He was tired. So very tired. Not just tired but wearied to the bone and those around him could tell. He had been running for years. Literally, running. He tried to remember the last time he had been to his father’s house, the last time he had slept through the night without fear. He could not.
He couldn’t remember the last time he had laid in an open field and stared at the night sky. He loved the stars. He couldn’t remember the last time he had spent more than a day in his beloved hometown. Yes, he was very weary.
A thought entered his mind. If he couldn’t rest in his own country, he would find another one. He would denounce Israel and make his home elsewhere. He began to get excited; to spend a days with his sons, to sleep until the sun woke him.
He knew the king of a nearby country. Achish now ruled in Gath. He would go and ask him for a bit of land in the country side. He began to move, his family and his army. They packed up and headed for Philistia.
Saul wouldn’t go into the heart of enemy country to chase him. He would have to give up the chase. At least David could live in peace.
David sat in silence as the troupe neared Gath. Thirty years old, he had been on the run since… how long had it been? He couldn’t remember.
“Was I sixteen?” he mused aloud.
“What?” Joab rode next to him.
“Nothing.” He continued in silence. Almost fifteen years since Saul first threw that spear. For years he believed that God would spare his life. After all, hadn’t Samuel anointed him? But all for what? To die in a cave? No, Saul would catch up to him one of these days and he would be sorry that he had spared the lunatic king.
Twice, he had not killed Saul when he had the chance. Why? God wouldn’t let him.
“Why God? Why wouldn’t you let me touch him?! I could rest in peace!” He kept these thoughts to himself. He knew how his men felt about Saul.
His thoughts turned to the band of men he rode with. There were six hundred men. Misfits and thieves. Murderers and wanderers. Worthless men. Yet they came and never left. They would follow him anywhere. The things that they learned together in the wilderness and in battle could never be matched by serving in a king’s army.
Was this the right thing to do? Could these men really settle down and just live? Could he?
David quickly dismissed these thoughts. Of course they could! Once they got a taste of shepherding, they would never go back to the glory of battle.
David rolled his eyes at the thought. Maybe they couldn’t settle down. But at least he was out of Saul’s reach. That was all that mattered.
Achish was skeptical at first. What was this vagabond doing in his country. Would he stay out of trouble? He had been at odds with the King of Israel for years. Maybe this could be a good thing.
Achish gave Ziklag to David and his men. It was a ways from Gath but close enough where he could keep an eye on them. And it was far enough within the boarders of Philistia to make David happy.
Two days went by. The city was quiet. The third day, David began to get antsy. He would go out and ride for hours. He still couldn’t sleep at night. So frustrating! On the run for years, he could finally get some sleep, but his mind wouldn’t be quiet. His men began to fight among themselves. Unrest was everywhere in the city.
“Where is my peace and quiet?” David dealt with his men. But they were irritable and jumpy. They couldn’t sit still. They weren’t used to country life. They wanted to live. Wicked, ungrateful men can’t sit still for long.
They began to go out and raid surrounding kingdoms. And David led them. They brought back loads of spoils and left not a living soul to tell what had happened.
These nations had been around for generations. Probably since the time of Joshua. David and his men would just claim a little more promise land. After all, God had given it to them.
David returned home with a load of gold one day. There was an escort outside his home. Achish had questions. Where had David been? He wanted to know. He had a nation to protect. Things were getting ugly with Israel and he had to know where David’s loyalties laid.
David’s mind raced. Judah. They hit an outlying section of Judah and raided some farmers. There were no survivors left to call David the liar that he was. Of course he was loyal to Achish. He lied and told him that he had turned on his own people, sick of the treatment he had received at their hand.
Achish was satisfied. The gifts David brought helped to pacify. David continued his raids. He and his men were no longer defenders but offenders.
The runner reached David’s house early one morning. Philistia had proclaimed war. David’s heart was hard. He didn’t care that it was against Israel.
Again, Achish was at his door. “You will fight with us. You obviously have no ties with Israel. You and your men will fight with me.”
It wasn’t a question. It was a command. David didn’t care. He would fight alongside the Philistines. He would turn traitor to the people of God and ally himself with the people he had once sworn to destroy.
David, the man after God’s own heart, had turned a lying, thieving traitor. He was now sworn to destroy the very people he loved. And would lead his men to do the same. Why? What turns a man to forget everything he knows, everything he holds dear? Discouragement. David was weary and discouraged.
The Philistine lords would have none of it. “He will turn on us!” they protested. “He will flank us from behind and we will have to fight on two sides. NO! send him and his men back. We will not fight with a Jew.”
Achish was overruled. David and his men were sent home. It was the first time that they were denied a fight. Things were more than a little tense on the way home.
They crested the hill they saw smoke. The men began to shout. Ziklag was burning. Their homes. Their wives and children!
They raced into the city. Amalekites. David loathed Amalekites. They had done their dirty work and left the city in flames. Empty. There was little hope that their families might still be alive.
The men wept. Such a mournful sound had never been heard. They were exhausted and discouraged and now everything they held dear was gone.
They turned on David. This was, after all, his fault. A stone was reached for. The men began to shout. It was no longer an army of David’s mighty men, but it was now an angry mob. An angry mob that wanted relief. They wanted their families back or someone would pay. David would pay.
David was desperate. “God! Where are you!!” he cried in distress.
“No, David. Where are you?” David heard it as clearly as if it was aloud. He had grown distant from his God, his Strength and Fortress. His soul was grieved. He had allowed discouragement to drown out the comfort that he received from his times in God’s Presence. He had been so busy raiding that it had been weeks since he had sought the Lord. At least in the wilderness he had to turn to God almost daily.
He turned and walked out of the mob. They men were astounded. He had not even acknowledged them. He walked a little ways past the gate post and dropped to his knees.
“Abiathar! Bring me an ephod!”
Abiathar, the priest, brought it to him.
“Oh Lord, God of my salvation. I turn to You in my trouble. Give me the strength to lead. Give me the courage to face my men who have lost so much because of my own stupidity. Be my Strong Tower. I put my trust in You. Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them? Will we prosper in battle?”
“Yes, pursue and overtake them and without fail, recover all.” God doesn’t make his beloved wait in anguish.
David stood. His strength renewed. His courage restored. He knew that God was with him once again.
He rallied his men. This was the David they remembered. The David that had led them time and time again to death’s door and back again. The man that stood, not in his own strength but in the strength of his God. They would follow him anywhere.
Four hundred pursued. They recovered everything and more. God was with them. In a short time, David would be proclaimed king, first of Judah, then of Israel as well.
Beware of discouragement. It will make you turn your back on the things that mean the most to you. The convictions that you have will be destroyed by discouragement and make those closest to you want to kill you.
Take your courage in the Lord. Let him be your strength and you song. Take your joy from His Presence. He will sustain you through the longest seasons of wilderness.
Adapted from 1 Samuel 27-30.