The Life of David, Vol. I.
by A. W. Pink
His Sojourn at Hebron
2 Samuel 2
The news of Saul’s death had been received by the exiled David in characteristic fashion. He first flamed out in fierce anger against the lying Amalekite, who had hurried with the tidings, hoping to curry favor with him by pretending that he had killed Saul on the field of battle. A short shrift and a bloody end were his, and then the wrath gave place to mourning. Forgetting the mad hatred and relentless persecution of his late enemy, thinking only of the friendship of his earlier days and his official status as the anointed of the Lord, our hero cast over the mangled corpses of Saul and Jonathan the mantle of his noble elegy, in which he sings the praise of the one and celebrates the love of the other. Not until those offices of justice and affection had been performed, did he think of himself and the change which had been affected in his own fortunes.
It seems clear that David had never regarded Saul as standing between himself and the kingdom. The first reaction from his death was not, as it would have been with a less devout and less generous heart, a flush of gladness at the thought of the empty throne; but instead, a sharp pang of grief from the sense of an empty heart. And even when he began to contemplate his immediate future and changed fortunes he carried himself with commendable self-restraint. At the time David was still a fugitive in the midst of the ruins of Ziklag, but instead of rushing ahead, "making the most of his opportunity," and seizing the empty throne, he sought directions from the Lord. Ah, we not only need to turn unto God in times of deep distress, but equally so when His outward providences appear to be working decidedly in our favour.
David would do nothing in this important crisis of his life—when all which had for so long appeared a distant hope, now seemed to be rapidly becoming a present fact—until his Shepherd should lead him. Impatient and impetuous as he was by nature, schooled to swift decisions, followed by still swifter actions, knowing that a blow struck speedily while all was chaos and despair in the kingdom, might at once set him on the throne; nevertheless, he held the flesh, carnal policy, and the impatience of his followers in check, to hear what God would say. To a man of David’s experience it must have appeared that now was the opportune moment to subdue the remaining adherents of the fallen Saul, rally around himself his loyal friends, grasp the crown and the scepter, vanquish the gloating Philistines, and secure unto himself the kingdom of Israel. Instead, he refused to take a single step until Jehovah had signified His will in the matter.
The manner in which David conducted himself on this occasion presents an example which we do well to take to heart and punctually emulate. The important principle of action which was here exemplified has been well expressed by another: "If we would possess temporal things with a blessing, we must not eagerly seize upon them, nor be determined by favorable events or carnal counsel: but we must observe the rules of God’s Word, and pray for His direction; using those means, and those only, which He has appointed or allowed, and avoid all evil, or ‘appearance of evil,’ in our pursuit of them: and then whatever else we fail in, we shall be directed in the way to the kingdom of heaven" (Thomas Scott). "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:5,6).
To "acknowledge" the Lord in all our ways means that instead of acting in self-sufficiency and self-will, we seek wisdom from above in every undertaking of our earthly affairs, beg God to grant us light from His Word on our path, and seek His honor and glory in all that we attempt. Thus it was now with David: "And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?" (2 Sam. 2:1). This is very blessed, and should be linked with all that was before us in 1 Samuel 30:6-31. What is here recorded of David supplies further proof of his having been restored from backsliding. Previously he had left the cities of Judah "inquiring" of his own heart (1 Sam. 27:1), but now he would only think of returning thither as God might conduct him. Alas, that most of us have to pass through many painful and humiliating experiences ere we learn this lesson.
"David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?" Though the Lord had promised him the kingdom, though he had already been anointed by Samuel unto the same, and though Saul was now dead, David was not hasty to take matters into his own hands, but desired to submit himself unto God’s directions and act only according to His revealed will. This evidenced the fact that he really trusted in Him who had promised him the kingdom, to give it to him in His own due time and manner; and thus he would possess it with a clear conscience, and at the same time avoid all those appearances of evil with which he might know the remaining adherents of Saul would be ready to charge him. So fully did he fulfill the word of his early Psalm: "my Strength! upon Thee will I wait" (59:9). We never lose anything by believing and patiently waiting upon God; but we are always made to suffer when we take things into our own hands and rush blindly ahead.
"Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?" David was prepared to go where the Lord bade him. His particular inquiry about "the cities of Judah" was because that was his own tribe and the one to which most of his friends belonged. "And the Lord said, Go up": that is, from Ziklag into the territory of Judah, though He did not specify any particular city. This is usually the Lord’s method: to first give us a general intimation of His will for us, and later more specific details little by little. He does not make known to us the whole path at once, but keeps us dependent upon Himself for light and strength, step by step. This is for our good, for our training, though it be a trying of our patience. Patience is a grace of great price in the sight of God, and it is only developed by discipline. May grace be diligently sought and divinely bestowed so that we shall heed that exhortation, "let patience have her perfect work" (James 1:4).
"And the Lord said unto him, Go up": the absence of anything more definite was a testing of David. Had the flesh been dominant in him at this time, he would have eagerly jumped to the conclusion that he was fully justified in leaving Ziklag immediately and taking prompt measures to obtain the kingdom. Blessed is it to see how he responded to the test: instead of rushing ahead, he continued to wait on the Lord for more explicit instructions, and asked, "Whither shall I go up?" (v. 1)—to which part of Judah, Jerusalem or where? He had paid dearly in the past for taking journeys which the Lord had not ordered, and for residing in places which He had not named for him; and now he desired to move only as God should appoint. Reader, have you yet reached this point in your spiritual experience: have you truly surrendered unto the lordship of Christ, so that you have turned over to Him the entire government and disposing of your life? If not, you know not how much peace, joy and blessing you are missing.
"And He said, Unto Hebron" (v. 1). This is recorded for our encouragement. The Lord is never wearied by our asking! Nay, the more childlike we are, the better for us; the more we cast all our care upon Him (1 Pet. 5:7), the more we seek counsel of Him, the more He is honored and pleased. Has He not told us, "in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6)? That means just what it says, and we are greatly the losers, and God is dishonored, just in proportion to our disregard of that privilege and duty. The old hymn is true when it says, "O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer." The readiness of Jehovah to respond unto David’s inquiry, is a sure intimation of His willingness to hear us; for He is "the same, yesterday, and today, and forever."
"And He said, Unto Hebron." There is a spiritual beauty in this word which can only be perceived as we compare scripture with scripture. In the Old Testament "Hebron" stands typically, for communion. This may be seen from the first mention of the word: "Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord" (Gen. 13:15). Again, "So he (Jacob) sent him (Joseph, on an errand of mercy to his brethren) out of the vale of Hebron" (Gen. 37:14)—figure of the Father sending the Son on a mission of grace unto His elect. "And they gave Hebron unto Caleb" (Judges 1:20): the place of fellowship became the portion of the man who followed the Lord "Fully" (Num. 14:24). How fitting, then, that the restored David should be sent back to "Hebron"—it is ever back unto communion the Lord calls His wandering child. O how thankful we should be when the Holy Spirit restores us to communion with God, even though it be at the cost of disappointment and sorrow (Ziklag) to the flesh.
"So David went up to Hebron" (2 Sam. 2:2). God had graciously granted him the needed word of guidance, and he hollowed out the same. O that all his actions had been controlled by the same rule: how much trouble and grief he had then escaped. But they were not; and this makes the more solemn the contrast presented in the next statement: "And his two wives also, Abinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail, Nabal’s wife the Carmelite" (v. 2). Here was the one blot on the otherwise fair picture: the lusts of the flesh obtruded themselves; yes, immediately after his having sought guidance from God!—what a warning for us: we are never safe a single moment unless upheld by the arm of Omnipotence. As we have seen in earlier chapters, Divine chastisement was the sequel to what we read of in 1 Samuel 25:44, so now we may be assured that his retention of "two wives" omened ill for the future.
