Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"IN THE DARKNESS OF HIS CAVE, DAVID SOUGHT HIS COVENANT GOD IN PRAYER."
I Samuel 24
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Lord God grants that today a number of young people may profess the faith. They declare before the Lord and His congregation that they love the Lord, and desire to serve Him every day of their lives.
The day has been some time in the coming; itís taken months, even years, for these young people to come to the point where they want to respond publicly to the promises God extended to them in baptism. The road was some times smooth and some times rocky; there were moments when these young people were convinced that Yes, to profess the faith was the right thing to do, other moments when doubts arose Ė is this really for me? But now itís that far; today you profess the faith. With regards to the future, the expectation may arise that the doubts you may have had will now disappear; from here on in you should be sailing calm watersÖ.
But as it is, brothers and sisters, that is not the way things will go. I remind you of what we confess in Lordís Day 52 of the Catechism; "our sworn enemies Ėthe devil, the world, and our own flesh- do not cease to attack us." Thatís a reality you, Brett, Lindsay, Miriam, Evette, will experience painfully. And that experience will awaken in you all sorts of questions, questions particularly in relation to how to respond to such unpleasantness. That is why I take the opportunity today to lay before you the inspired prayer of the psalmist in the cave. The Lord has included this prayer in the Word He gave us so that we might be taught how we should respond to the crises we face in this life.
I preach to you the word of God this morning using this theme:
IN THE DARKNESS OF HIS CAVE, DAVID SOUGHT HIS COVENANT GOD IN PRAYER.
The setting of the psalm
The Holy Spirit tells us that David is the author of Ps 142. David is not, though, in a comfortable position; in our text he tells us that he cries out to God. The word David uses in vs 5 for "cry" captures a measure of desperation; he can find no way out of the pressure around him (cf Judg 6:7; I Chr 5:20), and so cries out his anguish. We wonder: what is Davidís circumstance? Why is he experiencing pressure?
The heading over the psalm informs us that David prayed this psalm "when he was in the cave." As it is, we know of two instances when David was "in the cave." The first instance is recorded in I Sam 22 (when David fled from Achish and hid in "the cave of Adullam"). The second instance is recorded in I Sam 24. Commentators agree that of these two possibilities the I Sam 24 instance forms the likely setting of Ps 142.
The chapter Ėwe read it- tells us that King Saul pursued David in the Wilderness of En Gedi. In his efforts to escape from the king and his soldiers, David found a hiding place in a cave. King Saul entered the very cave in which David was hiding in order "to attend to his needs" (vs 3). Davidís men at the back of the cave whispered to their leader that "this is the day the Lord will deliver your enemy into your hand" (vs 4). According to vs 10, they urged him specifically to grab the opportunity and kill the king.
Kill the king, Davidís men advised him. We can understand that this suggestion formed a distinct temptation for David. Consider:
David was being chased up and down the country by the king and his soldiers, as if he were a wrongdoer. In the process Davidís freedom was taken from him, Davidís opportunity to build a future for himself was denied him, and his name was dragged through the mud. But here was an opportunity for David to rid himself of his hater and begin building up his reputation in the land again, here was opportunity to take control of his life and generate opportunity to do the things heíd like to do. Yes, thatís tempting.
Further, Davidís men put the matter to him as if this were Godís will for David. Itís what they say in vs 4; "This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ĎBehold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.í" We know from experience that to say that Godís hand is behind something, that God wills this or that, is to increase the pressure; if God wants it, weíd better do it.
What does David do? Look, he arises, he leaves his men, he goes to Saul! Does he consider the advice of his companions good advice? Does he sneak to the mouth of the cave with plans in his mind to kill the king? By the time he got to Saul his mind was resolved not to kill the king; instead, he "secretly cut off a corner of Saulís robe" (vs 4). By the time he got back to his men, his conscience "troubled him that he had cut off a corner of Saulís robe" (vs 5), and he told his men Ėvs 6- that God did not wish him to "stretch out my hand against Ö the anointed of the Lord" (vs 6). No doubt, some time between his leaving the men to go to Saul and his return to his men David struggled in prayer with Godís will for him. Should he kill the king? How did David experience and handle the pressures of the moment, the pressures to do what his men advised him to do? His prayer gives us a picture into the struggles of his heart. And that picture is instructive for us in the midst of the trials of our lives.
