by T. Austin-Sparks
As we have seen in our previous meditations, the first book of Samuel represents a transition. Historically, it is the transition from the Judges to the Kings, but it is a transition in a far more important sense than that; it is a transition from one realm of things to another spiritually. It is a transition from the carnal to the spiritual, from the earthly to the heavenly in the life of God's people; from a low spiritual state to an exalted spiritual state, using the word "exalted" in its right, proper, best sense. It is God intervening for the sake of His testimony, and He intervenes by bringing in a new instrument for that testimony's sake, and that instrument is David.
The period in the life of David, from his anointing to his taking the throne or being made king at Hebron and then at Jerusalem, is very rich and full of spiritual truths which are as living today for the testimony of the Lord Jesus, as they were then. It is concerning these things, which are unchangeable principles and laws always governing and ever being pressed home by the Lord from age to age, that the Lord would speak to us at a time like this when conditions are so similar spiritually to what they were in the time of this first book of Samuel.
We have just said that this is God intervening, and the utterness of that intervention has to be noted by the fact that, whereas Saul came in by a movement of men, when the people said, 'Make us a king like unto the nations', David was not the result of movement from earth or from men. He was not even asked for; he was the immediate and direct production of God.
Even Samuel had not anticipated David. He was, in a measure, surprised that David existed. It was a revelation to him that God knew about David. "Are here all thy sons?" he said at a moment of perplexity, when all the other sons of Jesse had passed before him, and he had no witness from God. He was not allowed to move away from the situation, but was held to that which God, and God alone knew, so far as the relationship with the testimony was concerned. We may say that David was a discovery on the part of Samuel. The point is that David represents God's own act, not man's. He is not an idea of man at all; he is altogether out of the mind of man; man has no idea of him, but God has. And in that fact alone we see something that is always present when God intervenes or reacts for His testimony. It is in the unsuspected and unlikely realm or direction that God moves. He brings out something, some instrument that has not been in the eye of man at all, as fresh from the hand of God, as out from the secret place with God.
With the bringing forth of David by the Lord, a process begins; an exceedingly interesting and instructive process: it is the bringing in of the spiritual as over against the carnal among the Lord's people. And you see the beginning of a process of development between those two things, which grows and intensifies as it goes on. The two become more and more manifestly antagonistic, so that David brings in spirituality as the supreme characteristic of an instrument related to God's full intention for the whole testimony of Jesus.
Before I go further with that, I want to turn on in this book to 1 Samuel 22 where we have David making the cave of Adullam his headquarters, and I want to say a little about the cave of Adullam. This period preceding the time when David takes the throne, is a period in which mentality is changed and upset. Ideas are revolutionised when the current and common thoughts, judgments, ideas and conceptions of the Lord's people - for, mark you, we are in Israel - are being tremendously affronted and required to undergo tremendous changes. And if we really saw spiritually what is in this first book of Samuel, we should understand very clearly the difference between the carnal mind and the spiritual mind in the people of God.
The cave of Adullam is a kind of comprehensive and inclusive instance of what I have just said. What a wrong idea there is currently about the cave of Adullam! I remember some years ago, in a conversation with an editor of a well-known journal, reference was made to a certain piece of the Lord's work which was outside of the generally recognised order of things, and his remark was, "You know, it is a kind of cave of Adullam; all the discontented people go there!" Now, that is a common idea. It is always that verse that is used if you have any group of malcontents, people who never get on with anybody, "Birds of a feather flock together", and usually speckled birds! And it is a cave of Adullam.
Now, to show how utterly wrong and false such a mentality is, take that of which this is but a type, the great antitype. David is a type of the Lord Jesus, perhaps one of the most comprehensive types of the Lord Jesus in the whole Bible, and here David is rejected by Israel as the Lord Jesus is now rejected by Israel. During His time of rejection by His own people after the flesh, there came to Him from all directions people who had grown weary and sore because of the prevailing conditions in this world, and they gathered to the Lord Jesus secretly, and He was recognised for His spiritual and moral worth. A few are recognising and appreciating Him, and coming to Him because they fail to find what they need and desire for their well-being anywhere else. If you call that a cave of Adullam in the sense in which I have just used it and in which it is popularly used, you see what a wrong mentality that is! That is the great antitype.
