presence of the Lord was the great, joy-inspiring truth. He had brought them not only forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, but to Himself. Their hearts were united, they sung as one man — "Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people whom thou hast redeemed, thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation." Though the wilderness was before them, in the love of their espousals they followed the Lord in a land not sown. But how was it with them now? For forty years they had followed a man. They had seen the prophet of God ignored, His priests slaughtered, and David persecuted. Still they followed him. He led them to lean upon him, and there was a sacredness attached to his authority which quieted conscience: they must either acknowledge him or be outcasts with David: the will and pleasure of God were not thought of. There was a charm, too, about the man himself. As David said in his touching elegy:
"The beauty (the gazelle) of Israel is slain upon the high places:
How are the mighty fallen!
Ye mountains of Gilboa,
Let there be no dew, neither rain upon you, nor fields of offering;
For there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away,
The shield of Saul, as of one not anointed."

Is it possible that Christians can be indifferent to these lessons? Christendom, like Israel, under its self-chosen leaders, has degenerated into an organized system in which the presence of the Lord, whose name it professes, is neither necessary nor desired; but are there none in it like David? None who have learned, it may be by sore discipline, to find their only blessing in His presence?
"Whom have I in heaven but thee?
And there is none on earth I desire beside thee."

Dr. Octavius Winslow, in his memoir of his mother, quotes the following from her correspondence: "One word as to the blessed manifestation to the soul of Christ Himself (John xiv. 21). Let us never be satisfied without this. I meet with many professing Christians who appear to know nothing about it." (This lady had exceptional opportunities of meeting with Christians.) How far her witness is true as to others, must not be our first concern. Is it true of ourselves? This was the order in David's experience. He first proved the blessedness of the manifested presence of the Lord in his own soul, and then he sought it for all Israel.

Now that Saul was dead the way was opened for his establishment on the throne. Though he had not left Ziklag, he at once acted royally, sending presents to the elders of Judah, to his friends, and ordering the execution of the Amalekite who charged himself with the death and plundering the person of "the Lord's anointed." What shall be his next step? Here again we have distinct evidence how real was the presence of the Lord to his soul. With the simplicity of a child, and in few words, he enquired of Him — "Shall I go up unto any of the cities of Judah? And the Lord said to him — Go up. And David said, whither shall I go up? And He said, unto Hebron." This holy liberty and simplicity is seen in the church at first, as in Ananias (Acts ix.) and others. If unknown to any now, how great their loss! David obeyed at once. He went to Hebron with his two wives, and the men were with him, every man with his household: "and the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah." He had yet to wait seven years and a half before all Israel submitted to his rule. The typical application of this (see Ezek. xxxvii. 15-28) has been pointed out by many, but there is a secret of blessing also in this life-history, which every Christian, however lacking in acquaintance with its typical significance, may learn to profit. He was a man subject to like passions as we are. A man that saw much affliction, and needed to see it. A man whose heart was exposed to the intrusion of evil thoughts and suggestions, which, when acted on, led to the bitterest consequences. Yet a man who, by the patient grace of God, came to find His presence the very gladness of joy (Ps. xliii. 4 margin). And after his own experiences how could he limit the mercy of God. Shall not all Israel, as the people of the Lord, be led back to their first love, to exult that His habitation was again in their midst? It was his most fervent desire, and though Solomon built the house, he was at all sacrifice and cost for it. And the Lord said, "Thou didst well that it was in thine heart." What a reward!