We move on to our second point:
The struggle of the psalmist
What thoughts, what struggles busied Davidís mind as he tiptoed his way from the back of the cave to Saul in the mouth? The first line of vs 5 sums up the struggle of the fugitive. "I cried out to You, O Lord," says David. The color of that cry and the cause of that cry are explained for us in the first four verses of Davidís prayer. Specifically, vss 1 & 2 give us a taste of the anguish of that cry.
In vs 1 David uses the same word as he repeats in our text. "I cry out to the Lord with my voice," he says. As I mentioned before, the word "cry out" reflects a desperation; the cry is squeezed out by the pressure of the moment. Itís a cry with volume to it; David speaks of crying out "with my voice." Though we donít have to think of a loud cry (for Saul is in the cave too!), Davidís groans are not just kept in the silence of his heart; the pressure within him Ėwhat should he do with the advice of his men; should he kill the king?- tears his lips open.
That desperation is repeated with the second part of vs 1, "with my voice to the Lord I make my supplication." The word translated for us as "make Ö supplication" means literally to "plea for grace." David confesses here his unworthiness of any mercy from God, confesses here also his need for Godís mercy. Heís so tempted to do what his men advice him to do, but heís not comfortable with carrying out that advice.
Again, the emotions of the moment receive more color in vs 2. "I pour out my complaint before Him," says David. The word translated at "pour out" is the same word as is used to describe the result of a wound from a sword, ie, your blood pours out, gushes out, and thereís no stopping it. Thatís David; his complaint, his concern Ėthe turmoil of his heart as he considers the advice of his men- gushes out in a flood of words.
The intensity of the pressure within David climaxes in the second half of vs 2; "I declare before Him my trouble." Literally: I cause God to know my trouble, my distress. Hereís labor as David sweats to put God in the picture, struggles to get his thoughts in a row, to get them out.
All of it together, brothers and sisters, gives us a picture of a man under intense pressure. In his specific situation, as he works his way from his men in the back of the cave to Saul in the front, so many thoughts go through his mind, so many conflicting emotions, so much distress. He has to make a decision, and what does he have to do?!
We for our part can relate to the struggles of the man. In all the strive of this mortal life we encounter so many moments too when the pressure gets too much and we want to cry out, we want to scream, we want understanding, we want guidance, an answer. That makes Davidís struggle in the cave so important to us; the Holy Spirit has included the psalmistís struggles in Scripture so that we might be aided in our trials.
So we need to notice, brothers and sisters, what David did with his struggles, with the turbulent emotions. The pressure was on to kill the king, but deep inside David knew this was not the right thing to do. In the struggle of the moment, David did not bang his head against the walls of the cave, nor did he scream into the black. Instead, this child of the Lord took his conflicting emotions to his covenant God, and therein is the example for us to follow. David works with the reality of the covenant; itís not for nothing that David speaks of God here as "the Lord," in capital letters. That is Yahweh, the God of the covenant. David knew Ėas do we- that this God had established with David His covenant of grace - just as He has established it with you and me. David received from God the same promises of salvation in Jesus Christ as you and I have received. In his distress David remembered the covenant promises of this God, and so turned to this God for help. As this God of the covenant does not change, we receive here an encouragement in the midst of our struggles Ėwhatever they may be- to follow the example of brother David so long ago.
We need to go back to Davidís prayer. Vss 1 & 2, Iíd said, give us the color of Davidís cry to the Lord. Vss 3 & 4 deepen the color, for in these verses David lays a finger on the nature of the crisis in which he finds himself.
According to our translation, David says in vs 3 that his "spirit was overwhelmed within" him. Literally, David says that his spirit fainted within him. The point is that David is a wreck, has no strength. Heís on his way to the front of the cave, and the advice of his men to kill the king keeps ringing in his ears. Heís on his way, but the crisis in his soul drains him of strength; his spirit faints within him. In that crisis he lays his finger on the cause of the battle raging within him. He says it at the end of vs 3: "in the way in which I walk they have secretly set a snare for me." No, weíre not to think here of a literal path with a physical snare. The path David refers to is the path of life, is the values and principles David has adopted for himself. Heís learned from the Lord his God how he ought to live, what he ought to do in this situation or that, for Godís Word is a light on his path (Ps 119:105). But "they" have set a snare on Davidís path Ėand done so when he was weak- to prompt him to act in a fashion contrary to the principles he knows are right.
