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Bitter, Distressed and In Debt: Unlikely Beginnings for Heroic Lives

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February 9, 2014

Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to [David]. (1 Sam. 22:2)

Saul reigned for 40 years, and about half of his entire reign was taken up with his growing obsession over David. Twice he threw his spear at David. Then he tried to recruit Jonathan into a plot against him. Then he sent guards to David’s house to take his life.

Chapter 19 has the story of how Michal, David’s wife, lowered him down from the bedroom window and stuffed the bed so that the guards would think David was still sleeping, buying him enough time to escape.

From the palace to the cave

From that moment, David was on the run from Saul. In chapter 21, David comes to the town of Nob, and then to Gath, which was in enemy territory (1 Sam. 21:10). Today we pick up the story in chapter 22, where we find David in the cave of Adullam. He goes from the palace to a cave.

Think about that! This is the Lord’s anointed! This is the future king, and he has no place to lay his head. Remember how Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

David points us forward to Jesus in this. But David is not alone, because God is with him. And in these verses we have the fascinating story of the people who committed themselves to David.

Notice the significance of this in the big picture of the Bible story. You have a king who has left his home, a king on whom the future hopes of his people depend, a king who is being hunted by a tyrant who wants to take his life. This king is gathering a group of people round him. They see in him now the glory that will one day be revealed.

Here is how this story speaks to us today: I want you to look through the story of David and his followers to Jesus, the despised king for whom this world has no room in the world, who is gathering his people in anticipation of the day when his glory will be revealed.

What I want to offer today from these verses is a profile of what it means to be a Christian. What does it look like to be committed to Christ?

FOUR FOLD DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST’S PEOPLE

1. People who realize how much they need him

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. (1 Sam. 22:1)

Here we see David’s family at their best. Earlier we saw them at their worst. David’s father, Jesse, didn’t think enough of his youngest boy to introduce him to Samuel, “He’s the youngest, the least.” David’s brothers didn’t think much of him either. Eliab had nothing good to say to David when he arrived at the field of battle on the day that he slew Goliath.

But here, at this time of great difficulty in David’s life, his family gathers round him. Here’s a principle that I have found profoundly helpful in my own life. When people disappoint you, it’s helpful to say, “This is what they are like at their worst.”

But then, immediately it’s good to say, “Lord, help me to remember what they are like at their best.” Here we see David’s family at their best: “They went down there to him” (1 Sam. 22:1).

This must have been a blessing to David, but it was the only hope for the family. David’s family was an obvious target for Saul in his increasingly irrational assaults on David. With David in hiding, one strategy for Saul would have been to take the family hostage. That’s the kind of thing we see in the news today, and that’s exactly the kind of thing Saul would do.

David’s family knew that their position was desperate, and that the best thing they could do would be to join David. If God protected David, they would be protected; if not, they had no other hope. They needed David. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so they went to him.

Notice who else joined him: “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul” (1 Sam. 22:2). What a motley crew!

To get what was happening here, please turn back with me to 1 Samuel 8. The people asked for a king, because they wanted to be like the other nations. God gave them what they asked for. But Samuel told them what would happen when Saul became king:

So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” (1 Sam. 8:10-17)

Do you get the picture? What God said through Samuel the prophet is precisely what happened. Saul became a tyrant. A tyrant is someone who exercises authority over others and will not submit to authority himself.

Saul was the king, and there was only one person higher than the king in this culture and that is God. But Saul would not submit himself to God, and so he became a tyrant. That is why his rule became more and more destructive to the people.

The people experienced all that God had said through Samuel the prophet. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a village farmer: You are sitting at home one evening when there is a knock at the door. Saul’s men are there. “Our records show that you have two sons in this house. We’re here to take the oldest. The king needs him to drive his chariots.”

Six months later the same thing happens and your oldest daughter is gone, taken without her consent or yours, to serve in Saul’s kitchen. You work through the year on your vineyard, the fruit of the land that the Lord, in his great kindness, has entrusted as an inheritance to you and your family.

When the harvest comes, Saul’s men are at the door again. They have looked at the vineyards and they say plot numbers 1, 3, and 5 now belong to the king: “We will be taking the full harvest from there, and in addition, we will take 10% of everything else.”

It’s hardly surprising that some people were bitter in soul (1 Sam. 22:2), “This tyrant has taken my son, my daughter, and my fields! I work to make a living, and then what I have earned is taken from me. What can I do? I am completely powerless.”

It’s not hard to see, under these circumstances, why people were in debt through no fault of their own. How can you have financial stability when Saul can take your best fields and orchards at will?

People were beginning to see that the situation under Saul was completely hopeless. They had thought that this man would be a blessing. Instead, they discovered that being like other nations turned out to be a curse.

But Saul was their king, and kings don’t get elected every four years. You can’t vote them out. The only hope for these people, who were bitter, distressed, and in debt, lay in someone who could come and bring an end to this kingdom, a king who would bring in another kingdom.