That nucleus that was being gathered to the Lord Jesus in the time of His rejection will be very near to Him when He comes to the throne. There will be a very different idea about them then. What will happen then is that all those who despised and who spoke in those despicable terms of the cave of Adullam, will have to acknowledge that they were the ones who had the truest judgment, who really knew right and wrong, what was good and what was evil, what the mind of the Lord was; they had spiritual instinct as to where God was moving. That will have to be faced, but what a change of mentality that represents! What a revolution as to standards of judgment! It is the transition from the carnal to the spiritual.
But while that is the great and comprehensive type and antitype, there is something more to it. There is that, as we have been seeking to show, which corresponds to the line of Saul; some order of things among the people of God in Christendom which has been brought in by man, constituted and governed by man, and mainly along carnal lines, according to this world, "like unto the nations" - what obtains today as a powerful thing. It occupies the place of government among the Lord's people generally. But God is not with that in a primary sense, only in a secondary sense and in a sovereign way. In a primary sense, God is moving in another direction, along another line, and it is here that the cave of Adullam comes in.
Oh, it is a pity that the translators did not put what is in the margin into the text, "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 (it is right, of course, but the margin says "bitter of soul"), gathered themselves unto him; and he became captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men" (1 Sam. 22:1-2). It is not that these people could not get on with anyone else, that they were such an awkward crowd that they would not pull together with others, that they were always of the discontented type. No, they represented a revolt against that which, not being God's full thought, and not being directly in line with God's full end, and not being an expression of God's heart, must always be full of contradictions and inconsistencies, must always lack a sense of life and unction, must always mean that a great deal of drive and effort and labour must be put into it to keep it going. There must be an atmosphere there which lacks real spiritual vitality.
It is a realm in which, men having constituted things, they have got to take responsibility for them; and, while there may be much that is interesting, much that will please the superficial, much that will answer to natural and soul cravings. For anybody who has really become alive and awake to any greater fulness of God's thought, anyone who has really seen something of God's mind, anyone who has been touched and quickened and illumined as to really what God is after, that has become a painful thing. You can only understand this if you have experienced it.
Today, beloved, there are a lot of people who have not yet reached Adullam, who are spiritually on the way to Adullam. Do you understand that? I think there are multitudes of the Lord's people (I trust I do not exaggerate) who have not yet got to Adullam, but they are turning in that direction. That is, they are beginning to feel the futility, the emptiness, the unsatisfying nature, the barrenness, the lack of anointing and unction in what is the great Christian system, and they are looking round, feeling round, for something - they may not know what, something to answer to a sense, a deep sense, of need: yes, the Lord's people, a need not being satisfied.
Oh, it can be brought down to quite definite points. Why is it that there is an almost continuous stream of enquiries such as: what shall be done because we are getting no food in our churches, everything is so formal, so cold; we are starved. What shall we do, where shall we go? That is only one simple form of the whole thing. It is much bigger than that, it has more aspects than that. My point is that the cave of Adullam is not the rendezvous of malcontents in the purely natural sense of awkward people, it represents a heart going out to something more of the Lord, and it is there that there needs to be a change of mentality. On the one hand it is the carnal, and for anybody with any real spiritual life, the carnal is husks. There is the craving for the spiritual, where the real anointing is, where God's seal is, and a spontaneous gravitation there. That is Adullam. You see, we will never be allowed to despise Adullam again.
And what is true of Adullam is true in so many details which come out in this part of David's life. Saul has the name of king, and the position and office of king. He has a great following, but it is only formal or official, and all who can be satisfied with mere religious formality will stay with Saul - and they did. Those who can be satisfied with the merely outward side of things, the official, will remain with Saul. But those whose hearts revolt against empty formality, mere cold officialdom in the things of the Lord, will begin to look round and move in spirit, and the result will be a cave of Adullam. This is the answer to a spiritual need and it represents just exactly the other extreme from the carnal, formal, "Saul" line of things.
