Stories From Bethlehem
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Making a covenant with Jonathan of everlasting love and kindness, David hurried away, and after various wanderings, sought refuge in the beautiful city of Adullam, which lay a few miles south of Bethlehem; but he found to his grief that no one here was willing to assist him, for fear of displeasing the king, and he was obliged to hide himself in a cave near by.

While he was there in fear and perplexity, Bethlehem was far from being quiet, for Saul was scouring the city through, and menacing the family of Jesse, in order to discover David, till the aged man could no longer endure it; and perhaps when all eyes were shut, he sallied forth with his aged wife and their sons to seek David. But what a comfortless had he to offer them: a damp and gloomy cave for their house, and cold rough rocks for their beds. But as a dinner of herbs is rendered sweet and palatable by love, so was this desolate place made cheerful and happy by kind and living hearts; and it became their home for a season.

Many others who were friendless and in trouble, fled to David, and he soon had an army of about four hundred men.

For some time David remained in this cave; but finally, fearing or knowing that Saul had discovered him, he hurriedly took his effects and all his company and went to the land of Moab, the birthplace of his great grandmother Ruth.

Seeking an interview with the king of Moab, David introduced to him his father and mother, and requested him to allow them to remain quietly under his protection, till he should know what the Lord would do with him. To this the king readily acceded; and as he was then at variance with Saul, it undoubtedly gratified him to have this opportunity of showing him an indignity. This is the last we hear of Jesse, who probably died away from home and the privileges and ordinances of the land of his birth, and was buried among strangers and idolaters. But he was not along; for in that land slept Elimelech and Mahlon and Chilion, and there too God buried Moses.

We are not informed how long David remained in Moab; but the word of the Lord came to him in that place through the prophet Gad, commanding him to return to the land of Judea. Gad had been his constant companion through all his previous wanderings, and now accompanied him back into the dominions of Saul, and remained his friend and counsellor for many subsequent years, and finally wrote the life of David, as we find by 1 Chron. 29:29.

On David's arriving at home, he found that the Philistines had invaded the land, and were then but a few miles south-west of Bethlehem, gathering up the wheat from the threshing-floors and committing other depredations upon the inhabitants. True to his principle of doing good where he received only evil, he took his men, who now numbered not far from six hundred, and coming upon the Philistines unawares, drove them from the country.

But Saul had heard of his return, and with undiminished hatred, summoned his army and hasted in pursuit of him.

David and his men fled wherever they could; and finally halted in the wilderness of Ziph, a little east of Hebron and not far from the Dead sea. Saul failed to discover his hiding-place; but Jonathan, whose love for David had never abated, found him, and held a private interview with him. Their meeting was of the most tender and affecting character; heart flowed out lovingly to heart, and a solemn compact was made between them of everlasting friendship.

The Ziphites, however, in hope of gaining favor with the king, secretly dispatched men to Saul with this message: "Make haste and come down, for David is in our land, and we will deliver him into your hand." Saul, quite overcome by their kindness in offering to assist him and his army in capturing this one innocent man, exclaimed in the fulness of his heart, "Blessed be ye of the Lord, for ye have compassion on me." But while they were laying their plans and spreading their nets, David was praying, "Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape."

When Saul and his mighty men of war arrived at Ziph, David and his six hundred men were safely lodged among the mountains of Maon, which were several miles distant at the south-east.

But as if to try still more David's faith, God allowed Saul to follow and surround him in this solitary retreat. When David discovered his situation he was greatly alarmed; and in agony of spirit cried out, "Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord. Let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt." Scarcely had this prayer fallen from his lips, before a messenger was seen approaching Saul, covered with dust and panting with heat; and as soon as he was within speaking distance, he called out in great excitement, "Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land."

There was no time to be lost; Saul and his army fled like a retreating and discomfited host, leaving David to escape like a bird from the snare. And as he fell upon Saul's track, and pursued his way toward Bethlehem, he sang from a full heart, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, for he hath heard the voice of thy supplications. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and in my song will I praise him."

