45. Gathering an Army

Meditations in 1 Samuel  45. Gathering an Army

1 Sam 22:1,2    David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.

The reality of being a fugitive has set in and David has run from Saul to the Philistines, has not been welcomed there, somewhat understandably, and so flees into the desert. Whether he is alone or has a friend or two with him at this point is unclear. Adullam is thought to be some ten miles or so slightly north east of Gath, about half way between Gath and Bethlehem. Near the town was a fortified hill also known for its caves and it is to one of these that David now makes his way. Having been born in Bethlehem he would know the area well, especially being a shepherd. Thus he takes refuge in this cave.

Now one of the things we probably don’t understand too well is how communications went on in this land. We’ve previously noted how Hebrews of Judah must have gossiped with the Philistines and again and again through these chapters we find people ‘hearing’ of things going on. Sometimes it was messengers bringing news (e.g. 4:12-, 6:21, 11:3,4, 16:9 etc.) or sometimes it was just obviously gossip or maybe even spies or lookouts (e.g. 7:7, 13:3,4, 14:22, 22:1 etc.) However it occurred we now find, When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there.” They were the first to join with him, possibly because they were simply loyal to him and possibly because they feared that if Saul was against David, he might also act against David’s family.

But then we find an intriguing list of others who joined him: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him.”  With a bad attitude we might call these ‘problem people’ or ‘people with problems’. This bunch of people were not, we might think, the best foundation for an army yet nevertheless, they “gathered around him, and he became their leader.” As we will see as the story develops they clearly became a powerful fighting force, if not always of one heart. There were, we are told, “about four hundred men …with him.”

As we think of David gathering this motley bunch, we cannot help remembering another description and incident found in the New Testament: “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and `sinners’?” (Mt 9:10,11)  Again, they came to him.

One thing this says about both Jesus and David is that people with problems (as society would see them) felt comfortable with them. Whether these ‘discontents’ were in such a plight in Israel that they felt they had nothing to lose with David, or whether his reputation was one of humility and acceptance, the truth is they came. Those who came to Jesus may similarly have feel disenfranchised by society but the fact that Tax Collector Matthew had opened his house to Jesus said here was a man who was different from the religious and civil authorities, a man who understood and accepted them.

Now note that in both cases, these people flocking to one place did so not because of any advertising campaign but simply because the word got out that this was a safe place to be, and here was a safe man to be with. Now let’s ask the embarrassing question: is this how people view the church. Now I say embarrassing because mostly we know the answer, that with a relatively few exceptions, this is not how generally people view the church. We have, by and large, not done terribly well in emulating Jesus.

Possibly with David it was slightly different in that we are talking about the need for a physical army to oppose a physical enemy. Today, apart from the obvious enemy, Satan, the enemies we have to combat are pride, injustice, complacency, indifference, rejection, isolation, insecurity, helplessness and hopelessness, among others. We counter all of those by love, care, compassion and acceptance, the things Jesus obviously had in abundance and the things which the Holy Spirit obviously desires to equip us with as we look to God.

The truth is that of this people who came to David – those who were in distress or in debt or discontented – they came because they had got themselves in a mess. The tax collectors and sinners who gathered to Jesus were people who largely chose to be like they were, although there no doubt always are pressures of a fallen society that encourage that. But whether it was David or Jesus, they did not reject them but received them. It was Jesus’ love and acceptance that transformed people, as the story of Zacchaeus (Lk 19) clearly shows. Jesus didn’t lecture him on the need to change his attitude and his behaviour, he just loved him and that love brought instant change. David took people in but clearly on the basis that they would join him, be trained by him and become part of an army with him. In both cases it was a case of ‘joining to a man’.

We might ask ourselves, as the body of Christ, can we become one to whom the world could come to find comfort, assurance, security, love, and acceptance, (and then transformation) or will they find harsh loveless demands to repent that drive them away?

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