"David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave 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 a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men."--1 SAM. xxii. 1, 2.
In every country, at some time or other, there have been evil days--days of violence, tyranny, misrule, war, invasion, when men are too apt, for want of settled law, to take the law into their own hands; and the land is full of robbers, outlaws, bands of partizans and irregular soldiers--wild times, in which wild things are done.
Of such times we here in England have had no experience, and we forget how common they are; we forget that many great nations have been in this state again and again. We forget that almost all Europe was in that wild and lawless state in our fathers' times, and therefore we forget that the Bible, which tells man his whole duty, must needs tell men about such times as those, and how a man may do his duty, and save his soul therein. For the Bible is every man's book, and has its lesson for every man. It is meant not merely for comfortable English folk, who sit at home at ease, under just laws and a good government. It is meant just as much for the opprest, for the persecuted, for the man who is fighting for his country, for the man who has been found fighting in vain, and is simply waiting for God's help, and crying, "Lord, how long? how long ere Thou avenge the blood that is shed?" It is meant as much for such as for you and me; that every man, in whatever fearful times he may live, and whatever fearful trials he may go through, and whatever fearful things he may be tempted to do, and, indeed, may have to do, in self-defence, may still be able to go to the Bible, there to find light for his feet, and a lantern for his path, and so that he may steer through the worst of times by Faith in the Living God.
Again, such lawless times are certain to raise up bold and adventurous men, more or less like David. Men of blood--who are yet not altogether bad men--who are forced to take the law into their own hands, to try and keep their countrymen together, to put down tyrants and robbers, and to drive out invaders. And men, too, suffering from deep and cruel wrongs, who are forced for their lives' sake, and their honour's sake, to escape--to flee to the mountains and the forests, and to foreign lands, and there live as they can till times shall be better. There have been such men in all wild times--outlaws, chiefs of armed bands, like our Robin Hood, whose name was honoured in England for hundreds of years as the protector of the poor and the opprest, and the punisher of the Norman tyrants: a man made up of much good and much evil, whom we must not judge, but when we think of him, only thank God that we do not live in such times now, when no man's life or property, or the honour of his family was safe.
Such men, too, in our fathers' days, were the Tyrolese heroes, Hofer and the Good Monk who left, the one his farm and the other his cloister, to lead their countrymen against the invading French; men of blood, who were none the less men of God. And such is, in our own days, that famous Garibaldi, whose portrait hangs in many an English cottage, for a proof that though we, thank God, do not need such men in peaceful England, our hearts bid us to love and honour them wherever they be. There have been such men in all bad times, and there will be till the world's end, and they will do great deeds, and their names will be famous, and often honoured and adored by men.
Now, what does the Bible say of such men? Does it give any rule by which we may judge them? any rule which they ought to obey? Can God's blessing be on them? Can they obey God in that wild and dark and dangerous station to which He seems to have called them--to which God certainly called Hofer and the Good Monk?
I think if the Bible did not answer that question it would not be a complete book--if it spoke only of peaceful folk, and peaceful times; when, alas! from the beginning of the world, the earth has been but too full of violence and misrule, war and desolation. But the Bible does answer that question. A large portion of one whole book is actually taken up with the history of a young outlaw--of David, the shepherd boy, who rises through strange temptations and dangers to be a great king, the first man who, since Moses, formed the Jews into one strong united nation. It does not hide his faults, even his fearful sins, but it shows us that he had a right road to follow, though he often turned aside from it. It shows us that he could be a good man if he chose, though he was an outlaw at the head of a band of ruffians; and it shows us the secret of his power and of his success--Faith in the Living God.
Therefore it is that after the Bible has shown us (in the Book of Ruth) worthy Boaz standing among his reapers in the barley field, it goes on to show us Boaz's great-grandson, David, a worthy man likewise, but of a very different life, marked out by God from his youth for strange and desperate deeds; killing, as a mere boy, a lion and a bear, overthrowing the Philistine giant with a sling and a stone, captain of a band of outlaws in the wilderness, fighting battles upon battles; and at last a king, storming the mountain fortress of Jerusalem, and setting up upon Mount Zion, which shall never be removed, the Throne of David. A strange man, and born into a strange time. You all know the first part of David's history--how Samuel secretly anoints David king over Israel, and how the Spirit of the Lord comes from that day forward upon the young lad (1 Samuel xvi. 12). How king Saul meanwhile fell into dark and bad humours. How the Spirit of the Lord--of goodness and peace of mind--goes from him, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubles him. Then how young David is sent for to play to him on his harp (1 Samuel xvi.), and soothe his distempered mind. Already we hear of David as a remarkable person; we hear of his extraordinary beauty, his skill in music; we hear, too, how he is already a man of war, and a mighty valiant man, and prudent in matters, and the Lord is with him.