What the snare was? That, brothers and sisters, is the advice spoken to David in the cave, those words to the effect that God gave Saul into Davidís hand to "do to him as it seems good to you," specifically, to kill him. David was so weary of being chased, and Saul, sleeping there at the mouth of the cave, was an easy victim; how tempting it was to fall for the suggestionÖ, the suggestion of his friendsÖ. So "David arose," began the journey to his victimÖ. But as he works his way to the mouth of the cave, it dawns on him that the word of his friends was a snare, and this snare was the more hideous because David was so sick of being chased. The closer he came to Saul the more his conscience reminded him that such action was distinctly contrary to the will of the Lord, contrary to the path upon which David was determined to walk. God had said in the sixth word of the covenant that His people were not to kill. More, in Lev 19 God had dictated what thoughts were to live in the hearts of His children; said God:
"You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord" (vs 18).
So it was not for David to retaliate against Saul; it was for David to leave vengeance to the Lord and meanwhile enfold this erring child of God with the same love that God was showing to David. David knew: this was the way the Lord wanted him to go, and so itís the way upon which David had set his heart, this is how he would act. As he said in Ps 35:
"But as for me, when [my persecutors] were sick,
My clothing was sackcloth;
I humbled myself with fasting" (vs 13).
He grieved when his enemies suffered; he sought to love his neighbor as himself, to love as God loved him. As he edged his way closer to Saul, David realized so acutely that this was conduct so very different than that suggested by his companions at the back of the cave. Their advice: it was a snare; were David to follow through with the advice, he would sin grievously against his God and his brother, yes, he would be ensnared in the clutches of evil, would endanger his own soul! Thatís why David cries out his anguish to God; "no one cares for my soul" (vs 4). "Look on my right hand and see;" even my best advisers are against me Ė whether they intend it or not. These people, my friends, give me advice that will endangers my soul; truly, "refuge has failed meÖ."
Yes, beloved, "what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Mt 16:26). To listen to the advice of his companions in the cave would make David their hero, and possibly earn him the throne of Israel too; with the thrust of a sword the world lay open before David. But he knew: the cost of winning the approval of all the world was too high; his soul, peace with God, was worth more than the throne of Israel. And friendship from God was achieved by doing the will of the Lord, believing that His commands were right and good even in circumstances as difficult as these. The big question for David was: what does the Lord want of me? Then yes, in doing Godís will for him in the circumstances, David may end up feeling so alone, with even his right hand men turning against himÖ. But trusting in God, committing oneís cause to him, is the only way to peace and safety Ė for David and for us.
Here I need, congregation, to take you to the cross of Calvary. Davidís struggles in the cave were acutely real; we have little difficulty feeling along with him. Yet when all is said and done, the turmoil in Davidís soul as expressed in the cry of our psalm foreshadowed but weakly the turmoil within the soul of the Son of God as He hung on the wretched cross. As David moved through the darkness of the cave to the little light at the end of the tunnel where Saul lay asleep, David could cry out to God, could gush forth his complaint. And Ėas weíll see in a moment- his covenant God heard him. But not so Christ on the cross! While darkness thicker than that of Davidís cave enveloped the cross, heaven refused to hear any cry that would escape the lips of the Son of God. The advice for Jesus written on the faces of those around the cross was to curse God and die, and how tempting, how tempting that will have been for the reject on the cross! But He on His own strength resisted the temptation to curse His God and bow before the devil; instead He bore the wrath of God against the sins of Godís own Ėagainst Davidís sins also- and so opened the way for God to hear the cries of His own Ė be it David in the cave long ago, or you and me in our crises today.
For hear David the Lord in heaven certainly did. Thatís our last point this morning:
The answer of his God
Our text told us that David cried out to his God, and the verses 1-4 gave us the details of that cry. Vs 5 tells us also Godís answer to Davidís prayer. For I read these words in the second half of the text:
"I said, ĎYou are my refuge,
My portion in the land of the living."
Notice first of all, congregation, the sense of peace communicated through these words. The first two verses of the psalm portrayed for us a David who couldnít get his words out fast enough; in his effort to express the turmoil within David "cried out", he "pleaded", he "gushed forth", he "declared". But now David uses a more neutral word; he says, "You are my refuge, my portion." Here is the first indication that the pressure is off.
And what does David say? He describes God first as his "refuge", then as his "portion". His companions in the back of the cave encouraged him to get rid of the Saul whoís seeking to kill him and that advice was a snare for David so that there was for him no refuge at all with his companions; none of them cared for Davidís soul. But God, says David now, is my "refuge", is my shelter in the midst of the storms. By describing God as his "refuge", his "shelter" David expresses his trust in God; it is God who gives safety.
