The Ways of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Way of Spiritual Strength

"David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brethren and all his father's house heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men" (1 Sam. 22:1-2).

"Now these are they that came to David to Ziklag, while he yet kept himself close because of Saul the son of Kish; and they were among the mighty men, his helpers in war" (1 Chron. 12:1).

"And these are the numbers of the heads of them that were armed for war, who came to David to Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the Lord" (1 Chron. 12:23).

Spiritual Weakness made Manifest by Testing Circumstances

This is a period during which Israel was particularly menaced by the Philistines. They are always the shadow over Israel's life; immedi­ately Israel's weakness and helplessness was related to the Philistines. The Philistines brought out and made manifest Israel's weakness and helpless­ness. The Lord usually has some particular thing by which a state or con­dition is revealed. It is not always recognizable as a state in itself. There has to be something that brings it out. Because of this or that, the real con­dition of things is manifested, and it would not be recognized apart from that instrument that the Lord uses to disclose exactly what the state is.

It becomes positive, rather than abstract, by reason of certain things. The Lord will, for instance, create a situation, an experience, a difficulty, a concrete challenge, and then the inability to meet it, to deal with it. That shows that that particular thing, which under other circumstances if things had been different, would have counted for nothing, would have at once been conquered and subdued, has now become the Lord's means of showing how bad the spiritual state is. The Lord has a way of doing that. When Israel came into the right position and condition under David, the Phil­istines did not count for anything; they lost all significance. But here they are very significant, they do occupy a very dominant place, and that is only because of the spiritual state of the Lord's people. So, spiritual weak­ness is here made manifest by means of the Philistines.

We have to ask why it was that Israel was helpless before the Phil­istines. Why was it that their weakness, their deplorable condition, was manifested in the presence of the Philistines, who otherwise would not have signified anything? When you dig down for your answer, you find that it was because there was so much in common between Israel and the Philistines. They had so much in common really deep down underneath. The Philistines are known to us by a certain epithet - the 'uncircumcised Philistines'. David used that phrase concerning Goliath of Gath, "this uncircumcised Philistine" (1 Sam. 17:36). But when you look at Israel, that was really their spiritual state. They were uncircumcised in heart. They were called the Lord's people, and in a sense, traditionally they were. They had the ordinances, even the ordinances of circumcision, but it was all outward. Paul draws that very distinct line of discrimination between the outward circumcision, which he calls the concision, and the inward cir­cumcision of the heart. He says it is the latter that makes us Israelites in truth, not the former (Rom. 2:25-29). Here you find Israel in exactly that position - uncircumcised in heart. The fact that they said, "Make us a king... like all the nations" (1 Sam. 8:5), showed that the thing which was common to the nations had come into their hearts. They wanted to be like the other nations; that is, the spirit of the world had come inside. And thus they knew nothing of what Paul called "the circumcision of Christ"; not "the putting away of the filth of the flesh" (1 Pet. 3:21), but the putting away of the old man entirely. There was deep down something quite in common in Israel and the Philistines, and that being so, that had to be ex­posed and the world exposed their weakness.

It is like that with a church, with a Christian community, or with a Christendom, which is really worldly in spirit, in principle or in method. It is the world that exposes their weakness and shows how helpless they are. The world, like the Philistines, laughs at them and says, 'You don't count for anything; you are not to be taken seriously; we do not consider that we owe very much to you or that we are to take you seriously.' The world laughs at the church and the Christian who, in principle, has that which is in common with itself. The world says, 'We can do your job better than you can.' So we find that the world is very largely the instrument of exhibiting or exposing the weakness of Christians, simply because there is that common basis.

a) A Life of Faith, in Separation unto God

At that point in their history, when things were like that, David is introduced. Over against Saul (the world principle in the church) David is brought into view, and we have three gatherings to David. They are very significant in relation to what we have just been saying. David, then, represents the life of faith in separation unto God, and a life of faith. Israel had said, "Make us a king... like all the nations; we want something visible to rest upon, something we can see and take account of with our senses, something tangible..." and something altogether contrary to the life of faith. The Lord said, "They have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). They turned from a life of faith. David comes in as God's principle of faith calling for separation from the world principle, the world spirit, the world mentality. It was quite clear that David was the one with whom God was, and to whom God had committed Himself. And it is not long before David is, by the sovereignty of God, put into a position which is going to be the testing situation for the people of God, going to provide a supreme test as to whether these people really are going on with God, or going on with Saul; going on with heaven, or going on with earth; going on in the Spirit, or going on in the flesh; and now David becomes the test of real spirituality.

In the first place, we find him in the cave in the wilderness. That is the place outside, spiritually outside, in rejection; the place apart from that worldly system which has captured the church, that merely traditional or­der of things; that which is only outward in form and ordinances, but not a thing of the heart. David is put right outside of that in the wilderness, and of course he is repudiated by that whole official system. It is positively against him, if possible, for his destruction.

So that the very first thing that arises for the people of God was the question of their discernment as to where God really was; discernment whether, after all, the Lord was with Saul or whether He was with David, whether they had spiritual perception as to where their deepest spiritual needs would be met. It is very unfortunate that that Hebrew word has been translated 'discontented' in the text. It would have been far better to have kept the marginal translation, 'bitter of soul' in the text as it is more correct. It has been used by a lot of people who speak of things like this as the caves of Adullam - by discontented, disgruntled people, who cannot get on with anybody else. But that is just sweeping aside the whole spiritual significance of this. God has had to do that sort of thing again and again. When the church has departed from a purely spiritual heavenly position, a true life of separation unto Himself, it has been found that the majority are not ready for that. It has only been a minority, and then people have said, "Oh, that is a cave of Adullam, a lot of discontented people". No, they were bitter of soul, and unable to meet their spiritual liabilities; in debt because the provision for spiritual competency has been lost on account of some­thing quite false having gained the position among the Lord's people.