Then follows the famous story of his killing Goliath the Philistine (1 Samuel xvii.). Poor, distempered Saul, it seems, had forgotten him, though David had cured his melancholy with his harp-playing, and had actually been for a while his armour-bearer, for when he comes back with the giant's head, Saul has to ask Abner who he is; but after that he will let him go no more home to his father.
Then follows the beautiful story of Jonathan, Saul's gallant son (1 Samuel xviii.), and his love for David. Then of Saul's envy of David, and how, in a sudden fit of hatred, he casts his javelin at him. Then how he grows afraid of him, and makes him captain of a thousand men, and gives him his daughter, on condition of David's killing him two hundred Philistines. And how he goes on, capriciously, honouring David one day and trying to kill him the next. While David rises always, and all Israel and Judah love him, and he behaves himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul. At last comes the open rupture. Saul, after trying to murder David, sends assassins to his house, and David flees for his life once and for all. He has served his master Saul loyally and faithfully. There is no word of his having opposed Saul, set himself up against him, boasted of himself, or in any way brought his anger down upon him. Saul is his king, and David has been loyal and true to him. But Saul's envy has grown to hatred, and that to murder. He murders the priests, with all their wives and children, for having given bread and shelter to David. And now David must flee into the wilderness and set up for himself, and he flees to the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel xxii.); and there you see the Bible does not try to hide what David's position was, and what sort of men he had about him--his brethren and his father's house, who were afraid that Saul would kill them instead of him, after the barbarous Eastern fashion, and among them the three sons of Zeruiah, his sister; and everyone who was discontented, and everyone who was in debt, all the most desperate and needy--one can conceive what sort of men they must have been. The Bible tells us afterwards of the wicked men and men of Belial who were among them--wild men, with weapons in their hands, and nothing to prevent their becoming a band of brutal robbers, if they had not had over them a man in whom, in spite of all his faults, was the Spirit of God.
We must remember, meanwhile, that David had his temptations. He had been grievously wronged. Saul had returned him evil for good. All David's services and loyalty to Saul had been repaid with ingratitude and accusations of conspiracy against him. What terrible struggles of rage and indignation must have passed through David's heart! What a longing to revenge himself! He knew, too, for Samuel the prophet had told him, that he should be king one day. What a temptation, then, to make himself king at once! It was no secret either. The people knew of it. Jonathan, Saul's son, knew of it, and, in his noble, self-sacrificing way, makes no secret of it (1 Samuel xx.). What a temptation to follow the fashion which is too common in the East to this day, and strike down his tyrant at one blow, as many a man has done since, and to proclaim himself king of the Jews. Yes, David had heavy temptations--temptations which he could only conquer by faith in the Living God. And, because he masters himself, and remains patient and loyal to his king under every insult and wrong, he is able to master that wild and desperate band of men, and set them an example of patience and chivalry, loyalty and justice; to train them to be, not a terror and a scourge to the yeomen and peasants round, but a protection and a guard against the Philistines and Amalekites, and, in due time, his trusty bodyguard of warriors--men who have grown grey beside him through a hundred battles, who are to be the foundation of his national army, and help him to make the Jews one strong and united prosperous kingdom.
All this the shepherd lad has to do, and he does it, by faith in the Living God, and so makes himself for all ages to come the pattern of perfect loyalty. And now, let us take home this one lesson--That the secret of David's success is not his beauty, his courage, his eloquence, his genius; other men have had gifts from God as great as David's, and have misused them to their own ruin, and to the misery of their fellow- men. No; the secret of David's success is his faith in the Living God; and that will be the secret of our success. Without faith in God, the most splendid talents may lead a man to be a curse to himself and to his neighbours. With faith in God, a very common-place person, without any special cleverness, may do great things, and make himself useful and honoured in his generation.