By J.R. Miller
David longed for water and said, "Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!" So the three mighty men broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the LORD. "Far be it from me, O LORD, to do this!" he said. "Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?" And David would not drink it. 2 Samuel 23:15-17
The story of David longing for water from the well of Bethlehem, is very beautiful. There are several interesting and profitable suggestions in it. One is the influence of childhood memories and associations over the life, in the days of strength and maturity. David and his men were in the cave of Adullam. Over yonder was Bethlehem, the home of David's boyhood. He knew every spot. He had played over the fields. He had led his sheep into every nook, along every path. Probably it was not so much thirst for water--as homesickness, that forced from him that day the cry, "Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!"
It is easy to understand David's longing. The memories of our childhood home tug at our hearts through all our years. There is great keeping power, in such love for the old home. While the picture of the familiar rooms, the faces at the fireside, at the table, and at the family worship, and the recollections of the lessons, the songs, the talks--while these abide, with their sacred suggestions and associations, it is not easy to drift far away into wrong. The heart that cherishes no such memories, recalls no such a past, in which there is no hallowed shrine of recollection, has lost much!
Another suggestion in this story, is the love of these three men for their chief. The moment they heard his wish for a drink of water from the old well--they determined to get it for him. The well was in the hands of the enemy, and it was impossible to bring the water without peril and cost. Yet so strong was their love for David, that they went through armed ranks and brought it. This reminds us of what Christ did to bring to His friends the water of life from the old well of salvation.
One of the noblest of the old litanies tells the story well:
"By the cold crib in which You did lie, have mercy upon us.
By Your flight into Egypt and all the pains You did suffer there;
by Your thirst, hunger, cold, and heat, in this valley of Your misery;
by the inward and great heaviness which You had when praying in the garden, and
by the spitting on You and the scourging;
by Your purple garments and Your crown of thorns;
by the nailing of Your right hand to the cross, and the shedding of Your most precious blood;
by the nailing of Your left hand, and that most holy wound--purge, enlighten, and reconcile us to God.
By the lifting up of Your most holy body on the cross;
by the bitterness of Your death and its intolerable pains;
by Your glorious resurrection;
by Your glorious and wondrous ascension--have mercy upon us!"
Everything about our redemption reminds us of what it cost our Savior to bring it to us. He stopped at no sacrifice, because He loved us to the uttermost.
Then there is a suggestion here of what other friends besides Christ do for those they love. Next to the love of Christ, the most precious thing in all the world is human love. And how often does it repeat the story of devotion, and at cost and danger bring cups of water from far-off springs, for those who are thirsty! We do not begin to know what we owe to our friends who are always doing things for us.
Then there is a suggestion of our duty to those about us who have their longings, their needs, their hungers, their discouragements, their sorrows. The cry of thirsty hearts falls continually upon our ears. "Oh that one would give me water to drink of the well of Bethlehem!" There are many unhappy people, unsatisfied people, in this world--there are those who are in sorrow, those who hunger for love. We may not hear their cries, for they cry in silence. But we are needed continually to run to the well of Bethlehem to bring cups of water for those about us who are thirsty.
There is a society in one of our great cities, formed to help the poor, whose aim is said to be to give to every family a friend--someone who will take an interest in the household, visit the home, and bring into it human sympathy, love, cheer, and gentle kindness. We never can know what it means to some families to give them a friend--true, wise, strong, and helpful. No other way of helping people anywhere, rich or poor, refined or crude, good or bad, is half so Divine as by being a friend to them. One of the fine things we learn from the story of Paul, is the duty and privilege of being a friend to men. His heart craved friends--but he also longed to be a friend to everyone. He helped people by becoming their friend. We are taught continually that we ought to love Christ--and the lesson cannot be taught too often or too earnestly, nor the blessing of loving Christ extolled too highly; but if we would do any real good--we must love people too in this world. That is the way Christ helps men--by loving them. Then if we really love Christ, we cannot but love others--the one love always begets the other.
It was said of one, that he lived by the roadside because he wanted to be near people, that he might be their friend and help them. There are some who do not care to bother with others. They like to be very conventional neighbors. They do not want to be troubled in helping people. But they do not know what opportunities of doing good they are missing--what opportunities also of joy for themselves. The deepest happiness in this world--is found in being a friend to others. It was the joy of helping men, of saving them, of serving them, of being their friend, of bringing them cups of water from the well of heaven--that filled the heart of Christ, and enabled Him to endure the cross and despise the shame.