Now we can go back and see this contrast, and this process in David's life from the carnal to the spiritual, or of the spiritual as over against the carnal. After his anointing (very shortly after, at any rate not very long) by one of those sovereign acts of God, David came to public notice in the incident with Goliath. Then his troubles began; a period of testing and training opened up.
Now, remember what we have before us is an instrument for the testimony in fulness and the testing and training of that instrument, for, strangely enough, almost immediately upon his coming to public notice, he is rejected. It seems as though this one has only to come out and be detected, for a great hostile movement to be projected against him - a spiritual thing, first of all. So, coming back from the slaughter of the Philistines after the slaying of the giant, David meets the first expression of this antagonism, and Saul eyes him from that day on to slay him. David's time of discipline begins, and it is all in relation to spirituality and as over against Philistine elements, and the twin factors in this training are faith and patience. If you want to know the things which lie innermost as qualifying for ministry in relation to the testimony of Jesus in its fulness, then I believe those things are faith and patience. I believe the book of the Revelation makes that perfectly clear.
Faith and patience are the two pre-eminent things in the overcomers. You can see how those very things stand over against, and in prominent and striking contrast to Saul. If there was one thing about Saul that was true, it was that he could not wait. You remember the incident in 1 Samuel 13, which has its rise in chapter 10. First of all, 1 Samuel 10:8: "And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt-offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace-offerings; seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come unto thee, and show thee what thou shalt do." I want you to grasp the whole of that statement, that sentence. "Seven days" - yes, but "till I come unto thee". Now in 1 Samuel 13:8-12: "And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, Bring hither the burnt-offering to me, and the peace-offerings. And he offered the burnt-offering. And it came to pass that, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt-offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines assembled themselves together at Michmash: therefore said I, Now will the Philistines come down upon me to Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favour of the Lord; I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt-offering". Now, of course, as you read it, you do not believe it. I know the word that will leap to the lips of some of you as you hear Saul say those last words, "I forced myself", are you not saying, "Humbug! No, that is not it." There is so much like that in Saul.
You see what comes before in 1 Samuel chapter 13, "And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba; and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear" (v.3). That is how Saul speaks and the narrative goes on, "And all Israel heard". Now verses 7-8: "Now some of the Hebrews had gone over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead; but as for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him."
You see what realm you are moving in. "And Saul blew the trumpet... saying, Let the Hebrews hear" (v.3). Now if you look far away, you will find that that was exactly the way in which the Philistines described them, "the Hebrews"; they never called them "the Israelites". You see, you are dealing with carnal man: no spiritual perception about things, no spiritual sensitiveness, no sense of spiritual fitness. He is always putting his hand on the things of the Lord; he is carnal, he cannot wait.
There is no doubt that Samuel knew all about it, although he was not there, and that means that Samuel was just drawing this out. We have pointed out before that God was acting in a very subtle way where Saul was concerned, and over an extended period He would expose the truth about him as man-chosen, as man's idea; and Samuel is in co-operation with God. He has prescribed the seven days and he has allowed the seven days to practically run their course. Saul said, "within the days appointed"; and Samuel had said, "seven days... till I come". Saul hardly let the seven days expire! Well, it is true he is in difficulty; things are very awkward. Oh, that is the test!
If you are driven up into a corner, if everything seems to shout that you must do something, that unless you do something all will be lost; then is the time to discover whether you are spiritual or carnal at the heart. It will then be shown whether you have faith in God, when everybody is saying, "Why don't you do something? Look at this, look at that; you must do something!" There is a demand here and a demand there, a call here and a call there, a situation here and there, and it seems fatal to do nothing, and yet you have not the word of the Lord. You have not the witness in your heart from the Lord. If you know the Lord at all, you know that you have not been given direction from the Lord. Now is the acid test as to faith and patience. If the flesh, the carnal side of us gets the upper hand, we will do something, we will turn to some expediency. If faith triumphs, if, though all be lost, we refuse to move without God, ah! The Lord is getting something in us that is going to be of tremendous account to His testimony.
