David Searches for Path to Kingship
Interactions with human realities are important in working with God while waiting for his intervention. He often prepares a person for divine breakthrough as the person responds to real-life needs. We discuss an example from the life of David as king in waiting. Following termination of his army career under Saul, David sought to re-position himself on a path to kingship. He identified his immediate and long-term needs of protection from Saul, restoring economic viability, and continuing to build leadership reputation among the people. He cobbled together a force of four hundred to protect and provide for himself and followers and defend Israeli territories against foreign attack. He demonstrated leadership by molding the team into a formidable private army that produced the famous “mighty men” and eventually will propel him to kingship.
David sought to re-position himself on a path to kingship after he departed unexpectedly from his service in the Israeli army under Saul. He identified his immediate and long-term needs as protection from Saul, restoring his economic viability, and continuing to build his leadership reputation among the people of Israel. He relocated frequently to elude Saul while working to attend to the needs he identified.
First, he picked up short-term food supply and weapon from Priest of Nob Ahimelek. Second, he tried to escape into Philistine territory but realized on arrival that the Philistines could consider him a price catch instead of refugee. Therefore, he feigned insanity to win expulsion from the city. Third, he escaped to the cave of Adullam in Judah within close proximity of the Valley of Elah, site of his famous confrontation with Goliath. There he felt safe long enough to receive members of his family and gather a force of four hundred followers. Fourth, he moved to Moab, where he negotiated refuge for his parents with the king of Moab. He intended to take refuge in a stronghold in Moab, but Prophet Gad advised him to return to Judah. Therefore, he moved to his fifth stop in the forest of Hereth in Judah.
Focus on Interacting with Human Realities
David moved frequently and interacted with human realities he encountered. He likely prayed as he responded to the events. However, the bible does not highlight his prayer, except at the end of the period when he sought God’s direction to confront a Philistine attack against the city of Keilah. Prior to that incident, the only evidence that David prayed through his interactions was his statement to the king of Moab as he negotiated refuge for his parents [1 Samuel 22:3]: “Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?” He prayed for “what God will do for me” as he relocated frequently to elude Saul while searching for a new path to kingship.
However, his search for a new path focused on interacting with human realities he encountered. For example, he feigned insanity as he entered the palace of the king of Gath in Philistine territory and realized the Philistines could arrest him instead of offering him refuge: “So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard” [1 Samuel 21:13].
His responses during the events illustrate he considered interactions with human realities to be important in working with God while waiting for God’s intervention. He also believed in prayer and prayed as he worked through the problems. However, his actions indicate a recognition that God often prepares a person for divine breakthrough as the person responds to real-life needs. David identified his real-life needs to consist of protecting himself and followers from Saul, providing for their economic viability, and protecting Israeli territories from enemy attack. He recognized he needed a private army to accomplish these and recruited followers as soon as he could to setup the army.
Beginnings of a Formidable Private Army
The formation of David’s private army was important to his preparation to become king of Israel. The army started with approximately four hundred men at its first mention in the bible and grew to a formidable force that produced the famous “mighty men” of David [2 Samuel 23:8–39], saw him through a long history of military success before he became king, and stayed with him all through. The nucleus of the army consisted of men that joined him at the cave of Adullam, his first extended stop after he departed from Saul. They weren’t a select best by any means [1 Samuel 22:2]: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.” He molded the group into the army that made him famous, thereby showing himself to be a skillful leader and military tactician.
Initially, the men weren’t always enthusiastic about taking risks behind David. For example, they were afraid to follow him when he summoned them to go from their hiding place in the forest of Hereth to defend the city of Keilah against a Philistine attack. The men complained [1 Samuel 23:3]: “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” David prayed again and persuaded them to follow him [1 Samuel 23:4]: “Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, ‘Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.’” The men followed him to defend Keilah.
Also, they followed him every time thereafter. He considered them vital to his protection as well as he was to theirs. As he explained in his promise to Abiathar, the only surviving member of the priestly family of Nob after Saul destroyed the city and massacred eighty-five priests [1 Samuel 22:23]: “Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.” He promised them protection from Saul and other enemies, provided for them by way of spoils from their campaigns, and won their enduring loyalty through his entire life.
Summary of What We Learned
David focused on interactions with human realities as he sought to re-position himself on a path to kingship after he departed from Saul. He identified his needs as protecting himself and followers from Saul, providing for their economic viability, and protecting Israeli territories from enemy attack.
He recruited followers as soon as he could to establish a private army. He showed himself to be a skillful leader and military tactician by molding the army into a formidable force that endured with him through his entire life. He built loyalty with his troops by offering them protection from Saul and other enemies and providing for their well being.