The fight against Goliath was certainly David’s most famous battle, the one that gets painted in works of art and has movies (even a Veggie Tales episode). The Romantic notion of a boy standing, unarmored and holding only a sling and a staff, against a charging giant shows the greatness of the Lord. The scene stirs the human tendency to pull for the underdog, as we have all known the feeling of being overwhelmed and outmatched. But Goliath was a problem overcome in a day for the young shepherd.
The fight was a short and quick path for David to glorify the Lord’s faithfulness and enter the hearts and minds of his countrymen since he was to be their king. I am sure if we could talk to the old, wise shepherd-king in his waning years and ask him about his lowest moment, it would not be the fear or dread of stepping onto a battlefield with the giant.
The real test of David’s faith lasted much longer and took him to places he never imagined when the old prophet had anointed him to rule the nation. The great blessing of being anointed king with all of the potential and possibilities first took the young man through some difficult seasons. David spent somewhere between thirteen and fifteen years (the exact time period is hard to ascertain) watching his promises from God seemingly get farther from fulfillment as people in Saul’s court and the king himself conspired against him.
David, like our own life many times, did not take the most direct path to the fulfillment of God’s promises. Instead, the road was winding and looked to even be going the wrong way at points. Do you know what that is like? You know that God has called and destined you for something, but people get in the way and circumstances close in around you? Have you ever wondered if you heard the Lord correctly? What should a person do when the promises of God seem impossible or slow in coming? Let’s look to the life of David for the answer.
After the defeat of Goliath, David rose quickly through the ranks of Saul’s army and courts, even becoming a son-in-law to the king. Songs were composed about David’s prowess in battle as he marched at the head of parades. The once powerful Philistine army was terrified of Israel’s new young commander. The people began to favor David as their hero. But Saul’s jealousy soon put David’s life in danger, and the older king even made attempts on David’s life. The shepherd-turned-warrior had to flee from his king into the wilderness.
“David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men” (1 Sam. 22:1-2, ESV).
The cave of Adullam was only two miles from the battlefield where David defeated Goliath. So, as David sat in exile running from Saul—who wanted him dead—he had to look out toward the place where he had fought for his God and king and won the great victory. Now the empty battlefield seemed to mock him. “Adullam” can be translated to mean two very different ideas depending on the context, the first being “refuge.” David took refuge near a place of victory as he was squeezed from all sides into a cave, hiding from the man he once served.
We do not know a great deal of specific information about this band of four hundred men other than the four descriptors given about their origins: David’s family, those in distress, debtors, and people bitter in soul. David found the cave with probably relatively few people around him at first—if anyone at all. I imagine him entering them in the late afternoon, quite alone and seemingly defeated. David’s life seemed off track, as hiding in a cave was now his best option. But it was not long until people started to stream toward him because when God anoints a leader, everyone can recognize it. The anointing is attractive. The anointing cannot be defeated or denied by men.
The second meaning of the word “Adullam” is “justice for the people.” These groups came to David for justice. The fleeing of David’s family to his side makes sense. Saul would have looked first among David’s people in the tribe of Judah and his hometown of Bethlehem for his outlawed servant. Most of the rest of the men probably rallied to David after one of the most shameful episodes in Saul’s reign. Shortly after David’s escape, Saul ruthlessly killed the priests of Nob for helping David (1 Sam. 22: 18-23). The slaughter included 85 priests as well as all the other men, women, children, and even the animals at the town of Nob.
If you remember, the Lord rejected Saul as king because he refused to destroy the sinful nation of the Amalekites in the same fashion. But Saul then dared to annihilate a town of the Lord’s people and even the priests of the Lord for simply inquiring of the Lord in prayer for David and giving him provisions. Saul, once the servant of God, refused to move against the Lord’s enemies but instead fought against the Lord’s people. There is a lesson here for the believer. If you find yourself defending the enemies of God and fighting against His people, you have strayed into the path of Saul. It is passed time to fall to your knees in repentance.
So the ‘men in distress’ and those ‘bitter of soul’ probably came after the incident at Nob (and others like it), where Saul showed he was willing to murder and sin to get his way in finding David. Holding onto the crown became more important than following the will of the Lord. Those in debt were obviously people who had financial problems and reason to rally around David. In our society, debt is a civil matter, but depending on the level of debt in the ancient world, a person or their family could be sold into slavery or forced to work off the debt.
The lesson is that the men who rallied to him did not have great names and reputations since they were called bitter, distressed, and debtors—generally considered the worthless and lowest of society. BUT God does not call His servants as the world does. Many of this band of brothers would go on to defend Israel’s Southern border for years and become the core leadership of David’s future army and his closest confidants. They were later memorialized in the Bible as ‘David’s mighty men,’ and their exploits are the stuff of legends—something between our modern day Special Forces and Secret Service.
The dual lessons are clear: even when everything appears to go the wrong way, God is working, and we should not despise the day of small beginnings OR the people He sends our way. David embraced these men and his new role as a mercenary leader. He would go on to learn many necessary leadership lessons as well as prepare the core of Israel’s military might for a generation.
“Then David said in his heart, ‘Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand'” (1 Sam. 27:1, ESV).
The verse above actually describes the second time David fled to the land of the Philistines, the first being when David feigned madness in one of the royal courts (one of the most interesting accounts in the Bible). The Bible clearly states in the passage that the idea was not from the Lord but from David: ‘David said in his heart.’ After years on the run and several close calls, weariness sent David fleeing to enemy’s lands to put distance between himself and Saul.
Sin leads people to the wrong places in their lives and affects everyone. Saul was sinning in trying to slay David, the Lord’s anointed. David, weary and worn, runs to the camp of an enemy. Notice that even though David is in the enemy’s camp, he does not worship their gods, blaspheme the Lord, or fight against God’s people.
The whole story is interesting. The five leaders of the Philistines disagree about loyalty to David, and he gets wrapped up in their politics. One uses him as a mercenary captain, while some of the others do not trust him. Ultimately, the Philistine leaders send David away from their army. The Philistines go on to defeat Saul, and he commits suicide on Mount Gilboa rather than surrendering. David had been the battle captain for his king, but he was not at the battle. Saul’s sin probably led to his own death because the man who God had provided to lead his armies was absent.
In that moment, God brought years of running and hiding to an end for David. Saul, fighting in the battle, was obviously still a vigorous man for his age. David only saw years of exile ahead with no end in sight, but in a day’s time, God ends the banishment—on His schedule. That is the lesson for all of us. If God has decreed a time of trial in your life, it is bounded by God and cannot continue indefinitely. And secondly, we only have to go through the trial once. David never had to return to the cave of Adullam to relearn the lesson, nor did he have to depend on the rulers of the Philistines. Once the lesson was learned and the testing was done, it was done for good.
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