Beloved, I believe that this is one of the exercises through which the Lord puts every one who is going right on with Him into His full purpose. From time to time we may be in a terrible corner. Everybody is saying, "You ought to do something, you ought to do this or that, you ought to move!", but they know that they have no word from the Lord. They have been laid under a command that they never move without the Lord, and here Samuel represents the Lord. The Lord has said, "Till I come." Seven days is a perfect period of faith's testing and patience perfected! "Till I come on the scene" - the Lord coming to release, to undertake. Oh, it is easy for us to see the point, but I know, and perhaps some of you know, how it goes to the heart, how true it really is. Can the Lord count on us not to move, not to precipitate things, not to take things into our own hands without Him? If He can, then He is getting a vessel which is going to mean something very great for Him. The prisoner of the Lord! Oh, yes, we run terrible risks in taking this line, but we are taking it with God, and if God fails us, how terrible the situation will be! Ah, if - is there room for that "if"? It is up against that "if" all the time that faith triumphs.
Now, it is over against that carnality as represented by Saul, that impatience and lack of faith, that David is brought in and trained. You see the tremendous difference between David and Saul all the way along. David knows that he has been anointed for the kingdom, but there is a wonderful subjection of spirit in David. At times he does break down: we have never found a perfect man in the Bible yet, apart from the Lord Jesus. Yes, he failed, but how wonderful is this spirit which first of all accepts his rejection, and is prepared to wait for God. He knows what the issue will be eventually, although sometimes even that assurance becomes eclipsed, and he is prepared to let God work it out. His heart smote him even cutting off a bit of the garment of Saul when he had him in his power. "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my lord, the Lord's anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord's anointed" (1 Sam. 24:6).
On another occasion, he found Saul and Abner and all the bodyguard asleep, and sent one of his men to take away the cruse of water and the spear, and on the other side, he shouted his challenge to Abner: "What is the meaning of this, Abner? You are not fit for your position of king's guard, sleeping and letting his enemy come!" Then he says to Saul, "I had you at my mercy, you were in my power. If I had wanted to take advantage of you, it was the simplest thing; but God forbid that I should put forth my hand against the Lord's anointed!" Saul would not have done that; he was not made that way. You think of the patience, the subjection, the faith in God that lets off his bitterest enemy who is seeking his life, and that repeatedly. That is faith and that is patience.
This is a man who is fit for the throne; this is a man after God's own heart. It is the development of that under the most trying circumstances that qualifies one to be a vessel for the testimony of Jesus. Under testing, having it in your power to gain an advantage, having opportunities which come suddenly out of your being rejected (and it is a wide realm of temptation) the question always governing is: is it the Lord's time? Is this the Lord's way? Does the Lord want me to do this? Not, how will it relieve me of my present difficulty? Not, how will it make a way out for me? Not, how will it bring me an advancement in the work of the Lord? No. Is this the Lord's time? Is this the Lord's mind? Or is this a temptation to precipitate things, to hasten things? Is this a temptation to get advantage for myself and escape from this persecution? These tests are very real things in the spiritual life. It is just in that realm of schooling that the man-child is prepared for the throne.
David could wait and trust in the Lord, and in so doing he was steadily destroying Saul, he was destroying the carnal. He was really compassing the end of that other thing through faith and patience. The destruction of that other thing was being brought about. Satan is out to wear out the saints. The faith and patience of Jesus in the saints will wear out Satan, and that is one of the ways in which the Lord does it.
You see the difference between Saul and David in their utterness for God, that is the point. It comes out in the case of Amalek and their respective attitudes to Amalek. Now, Amalek, always remember, is the flesh through which Satan works. In 1 Samuel 15 the Lord, through Samuel, says to Saul, "Go, utterly destroy Amalek, leave nothing!" Well, what is the end of that with Saul? Samuel comes back after this work has been done, and Saul again goes out to meet him, and says, "Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord" (v.13). Says Samuel, "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the cattle which I hear?" (v.14). Betrayed! Very awkward that those sheep should have bleated just then! Little things betray. "Well, you see, the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed" (v.15). Do you see what has happened? This carnal man dealing with the flesh, Amalek, has discriminated between good and bad flesh. He is quite prepared to slay a certain amount, but then there are some things that are "the best". The carnal mind is always discriminating between good and bad in man, and trying to bring something good in man to present to the Lord. That is Saul.