We find David soon after at Engedi, "The rock of the wild goats." This name was probably suggested by the situation, it being among lofty and precipitous cliffs, half way down the west side of the Dead sea. Many of the cliffs around it could be climbed only by the goats which inhabited this region. Jerusalem lay about thirty miles northwest, and Jericho about the same distance to the north. Engedi was also called the city of palm-trees, there being a great many around it, some of which grew to the height of a hundred feet, and bore yearly fifteen or twenty clusters of dates, each weighing near twenty pounds. Palm-trees are said to be the most beautiful of trees; and as David and his men came out of the caves of these rocks, and stretched themselves under the shade of these trees, and ate of their delicious fruit, and looked down upon the landscape which surrounded them, a feeling of satisfaction and security must have gratified their hearts. David could now exclaim, with pious trust, "The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear."

While David was in this quiet retreat, Saul was busy in repelling the Philistines; after which, he chose from the ranks of all Israel three thousand of the most valiant men, and started forth anew to capture David. He had heard that he was in Engedi, and with a determination to succeed at all hazards, came near it; and being weary from his day's travel, he entered a cave alone and lay down to rest.

But how strange! David and his men were then, through fear of Saul, secreted in the innermost part of the same cave; and when Saul was asleep, those persecuted men, with a full sense of the wrongs they were suffering, raised their spears to strike him dead. But David restrained them, arose and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe, and then secreted himself again in the recesses of the cave.

Saul finally awoke, and prepared to press forward after one whom he would fain believe his greatest enemy. David followed close after him, and with the fearlessness which innocence gives, called out, "My lord, O king." Saul, in great surprise at the familiar voice, immediately came to a stand with his army; and David in simple and touching tones exonerated himself from all intentions of injuring "the Lord's anointed," and as proof of what he was saying, he showed the skirt of Saul's robe, which he still held in his hand. Saul's better feelings were touched; his heart relented; and bursting into tears, he exclaimed, "Is this thy voice, my son David? Thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil."

Here we have a beautiful and striking exemplification of the rule which our Saviour gave of doing good to those who despitefully use us, thereby heaping coals of fire upon their heads, and melting them into contrition and kindness. For the time, Saul's enmity was gone; and after acknowledging to David that he knew he would sit on the throne, and after making a covenant with him, he departed peaceably to his own home.

But the human heart was not to be trusted in that age of the world, any more than it now is; and David, instead of being thrown off his guard by favorable appearances, and the certainty that he was to sit on the throne of Israel, still took care to preserve his own life by keeping at a distance from Saul and his army.

We next find him in the wilderness of Paran, which lay south of Palestine, in the northern part of that "great and terrible wilderness" in which the children of Israel spent thirty-eight of their forty years of wanderings.

It was while here that he sent to Nabal for provisions, and was refused; and here he took Abigail to be his wife. How long he remained in this region we are not told; but the enmity of Saul's heart had been rekindled, and with an army of three thousand men, he again went forth to seek David; and he came near and pitched on a hill by the way.

David had an intimation from some one of the approach of Saul, and immediately sent out spies to ascertain his position. The next night David took a few men with him and went down and discovered Saul, lying in the midst of his army asleep. Abner, the captain of the host, the same man who led David to the king after he had slain the giant, was also asleep, and the pale light of the moon revealed the dim outlines of the sleeping host as they reposed on their arms in supposed security.

David and his men listened; there was no sound, save the gentle breathing of the wind among the drooping branches, and their own hushed footsteps. "Who will go down with me to Saul?" asked David. Abishai, David's sister's son, who was a valiant young man, and who afterwards became general-in-chief of David's armies, replied, "I will go down with thee." Leaving the rest of the company behind, these two daring men advanced with noiseless steps into the very midst of the sleepers; and passing one and another who lay stretched upon the ground, they stopped by the side of Saul. There at their feet lay the tall handsome man, of whom Samuel had said, "There is none like him among all the people." His spear was sticking in the ground at his pillow, and his cruse of water was standing by. Abishai cast his eye around; there was no movement among the guard; he raised his spear, and poising it over the helpless man, said to David, "Let me smite him, I pray thee, to the earth; I will not strike the second time." "Destroy him not," whispered David; "the Lord forbid that I should stretch forth my hand against the Lord's anointed. But take his spear and the cruse of water, and let us go."