But here is David outside of that whole world system among the Lord's people, and it became a question of whether the Lord's people discerned, and those that did discern went out to David, to a place of faith.

Union with Christ in Death

What I want to say here in the first place is that this position in the wilderness and all that it involved for David and for those who went out to him, clearly and positively represents the believer's union with Christ in death. It is what Paul meant when he said, "Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:l4). These people had been glorying in this wonderful fellow, Saul, glorying in their idea of a great kingdom. It was a worldly thing, according to the nations. Paul said, "Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified unto me, and I unto the world." It is that union with Christ in death to the whole world spirit, to the whole world system, to the whole world tendency that is constantly invading the church, like the Philistines who came in again and again with their worldly principles, causing trouble and bringing the Lord's people into a place where He could not go on with them or commit Himself to them. The aspect of the Cross which means death to that whole system was the position of those who went to David. He was being pursued for his life and those who joined him, joined in that. From one standpoint, it was a laying down of their life to the whole world. They lost all their position and all their hopes in the world. They laid down their life and took all the risks bound up with associating with David.

Union with Christ in Resurrection

The second passage at the beginning of 1 Chronicles 12 brings us to Ziklag. Here we find that in Ziklag there was another secession to David.

While David and his men were away one day, the Amalekites made a raid on Ziklag and captured everything, wives and children and all posses­sions. The last thing that they had was taken by the Amalekites, and then they burned the city and went off. When David and his men came back, they found everything gone and destroyed. They wept, it says, "until they had no more power to weep" (1 Sam. 30:4). It was a very serious and crit­ical situation. It was the death side in very truth. But then it says, "David strengthened himself in the Lord his God" (v.6), and he enquired of the Lord as to whether he should pursue after the Amalekites. The Lord said, 'Yes, pursue', and the Lord sovereignly facilitated David's overtaking of the Amalekites, so that he recovered everything (1 Sam. 30:1-31).

This is another stage in true spiritual life and fulness. To me it corres­ponds to the letter to the Romans. In the first chapters of the letter to the Romans, we find continually everything being lost. From the first verses, you find this movement to discover something that has been lost in Adam, and when you get to the end of Romans 5, you find everything is lost. Romans 6 brings the Cross in, and from then onwards, you find it is recov­ering everything; everything that was lost is recovered through the Cross. And in Romans 8 you have a full recovery, even to the end of the chapter, where the whole creation which was subjected to vanity is recovered. All that was lost through Adam's sin has now been recovered, and this is the resurrection side of the Cross. The death always goes with it. We carry over from the wilderness to Ziklag on the death side. The Lord never de­parts from the death side, that in Adam, in the world under judgment, everything is lost, but then we take a further step here to the recovery of everything in the resurrection. David strengthened himself in his God. The Lord said, "Pursue... overtake, and (thou) shalt without fail recover all" (v.8b). There is the other side. There is resurrection union with the Lord Jesus as well as death union. It would not do for us to take the death posi­tion with Christ and leave it there. We must come on to the other side. Spiritual progress means the apprehending of Christ risen for the recovery of all that has been lost - and it is recovered. It is a very full recovery.

d) Union with Christ in the Heavenlies

Pass to the third passage in the second part of 1 Chronicles 12. "These are the numbers of the heads of them that were armed for war, who came to David to Hebron" (v. 23). The third stage is Hebron. The name means league or fellowship. It says about Hebron that it was a very ancient city. Its history lay right back in the mists of antiquity somewhere outside of this world. This is a very advanced position spiritually. Where do we come to through death and resurrection? What is the next position? Surely it is in the heavenlies. The sovereignty of the Lord Jesus now comes into view. It is here they make David king. The whole question of His heavenly exaltation and government as outside of this world comes before us when we come to Hebron. We pass from Romans into Ephesians. It is the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. God "raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named" (Eph. 1:20-21). David is coming to the throne now, and there gathered to him many to turn again the kingdom to him, at Hebron. It is the church in the heavenlies that comes in here, the fellowship that is outside of this world, the truly spiritual nature; union with Christ in death, resurrection, ascension in the heavenlies where He is absolutely, unquestionably Lord. He is made King. He is "head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of him that fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22-23). Well, here it is something more than an earthly society or institution, something more than a company of the Lord's people like a congregation on the earth. It is that which is brought out from the antiquity of "before the foundation of the world". "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). We are the church of the eternal counsels of God. It is a heavenly position, a heavenly thing, a heavenly fellowship, which has broken its contact in spirit with this whole world system.

And there we find at Hebron they had a very good time. Seven days they feasted, they ate and they drank, and they wanted to have another seven days. With those who taste real heavenly fellowship, there is no question of what they belong to, what denomination, sect or association; they have left all that behind. They have come into a realm where it is Christ as Lord only and absolute. If you taste that sort of fellowship, you want to go on. You are ready to excuse Peter for wanting to make three tabernacles. We may say, "Let's stay here forever instead of going back to our business." That is how we ought to feel. We have to go back to it, but we do not leave our heavenly position. This is to be the constant con­sciousness of the life of the Lord's people. We should be in the spiritual good of the heavenly fellowship of the Lord's people, and we must stand for that.

The next stage would be Jerusalem. When the Lord gets something like that on earth, you may expect the Lord's coming before long. Jerusalem will be the next thing.

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