The record of 2 Samuel chapter 23 recounts for our learning certain events which took place during David’s flight from king Saul. Following his murder of Yahweh’s priests as recorded in the preceding chapter, Saul also sought the destruction of Yahweh’s king-to-be, to the neglect of more pressing matters pertaining to the welfare of his kingdom. Whilst he was expending his energies pursuing David, the Philistines took the opportunity to attack and take control of Keilah, a city in the lowlands of Judah. David therefore, was faced with two adversaries: both Saul, and the Philistines – his own people and the Gentiles. But the way in which he dealt with these challenges is most instructive for us to consider: he placed the matter before Yahweh, and made enquiry at His Word: “Therefore David enquired of Yahweh, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And Yahweh said unto David, Go and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah” (1 Sam. 23:2). So it was that in accordance with The Word, David warred a valiant warfare against the enemies of his people – something which king Saul should have done, but failed to do – and he “smote them with a great slaughter. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah” (1 Sam. 23:5).
The inhabitants of Keilah, however, displayed little gratitude towards their deliverer, and rather sought to deliver him up to their king who had failed them. Being rejected by those he came to save, David was forced to flee once more from the ruler of his own people. Verse 7 informs us that “it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into my hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars”. So, David fled into the wilderness of Ziph, “and Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand” (1 Sam. 23:14). The army of Saul pursued David until he was surrounded on all sides: “Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them” (1 Sam. 23:26).
In these things, we have a pattern, or type later to be seen in the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like David, he was rejected by those who he came to save. Like David, he was condemned by Jew and Gentile, but was victorious over both: “having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them …” (Col. 2:15). And like David who saved his people from the Philistines, Messiah was a “captain of salvation” (Heb. 2:10) who triumphed over the greatest enemy of all, even death itself.
Our readings for the day bring us to consider Psalm 17, which appears to be based on David’s experiences as he fled from king Saul – but in terms which also direct our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ, and his experiences at the hands of his enemies. In this passage we read the prayer of the Psalmist: “keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings. From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies who compass me about” (Psa. 17:9). Just as David was compassed about by his adversary, even so our Master was surrounded by those who sought his destruction. Verse 12 of this Psalm likens the adversary to a lion seeking to devour his prey: “Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places” (Psa. 17:12). And these two themes are brought together in another Messianic Psalm: “dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me … deliver my soul from the sword: my only one from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns …” (Psa. 22:16, 20-21). And this imagery of brute beasts being used to represent men who set themselves against the things of the Truth is used again by Jude: “these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves” (Jude 10). This is the natural man: though he be in a position of honour like Saul, “he is like the beasts that perish” (Psa. 49:12, 20), destined to return to the dust from whence he came, without hope and without redemption.
Verse 3 of Psalm 17 (evidently written before David’s sin with Bathsheba), describes the Psalmist’s appeal to Yahweh to behold his righteousness as evidence that he did not deserve punishment: “thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress” (Psa. 17:3). In the fullest sense, these words can only apply to our Master, for only he “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). David therefore, was prophesying of he who was to come: the spirit of Christ was within him, as with the prophets of old (1 Pet. 1:11, see also Acts 2:25-28).
In this verse, the Psalmist expresses his determination that he would not speak those things which he ought not: “I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress”. This example is one which we would all do well to emulate. Great mischief can be caused by the words of the mouth – or the writing of the pen (or even the computer keyboard). Gossip can destroy relationships, separating very friends, and disrupting ecclesial harmony. So James likewise spoke: “if any man offend not in Word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (Jas. 3:2). And again: “… even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell … the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:6-8).
The tongue is perhaps the hardest organ of the body to control, and certainly much misery and disruption has been caused by its misuse. Our Master, however, was “the word made flesh”, speaking and doing only those things commanded to him by his Father: “the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (Jno. 14:10) and again, “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (Jno. 14:24). The example is there for us to follow: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God …” (1 Pet. 4:11). We must be like Messiah, and give attention to the words that we utter, carefully considering the impact that they will have upon those around us.
By contrast to the words of the natural man, David sought to guard his lips, ensuring that he only spoke righteousness. And he also trusted in Yahweh’s Words, which formed a power within him, enabling him to overcome the tendency to sin which is common to us all: “by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer” (Psa. 17:4). Evidently, the “destroyer” was king Saul, who sought the destruction of both the priests, and future king. David refused to walk in his paths, upholding the righteousness of God.
The Proverbs of Solomon reflected this example of David as taught to his son. Contrasting Wisdom with Folly, the warning is given against the spiritual harlot: “her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead. None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life. That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous” (Prov. 2:18-20). Notice the contrast: David sought to “keep” himself away from the paths of the destroyer, and instead “walk in the way of good men”. To an extent, we are defined by the company that we keep, for we inevitably become like them. If we keep company with men of the world, we will find ourselves being brought down to their level – but if we keep company with men of the spirit, we will find ourselves delighting in spiritual things, soaring above the natural inclinations of men to those things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Seeking heavenly things, we shall be rewarded in due time – that time when both the righteous and the wicked shall be rewarded according to their deeds.
