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DAVID: A PATTERN OF FAITH AND FAILURE
by Philip Owen

          The Bible does not airbrush its portraits of the lives of the saints but presents them warts and all.  The inspired book offers rather extensive biographies of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Paul, but perhaps none more detailed than that of King David.  The story of his life offers multiple examples of both dramatic faith and dismal failure, two of which are juxtaposed in David’s life and recorded by the Spirit of God for our edification.

          Dramatic faith.  David’s life was filled with striking examples of his faith in the Lord; we need only recall his youthful defeat of the giant Goliath to be convinced of the power of that faith.  Another example may be found in the twenty-sixth chapter of First Samuel.  David had earlier refused an opportunity to kill Saul, the king of Israel who had been hounding him to death.  Resting from his ruthless pursuit of David, Saul had taken refuge in the coolness of a nearby cave, not realizing that David and his men were hiding within the deep recesses of the same cave.  When Saul fell asleep, David’s men urged him to take advantage of the opportunity to slay his opponent.  David refused, saying, “Far be it from me . . . since he is the Lord’s anointed” (I Sam. 24:6).  Instead, he “cut off the edge of Saul’s robe secretly” (v. 4).  Once again, David discovers Saul sleeping after the king has hotly pursued him.  David asks for a volunteer to go with him into the midst of the sleeping camp, and Abishai, Joab’s nephew, agrees to go. In a bold act of faith, they successfully sneak into the camp and approach the slumbering Saul.  Abishai recognizes the opportunity:  “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke” (I Sam. 26:8).  And again David refuses to destroy “the Lord’s anointed” (v. 9).  They sneak back out of the enemy’s camp, taking Saul’s spear and jug of water in order to prove to Saul that David has no wish to cause him harm.  We must be struck, not only by the courage of David’s faith, but its immense meekness as well.  Though he has been anointed by God’s prophet Samuel to be king of Israel, he contentedly trusts God and waits on both His time and His means to bring David to the throne.  He rejects all opportunities to take matters into his own hands.

          Dismal failure.  It is all the more shocking then, coming on the heels of these two dynamic examples of David’s faith, to read the opening words of the chapter that immediately follows:  “Then David said to himself, ‘Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul.  There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines.  Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand’” (27:1).  As with his two acts of courage, so here we are reminded that David had had a previous lapse of faith; he had retreated from Saul to find refuge with this same Achish, king of Gath.  And in order to save his life from this enemy, David feigned insanity, even allowing “his saliva [to] run down into his beard” (21:13).  In this second instance of fear, David does not play the madman, but he becomes so compromised that, when Achish proposes to attack Israel, David urges Achish to allow him and his mighty men to fight alongside them against David’s own people.  God graciously preserves David from fighting for the Philistines and against Israel by stirring up the suspicion of the Philistine commanders who refuse to take David with them for fear he will turn against them.

As noted at the outset of this brief space, we could multiply examples.  But these are sufficient to demonstrate several truths.  God does us a great service in providing an honest portrait of His saints’ triumphs and defeats.  In so doing, He demonstrates that salvation is not the fruit of man’s efforts or his goodness but by grace alone.  And He reminds us that, though we may fail, He has grace to deliver us and to strengthen us to live victoriously as well.  And though we are all as David in our failure, we have every reason to be as David in faith and victory.

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