You remember David's attitude towards Amalek. You go on in 1 Samuel 30 and you see. The Amalekites made a raid upon Ziklag, and although they seemed to get the advantage in the first instance when they made their raid, and David seemed to lose all at their hands, ultimately there was not much of Amalek left to tell the tale. It is Amalek, it is the flesh through which Satan works, and David's attitude towards Amalek is uncompromising. The point is that there is utterness about David with regard to the flesh energised by Satan; utterness for God. There is no sparing of anything. Saul spares, Saul judges as man judges, and says, "It is a pity to sacrifice that, to destroy that!" David is different.
So we could go on through his life, but I think we have almost said enough to illustrate how that, in an instrument brought in by God, there is a process set in motion to make spirituality, as over against carnality, the one predominating thing that will govern in every issue.
We cannot close this present meditation without saying one other thing, that while it is so true that David was characterised by spiritual principles, governed by the Lord's interests wholly and not by his own, the combination of the Philistines and Saul proved occasionally to be an almost overwhelming test. On one occasion he fled to Gath and found himself in a very difficult situation and had to feign madness to make good his escape. On another occasion he fled to Achish, the Philistine king, because, he said, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul" (1 Sam. 27:1). He was a very hard-pressed servant of God, and there may be comfort here for some of us. We know what it is to be pressed out of measure, but that is not the object of my mentioning it, to find some excuse for any failure. My object in mentioning this is to point out how insidious, subtle and persistent is the Philistine principle in trying to destroy what is of God, that David should have been pursued by this Philistine thing in this way, so that it seems that a network of snares was set to get him caught on Philistine ground. The arms of this Philistine octopus are all the time reaching out to somehow, in some way, get a hold, a grip, upon what is of God. If only that can be, then God's end is defeated. So you see David perilously nearly falling into a Philistine snare, onto Philistine ground, again and again.
Yes, he did fall. You know later in the second book of Samuel there is the new cart for bringing back the ark of the testimony, which is a Philistine idea. They had put the ark upon a new cart in order to send it back when it became such a nuisance to them. It was a Philistine idea, and all unconsciously, it would seem imperceptibly, David had a Philistine idea somewhere in him. When the question of the bringing of the ark arose, a cart just leapt into his mind. You know how fatal it was. God would not have anything of this Philistine idea. But it is always out to catch us. It means this: to act, to move by carnal reasoning, the compulsion of necessity to do something. It is a fleshly thing.
The Lord Jesus went through it all. You know that the argument, or one of the arguments, lying behind the temptation in the wilderness was that, "You are hungry; You are in need; necessity knows no law!" That is human argument; that is how the world argues. Necessity knows no law - how often we have fallen to that argument! Necessity is laid upon us. The Lord Jesus repudiated that argument altogether. My human necessity is one thing; God's Divine law is another thing, and, if God's Divine law requires it, my human necessity must wait. It is better for me to die than to violate God's law! Necessity; you must - that is natural argument, that is the flesh.
Now, you may think this is all making life very difficult, but I venture to think there are not a few who know something about it. You know this is true. It is not setting up something before you that is difficult to face. You are already in it. The enemy is always trying to subtly catch us on some Philistine line, some carnal line in order to frustrate the ends of God concerning His Son. I am not going to say more about that, but we see how David's training was all the time in relation to spirituality as over against carnality, in relation to God as over against all that is opposed to God. It is the high level of the heavenly over against the earthly. The training is there, and if you or I have ever been caught in Gath or with Achish or with a cart, and we have really been spiritual, really have been for the Lord, the very fact that we were caught that moment has been a tremendous factor in our training. We have discovered that we must not go down that way. If we have taken things into our own hands like Saul, we have not had to wait very long to discover in our own hearts that we have lost the Lord in that realm, and it has been a very, very vital thing in our education.
Oh beloved, if the Lord's fullest interests are going to be served in us and through us, He is going to have us a very utter and a very spiritual people, and there is going to be a very wide line of difference between such and what generally obtains in Israel. May He give us understanding and grace!