The people see that Saul is obsessed with destroying David, and it doesn’t take them long to work out: David is our man. “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him” (1 Sam. 22:2). Picture David in this vast cave, and they are coming to him one-by-one.

This is a marvelous story. But we are not here today to learn a few lessons from the life of David. We are looking through the story of these people coming to David to learn what it means to come to Christ.

People who come to Christ are like the people who came to David. They knew that they needed David, that he was their only hope of getting out from under the tyranny of Saul.

People who come to Christ know that we need him, and that he is our only hope of getting out from under the tyranny of sin, a tyranny that ruins and blights our lives.

People who come to Christ know that our sins have racked up a debt that we can never pay. We are completely and utterly hopeless before God.

People who come to Christ have felt the distress of discovering that sin keeps us from becoming the people we want to be and from becoming the people that God calls us to be.

People who come to Christ know the bitter taste that sin leaves in the soul, the feelings of guilt and of shame and of the emptiness that it brings: “If only he could wash all of that clear and give us a new start.” People like that come to Christ. Bitter, distressed, and in debt, we come to Christ because our only hope lies in a new king and a new kingdom.

We need him and are convinced that without him there is no other hope. Now that we have seen the pattern, let me fill out what we learn from these people who came to David, so that we can learn what it means to come to Christ.

2. People who believe in him

When these people gathered to David, it was an all or nothing decision. Gathering to David meant defecting from Saul. Any friend of David is, by definition, an enemy to Saul.

This was not a decision that these people could make lightly. They were burning their boats and their bridges. Once they had gathered to David, there could be no going back.

But what other hope did they have? So, they throw in their lot with the outcast and put their trust in him. They pledge themselves to David. They would stand with David, they would fight for David.

David was their hope. If David succeeded, there would be a marvelous future for them. But if David failed, they were finished, done for, without hope of recovery. This is precisely the position of a Christian.

These people staked everything on this life commitment to David, the future king. A Christian is a person who believes that Christ is the Lord’s anointed. They commit themselves to him, whatever the cost.

A Christian is a person who knows, because Jesus never hides this from any of his followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

If you become a follower of Christ, you should expect this to be the most costly decision of your life. It will radically impact the use of your time, your money, and your priorities. It will shoot your comfort and convenience to bits. If it doesn’t, how can you claim to be his follower?

People who come to Jesus commit to him because we know that we need him. We have no other hope without him. And we believe that he is the Lord’s anointed, the king whose glory will be revealed. That is what it means to be a Christian. So I ask you, what kind of Christian are you?

When people were abandoning faith in Jesus, as many are doing today, Jesus said, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69).

“We believe that you are the Holy One of God—to whom else shall we go? You are our hope. You have the words of eternal life.” People who say this commit to Christ, whatever the cost, because we believe in him.

3. People who submit to him

Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul gathered to him. And he became captain over them. (1 Sam. 22:2)

This wasn’t, “Hey, let’s go and hang out with David in a cave!” No. These were people who knew that this may cost them their lives. David became their captain, their commander! By gathering to him they entered a new way of life that was marked by discipline, by training, and by hard work.

These people came to David, and he received them. He became commander over them, and under his command, under his rule, their lives were completely and utterly transformed. Remember this, the only way to know Christ as Savior is to receive him as Lord (Col. 2:6).

Remember how Jesus said to the first disciples: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19)? Christ doesn’t say, “Make something of yourself and then come follow me.” He says, “Follow me and I will make something of you.” And the way that will happen is when you come under the rule of your commander.

If you think of the Bible as a book that you read to get a nice thought for the day, a sort of “chicken soup for the soul,” you really haven’t understood what it means to follow Christ.

As you read this Word of your King, you will find that it often comes like a hammer, a fire, a two-edged sword. It rebukes us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness. You will find yourself saying, “If this is the word of the King, then I need to change.”

4. People who love him

This, of course, is true of everyone who comes to Christ. The people who came to David stayed loyal to him for the rest of their lives. In 2 Samuel 23, we have David’s last words, words of thanksgiving and praise to God.

After the last words of David, we read the names of his mighty men. Here are the names of the mighty men whom David had, beginning with this unpronounceable one: “Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three” (2 Sam. 23:8).

The list goes on with the names of others, and then we learn that some of these men were the ones who came to David when he was at the cave of Adullam (2 Sam. 23:13). That was when they originally came to David, and they were with him until the end of his life.

Then there is a great story (you can read it for yourself later) that goes back to this time when David was in the cave at Adullam. David was feeling wistful and he said, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem” (2 Sam. 23:15).

These guys loved David so much that three of them said, “Let’s do it!” They had to break through a Philistine garrison to get into Bethlehem, draw the water, and then fight their way out.

It was an extraordinary act of courage. These men loved David, and there were no limits on what they were willing to do for their king. But David felt so unworthy of this that he poured the water out on the ground as an offering to the Lord.

If that’s the kind of dedication and love commitment and loyalty these men gave to David, with all his faults, how much more should we give our love and loyalty to Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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