They then made good their escape over to an adjoining hill, and there David stood and cried, "Abner, Abner, answerest thou not?" Abner was aroused from his sleep, and springing up, called out, "Who art thou?"

"Are you not a valiant man?" rejoined David, "and who is like to thee in Israel? Verily thou deservest to die, in that thou has not kept thy master. Look, see where the king's spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his bolster." The king by this time was a listener, and comprehending the whole at a glance, he exclaimed, "Is this thy voice, my son David?" David then reasoned with him of his folly in pursuing after one who had no intention or wish to injure him.

Saul's repentings were again kindled together, and he exclaimed, "I have played the fool, and erred exceedingly; return, my son David, and I will no more do thee harm" He then sent a young man over, and got his spear and cruse of water, and after blessing David, he returned to his home.

But a feeling of discouragement passed over David, as he was again alone in his solitude, and he exclaimed in sinful distrust, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to go down and live among the Philistines; for Saul will never dare come after me there." We now find him with his two wives, and his six hundred men and their wives and children, moving off in a north-westerly direction towards Gath, and easterly city of the Philistines.

Saul soon after heard that David had placed himself under the care of the Philistines; and knowing that it would be of no use to follow him there, gave him up, and sought no more after him.

David remained among the Philistines about sixteen months, during which time Saul was in deep trouble at home. Samuel was dead, and although Saul had hated and disregarded his warning voice, while he lived, he now found by bitter experience that he had not only lost a friend in him, but had also lost all communication with the God who had heretofore directed Israel's battles. The witches and spiritualists he had put away out of the land, and forbade their making any communications, on pain of death; showing evidently that he had no faith in their pretensions. But when the Philistines gathered their overwhelming hosts and pitched before him, his heart trembled; and as the Lord would neither answer him by dreams, nor by urim, nor by prophets, he was ready to catch at a straw; and thinking, or trying to think that it might possibly be that God would answer him through a familiar spirit, he sought out and consulted the witch of Endor.

God at this time, greatly to her alarm, granted her request; and Samuel appeared. But a few weeks, or months perhaps, had elapsed, since the aged prophet had delivered his last warning to this wretched king; and then wrapping his mantle around him, he had laid him down and died, conscious that his messages were all unheeded. And now, as he appears, he asks, "Why have you disquieted me to bring me up? The Lord has departed from you, and to-morrow you and your sons shall be with me in the eternal world." Unhappy Saul! he was greatly distressed, but had no comforter in this world or the next, save the poor witch, who did what she could for his overwhelmed and guilty soul, by setting before him her fatted calf and some bread. Miserable comforters, for such an hour as that.

The next day, according to the word of Samuel, Saul and his three sons fell among the dead, in the battle on mount Gilboa.

Two days afterwards, David heard of the death of Saul and Jonathan; and when the tidings came, with sincere grief he rent his clothes, and mourned and wept and fasted till evening. And he lamented, saying, "How are the mighty fallen! Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thy high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant has thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!"

David's way was now opened, by God himself, to the throne of Israel, which he soon ascended. The country he was to govern was distracted by civil dissensions, and surrounded by enemies; but he succeeded in raising a large force, which he trained, and with them conquered and drove from his borders his enemies. He never lost a battle, and never besieged a city without taking it. He enriched his country and enlarged its bounds; and form the spoils which he took, he laid by and large abundant stores for the temple of God which he anticipated building.

His inspired psalms have been a comfort and a solace to thousands who like him have hid themselves in caves and mountains from those who watched to entrap and destroy them; they have blessed and strengthened the Christian of every age, and will continue to do so down to the end of time.

He was eminently in many things a type of Christ, who like him was born in Bethlehem, and like him died and was buried in Jerusalem.

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