The key to David’s success in guarding the doors of his mouth, was an application of the Word of God: “by the word of thy lips, I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer” (Psa. 17:4). The second chapter of Proverbs again describes that which emanates from the mouth of Yahweh: “… Yahweh giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). The Word is able to be a powerful force within us during the warfare of faith in which we are all engaged – but only if we assimilate the “knowledge and understanding” that it is able to impart, and hide its principles within our heart. So the Psalmist wrote elsewhere: “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psa. 119:10-11).
The indwelling Word that finds a lodging within our thought processes will provide us with an alternative to sin. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:16-17). There is an internal warfare in the minds of the believers, a warfare concerning which there is no discharge (Eccl. 8:8). We must endeavour to give attention to reading and studying the Word, so that it becomes a force for good in our lives. But it logically follows that if we do not give such attention to the Word, then it will not be a force within us, and we will more easily capitulate to sin instead. Indeed, it might be said that those who do not experience the internal struggle described by the Apostle have lost the battle already. Not having the influence of the Word within them, there is nothing to war against the carnal mind, which then becomes the dominating mind-set of those who know not God, or the saving Name of His Son.
Returning to Psalm 17, we find that David next petitions his Lord concerning his walk in life: “Hold not thy goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not” (Psa. 17:5). He recognises the vital need of all believers for Divine blessing to prevent them from falling. Jude speaks of “him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). Notice this description of the believers as being “faultless”: they are not naturally so. They have sinned like all others: “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). But through their belief in the sanctifying efficacy of Messiah’s offering, their faith is imputed for righteousness, and – to use the Master’s expression elsewhere – their garments are washed in the blood of the Lamb. This give us great comfort, for provided we are vigorously engaged in the warfare that Messiah leads us through, we can be partakers of the victory despite our personal shortcomings. The warfare is ours to engage in, but the victory is Christ’s, and is guaranteed for those who continue the fight and keep their faith looking to the day of his coming again. The faithful will stand in that day when the household of faith is judged, but those who constitute the wicked will not: “the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Yahweh knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psa. 1:5-6).
As we have seen above, true believers in Messiah do not walk in the broad ways of the ungodly, but along that narrow path which leads to life. Their reward is different. For the righteous, “who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality”, their reward is “eternal life” to be bestowed upon them in the future (Rom. 2:7). They are not of the world, even as their Master was not of the world (Jno. 17:14). They therefore do not look to worldly things for their reward in this life. Indeed to hold fast to Yahweh’s principles of righteousness may even bring tribulation – but compared with the eternal weight of glory seen only by the spiritually-sighted (2 Cor. 4:17-18), those troubles fade into insignificance for the joy that lies ahead. Men of the world, on the other hand, seek present gratification, and so have their reward in this life. So spake the Psalmist: “… deliver my soul from the wicked … from men of the world, which have their portion in this life …” (Psa. 17:13-14). Our Master also contended against this class of men, who have an outward show of piety, yet who were inwardly corrupt: “When thou prayest thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Mat. 6:5, see also vs 2).
Those who make a point of promoting their work “in the master’s service” to be seen of men will have their due reward. In an age of the internet and social media, communication is quicker and easier than ever before, and the potential audience that can be easily reached is greater than could previously be imagined. To promote one’s own name and image is very easy to do, but the man of God will be careful not to do anything for self-glorification which may detract from the Bible message. As we say, men of the world seek for present gratification, lacking the foresight to view future glories with Messiah when he comes again. The belief in heaven-going at death panders to this spirit: dead ones are in glory already, the reward is present, and the coming of the Lord becomes increasingly redundant.
There is another sense in which men can seek carnal advantages: to become so distracted by the cares of this life that spiritual things are squeezed out. Our Master taught the parable of a man who possessed an abundance of this world’s goods, and sought to use them for self-gratification: “ … he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater: and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lu. 12:16-21). The days are near when the cares of this life shall no longer be relevant. Whether they be anxious thoughts for what the morrow might bring, or the indulgence in worldly entertainments and pursuits, all the things that men currently care for shall pass away – and they with them. Far better therefore to be rich towards God, and secure an eternal reward which shall never be taken away.
In this prayer for deliverance, David expresses his hope for the future: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psa. 17:15).
Commentators seem divided as to what these words refer to. For believers in the coming kingdom of God to be set up at the appearing of Messiah upon the earth again, there need be no difficulty. The New Testament also speaks of beholding the Face of Glory, and sharing the Divine Likeness:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 Jno. 3:2-3).
Here is the focus of all the thoughts and aspirations of Christ’s brethren. To behold the Face of Glory: to see Messiah in all his immortal splendor, and to be made like unto him – as it is written again: “our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that is might be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:21). Here is the ultimate deliverance from evil: escape from the wrath to come and translation into the glorious kingdom, which is the inheritance of the saints in light. Trusting in Messiah’s power to save, we can look forward to a wonderful future with him, being delivered from all our enemies – and that greatest enemy of all, even death itself.