"And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron" (v. 3). Those who had been David’s companions in tribulation were not forgotten now that he was moving forward toward the kingdom. Blessed foreshadowment was this of "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2: 12).
"And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah" (v. 4). David had been privately anointed as Saul’s successor (1 Sam. 16:12,13), now the principal princes in the tribe of Judah publicly owned him as their king. They did not take it upon themselves to make him king over all Israel, but left the other tribes to act for themselves. No doubt in this they acted according to the mind of David, who had no desire to force himself on the whole nation at once, preferring to obtain government over them by degrees, as Providence should open his way. "See how David rose gradually: he was first appointed king in reversion, then in possession of one tribe only, and at last over all the tribes. Thus the kingdom of the Messiah, the Son of David, is set up by degrees: He is Lord of all by divine designation, but ‘we see not yet all things put under Him’: Heb. 2:8" (Matthew Henry).
"And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabesh-Gilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of the Lord, that ye have showed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have buried him" (v. 5). David expressed his appreciation of what the men of Jabesh had done in rescuing the bodies of Saul and his sons from the Philistines, and for the kindly care they had taken of them. He pronounced the blessing of the Lord upon them, which probably means that he asked Him to reward them. By thus honoring the memory of his predecessor he gave evidence that he was not aiming at the crown from any principles of carnal ambition, or from any enmity to Saul, but only because he was called of God to it.
"And now the Lord show kindness and truth unto you: and I also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing" (v. 6). David not only prayed God’s blessing upon those who honored the remains of Saul, but he promised to remember them himself when opportunity afforded. Finally, he bade them fear not the Philistines, who might resent their action and seek revenge—especially as they no longer had a head over them; but he, as king of Judah, would take their part and assist them: "Therefore now let your hands be strengthened and be ye valiant: for your master Saul is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them" (v. 7). Thus did he continue to show his regard for the late king. By sending a deputation to Jabesh, David instituted a conciliatory measure toward the remaining adherents of Saul.
"But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s host, took Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim" (v. 8). This is a solemn "But," traceable, we believe, to the "two wives" of verse 2! David was not to come to the throne of all Israel without further opposition. Abner was general of the army, and no doubt desired to keep his position. He took Ishbosheth, apparently the only son of Saul now left, to Mahanaim, a city on the other side of the Jordan, in the territory of Gath (Josh. 13:24-26): partly to keep the men of Jabesh-Gilead in awe and prevent their joining with David, and partly that he might be at some distance both from the Philistines and from David, where he might mature his plans. "Ishbosheth" signifies "a man of shame": he was not considered fit to accompany his father to battle, yet was now deemed qualified to occupy the throne to the exclusion of David.
"And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel" (v. 9). The nation in general had rejected the "Judges" whom God had raised up for them, and had demanded a king; and now in the same rebellious spirit, they refused the prince which the Lord had selected for them. In type it was Israel preferring Barabbas to Jesus Christ. Abner prevailed till he got all the tribes of Israel, save Judah, to own Ishbosheth as their king. All this time David was quiet, offering no resistance: thus keeping his oath in 1 Samuel 24:21 and 22!
"The believer’s progress must be gradual: his faith and his graces must be proved, and his pride subdued, before he can properly endure any kind of prosperity: and for these purposes the Lord often employs the perverseness of his brethren, without their knowledge or contrary to their intention. In the professing Church few honour those whom the Lord will honour: before Jesus came, and in each succeeding generation, the very builders have rejected such as Heaven intended for eminent situations; and His servants must be conformed to Him. Ambition, jealousy, envy, and other evil passions, cause men to rebel against the Word of God, but they generally attempt to conceal their real motives under plausible pretenses. The believer’s wisdom, however, consists in waiting quietly and silently under injuries, and in leaving God to plead his cause, except it be evidently his duty to be active" (Thomas Scott).