Similarly, David confesses that God is his "portion in the land of the living." His friends at the back of the cave fail him, the man at the mouth of the cave hates him. Whatís David got on this earth? Heís alone, his life in dangerÖ, and the temptation so great for David to stick his foot in the snare his friends have laidÖ. But God has said in the covenant He established with David that He would be "God to you," and thatís to say the Lord is Davidís God and David is His child; hence Davidís confession that the Lord is "my portion". "Portion": the term played such a central role when Israel entered the Promised Land. God, you remember, gave to each tribe its "portion", and to each family within each tribe the familyís "portion" too. The point is that each got a plot of land to call their own, to build a house and make a living. That block of land represented security, food, shelter, and your place within Israel; thatís why your portion, your inheritance had to come back to you in the Year of Jubilee. Well, David in the cave had nothing, no land, no shelter from the storms of life, no security. But he had the Lord who had established His covenant of grace with him for Jesusí sake, and that, says David, is enough. If this God for Jesusí sake would be his God Ėand thatís what the sacrament of circumcision impressed upon David, and what the sacrifices in the tabernacle proclaimed also- than David was safe, this God would give him sufficient - even in the face of the dangers around him. For God is an inheritance no one can take away.
In truth, brothers and sisters, Davidís words form a remarkable confession. Weíve heard Davidís cry, tasted something of the intensity of his struggles in the cave. But with this confession, the struggle is overcome; David has found a Ďrefugeí, a Ďshelterí, knows God is his "portion", and so has peace. This, we need to know, is the work of the Lord God in the heart of this distraught child of His. Christ on the cross was rejected so that David in the cave might never by rejected. Christ would triumph on Calvary ĖGod knew that- and so for Jesusí sake responded to Davidís anguished cries and lifted the blanket of anxiety from His distraught child.
Here too, my brothers and sisters, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does not change. It is for us to follow the example of brother David and in our anxieties and pressures and loneliness and griefs to cry out to God in prayer, to pour out our concerns before Him. The promise of our covenant Father is that for Jesusí sake He will hear our cries and supply relief. The anxiety David experienced in the cave by the hands of men is not unique to this man, and the relief David experienced by the grace of God in Christ is not unique either. The Form for the Celebration of the Lordís Supper says it so well: Christ on the cross was rejected by God "that we might accepted by God and nevermore be forsaken by Him." That means in practice that as we cry out to Him we may count on His answer; He will always be our "refuge" and "portion".
Does the fact that God worked a peace in David in our text mean that David can now ride an emotional high? Has God blown every cloud from Davidís sky so that there is never a shadow again? Weíd love it to be so. But alas, it isnít; as long as our Lord hasnít yet come back, brokenness shall remain in our lives, and thatís true of our emotions too. The confidence David confessed in vs 5 gives way in vs 6 to further cries. Are we to understand this verse as a description of the way David feels after he cut a corner off Saulís robe? Certainly we read in I Sam 24 that "if happened afterward that Davidís heart trouble him because he had cut Saulís robe" (vs 5). However that may be, the fact is that relief from crises of the heart does not mean strictly calm weather ahead. Though David by Godís grace could confess that the Lord was his refuge and his portion, the struggles described in vss 1-4 continue. Hence Davidís petition that God would please "deliver me from my persecutors" Ė be it the brethren in the cave or the king outside, or even the guilty conscience within. He wants release from the dungeon of pressure so that he can praise the name of His covenant God.
Yes, Davidís struggles continue, as do ours. But notice again, beloved of the Lord, the confidence the Lord works in this distressed child of His. David exalts at the end of the psalm that "the righteous will surround me." Or, as we can also translate, "the righteous will crown me." In any case, the aloneness of the moment will disappear, disappear because the Lord his God will deal royally with him; the crown God promised to David will certainly be his one day, and David will not have to kill Saul to obtain it.
Here too, my brothers and sisters, is a promise true for you and me. We profess the faith, and would love to see life now be easy, without the storms and the struggles. It shall not be so. But the God who has established His covenant of grace with us, the God who causes us too to respond to our baptism, remains our refuge and portion. And He promises to His own the crown of righteousness (II Tim 4:8). Thatís a future no enemy in the world can snatch from any of Godís own!
The storms will continue, Brett, Lindsay, Miriam, Evette. Be not surprised when men turn against you, when even your friends lay a snare for you Ė be it on purpose or not. In the resulting trials and tribulations, follow the example of David and seek in prayer transcending distance the God of your existence. And believe that He, for Jesusí sake, remains your refuge and portion Ė till you receive the crown of glory. Amen.