A church visitor went every month to take some money to a poor woman who lived alone and was not able to leave her little house. The old woman received the visitor very kindly, and as she was going away, said, "I thank you very much for the money--it will pay my rent; but I thank you far more for your visit. What I want most is not money--but folks." Her heart was hungry for human sympathy. If you get near enough to people, you will hear every day longings and yearnings like this of David, "Oh that one would give me water to drink of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!"
No other well in all the world has in it such water--as has the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate. This water is the love of Christ, the grace of God, of which if a man drinks--he shall never thirst any more. When you run to this well of Bethlehem, you will find no armed guards to keep you away. Sometimes in the country you will come to a wayside spring with a little cup hanging by it. The cup means that the water is free and that whoever is thirsty may drink. You may drink freely yourself from the well of Bethlehem. But the water is not for you only. There is another near you who is thirsty too, waiting for you to give the cup to him in the Master's name.
We have another suggestion in the way David received the water which his friends brought to him. He said their heroic love and achievement for him--made the water sacred, hallowed it. He dared not use it for the mere gratifying of his own personal thirst. It could be fitly honored only by giving it to God. So he poured it out as an offering, an oblation, to God. David's act has its suggestions for us.
One is, that the best part of a noble deed is its motive. The finest thing in kindness is not the act, which may be very simple--but the thoughtful love which inspires the kindness. An old writer said, "You can paint fire--but you cannot paint heat." It is not the mere flame as a picture that warms you--but the warmth, which you cannot see, which makes no picture. The act of the three brave men was heroic. It would have been heroic if done as an adventure or to receive praise or reward of men. But the noble quality in the deed was not merely what people saw--the dash through the enemy's lines, the dipping up of the water in the face of the guards, and the return again with it to the cave. The really noble thing in the act was the love for David which inspired it.
Always, in all life, it is true that it is the motive which gives value to our acts. One man builds a hospital or a home for orphans. He does it because he wants to be known as generous and philanthropic. The motive which God sees is self-love, the desire to get honor from men. The deed itself seems very large to human eyes. It is a noble charity. It will be praised by men. The newspapers will make a great deal of it, and the man who built it will be honored by his fellows. But large as the great institution bulks in the world, all that appears in God's eyes--is a little picture of a man trying to glorify himself, to get his name honored. There will be a good deal of shrinking and shriveling when some day we get to see all things as they are. Some large things--large in earthly seeming--will be pitifully small then.
But there is another side to this. A lowly man does a little thing--a little act in itself. It is only a simple kindness--a cup of cold water given to one who is thirsty. But the motive is love, and that makes it shine in bright radiance, like a transfiguration, in heaven's sight. Great gifts were dropped into the treasury that day when the Master was watching how men gave. But the only gift He praised was the widow's offering of a farthing. He said it was greater than any of the others. The motive made the difference.
The same is true in all life. We should not do good--to get men's praise. If we work from this motive, we shall have just what we work for--but nothing else. Men will praise us--but God will not. All there really is of any work, even the greatest, is the part that lies hidden in the worker's heart. Many men's lives, therefore, are very much smaller in heaven's sight--than they appear to their fellows to be. Then there are many whose lives are a thousand times more beautiful, more radiant and noble as God sees them, than they are as the world sees them. Love in them, glorifies them.
This truth has wide application. It is not the part which men see--that is most important in anyone's life. Love glorified the deed of bravery wrought by David's three friends, and made it holy as a sacrament. It is love that glorifies whatever is pleasing to God in our lives. One person sings a hymn and it is only a common song breathed into the air. Another standing close by sings it--and it is holy worship, and carries up to God a heart's incense of praise. One performs an act of kindness from a selfish motive, and while it may give comfort to one or to many--it is only a common deed in God's sight. Another performs an act just like it--but with love as its inspiration, and it is a sacrifice to God, acceptable and pleasing to Him. The difference is in the hearts of those who perform the deeds. We would better do even the smallest things in love--and thus lift them up into radiant beauty--than do large and conspicuous things to glorify ourselves.
There is an eastern story of a king who built a great temple at his own cost, no other one being allowed to do even the smallest part of the work. The king's name was put upon the temple as the builder of it. But, strange to say, when the dedication day came it was seen that a poor widow's name was there in place of the king's. The king was angry and gave command that the woman bearing the name on the scroll should be found. They discovered her at last among the very poor and brought her before the king. He demanded of her what she had done toward the building of the temple. She said, "Nothing." When pressed to remember anything she had done, she said that one day when she saw the oxen drawing the great stones past her cottage, exhausted in the heat and very weary, she had in pity given them some wisps of hay. And this simple kindness to dumb animals, prompted by a heart's compassion, weighed more in God's sight--than all the king's vast outlay of money. What we truly do for Christ and in love--is glorious in His sight.
There is another suggestion in David's way of receiving the water. He would not even taste it himself. He gave it to God. That which made the water so sacred in David's sight--was its cost and the love that prompted the heroic act. We get the lesson, that whatever comes to us through the pain and peril of others, or through blood and sacrifice, is thereby made sacred, and should not be used in any self-indulgence, but should be given to God.
The story of national life illustrates this principle. Progress is costly. Whatever is great and noble and worthy--is the fruit of sacrifice. It is the story of David's cup of water over again--it is the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives, or who gave their lives. Our great Christian nations are what they are today, because of long records of sacrifice.
There is a picture which tells the story of a troop of soldiers in northern India. They marched forth bravely in the faultless attire of a holiday. Their guns were polished, their gloves were spotless in their whiteness. Two weeks passed and there had come no word from these brave men. One morning the sentinel on the wall saw a solitary horseman on the horizon. Slowly he moved along the road. The garrison went out to meet him, supposing it must be a messenger from the absent army. Evidently some misfortune had befallen this soldier. His horse was so weary that its head drooped almost to the ground. The messenger himself, it was seen, had been hurt A crimson cloth was bound round his forehead. His hair was matted with blood. His hands were wounded. He was faint, almost unconscious. As the men of the garrison drew near, the officer in the lead shouted: "The army! What news of the army?" The soldier, rousing himself from his half stupor, and lifting his bleeding hand to put back his matted locks, replied: "The army! Why, I am the army!" He was the only man left to come back of all that mirthful company that had gone forth.
This has been the story of many a patriotic army. Thousands went forth--and only a little handful returned. We should not forget the cost of the blessings, the liberties, the institutions, the prosperities which mean so much in our best modern life.
What did David do with the water whose cost made it holy? He gave it to God. An element of all worthy patriotism, is loyalty to God. Good citizenship is part of all full-rounded religion. It is not enough for Christian men to be honest and true and pure--they must be positive forces for good in the community in which they live. We should be strong for God and for truth and right.
If the cost of our national blessings makes them so sacred, what shall we say of the blessings of Christianity? They come to us without price; but there was One who paid an infinite price to procure them for us. Dare we spend on ourselves, these precious gifts of redeemed life? We will deal with them worthily, only when we give them all to God.
This old time story suggests to us also what are the really great things in life, the things that endure. Noble deeds are great. It has been a long time since those three friends of David's went forth on their brave errand. But the world has been blessed all these thirty centuries by the story of their heroism. The telling of the story again today, has started noble impulses in our breasts, and we will be better tomorrow for learning anew the devotion of these heroic men.
Another of the great things of life is service, service prompted by love. Life is made worth while, only by love. The heroism in David's men was splendid--but it was their love for their chief that gave the true glory to their deed. The things we do for love--are the things that will live. "Now abides faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love." All that love does is immortal.
Another great thing is worship; that is, the consecration of life's avails and fruits to God. We are not living truly--until we recognize our supreme obligation to God. To leave God out of our life--is to leave out blessing, joy, hope, and heaven. No life has found its true place in the universe, until it has given itself to God. Then day by day, whatever new gift, power, or possession comes to us--we should promptly lay it on God's altar. We become great, only when we link our little lives to the great infinite Life.
The life that is given up to God in true devotion, need fear nothing. We may have our sorrows, our disappointments, our losses--but all of our life is in the hands of God--and no harm can come to us. In all the events and experiences of our most difficult days--God is developing our life and character! Very beautiful is the figure of the loom. God is the weaver. He has before Him the pattern into which He would fashion our lives. Some threads are white, some are dark--but the great Weaver will blend them so that the finished work will be beautiful.