Wilderness is a landscape that appears often in the Bible. It is a landscape that God sends people to for a specific purpose – to humble, test, and teach so that they can be prepared for their God-given mission.
In today’s episode of Caleb’s Journal we are going to explore how David’s time in the wilderness shaped him as a man so that he could share his faith in a powerful way with Saul at the wilderness oasis of Ein-Gedi.
Things weren’t going well for Saul – his army was pinned down in the Elah Valley by the Philistine Goliath. To cut that long story short David ends up killing Goliath and this elevated his standing in the eyes of the people. Resentment started to grow in Saul, and this grew into jealousy so strong that he sought to kill David.
Rather than fight, David’s response was to flee – and David fled to the safety and security of the wilderness, a landscape that he was familiar with as a shepherd.
Questions in the wilderness
The landscape of the wilderness is harsh both literally and metaphorically – as we enter into it we can be pushed into a survival mindset. Our eyes become drawn to the difficulty of the landscape and we ask ourselves what we need to do in order to get through it.
As we are humbled, tested and taught in this environment we naturally ask the question “What is it that God is trying to communicate to me here?”.
This question can preoccupy our minds, however, an equally important question to ask is “How is God using my wilderness experience to benefit others?”.
You see, as we go through a wilderness experience others are watching – they are seeing if our faith will thrive or wilt. This gives us an amazing opportunity to be a witness of God’s faithfulness.
The encounter between David and Saul at Ein-Gedi is a great illustration of this.
David’s unconventional defense strategy
As we read the story in 1 Samuel 24 we find David and his men hiding in the caves that surround the oasis.
Wilderness is a landscape with precious little water – so from time to time David and his men would need to touch a water source, and this is what we find them doing at Ein-Gedi.
Now as they were refreshing themselves, Saul and his army appear on the scene. You can imagine the tension as David and his men retreat into the caves, hoping to remain unseen until Saul and his army pass through.
And it is then that something amazing happens.
Saul enters the cave where David and his men are hiding in order to relieve himself. How vulnerable Saul was at this moment, and if we look at this with our human eyes how potentially providential… how could this not be the moment, that God had orchestrated, which would allow David to take Saul’s life and thereby assert his claim to the throne?
But David could see past this. He had grown in wisdom during his wilderness experience and had learnt that it was God who had led him into the wilderness and it would be God who would lead him out.
He had been given the anointing as King over Israel, the throne was therefore not his to take, in a sense he was already in possession of it, but it was not for David to force this transition and to interfere with God’s timing.
Think of David’s faith at this point. Surrounded by his men, who were making the seemingly rational argument to seize the moment and take Saul’s life, David does not do so.
Instead he moves up stealthily to Saul and cuts off a piece of his clothing.
Why did David cut off a piece of Saul’s clothing?
Just imagine being in that cave with him. Just imagine the disappointment that his men would have felt, how perplexed they would have been, as this golden opportunity seemingly slips through their fingers.
But David has a larger vision.
Cutting off a piece of clothing sounds somewhat harmless in our ears today, but in the time of David this was a hugely significant act.
You see garments express identity. In many ways they still do so today – we can identify people of different cultures by their unique ways of dressing, or we have the uniforms that identity the police, fire brigade and nurses.
In David’s time it was the hem of the garment which was most significant. It’s width, embroidered patterns, colours and tassels all said something about who you were:
- Which family and tribe you belonged to
- Your social standing
- Your vocation
Each hem was so unique, they were like a finger print, and could be pressed into soft clay and used as a signature.
When we look at the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 24 we read that David cut off the kanaf, or corner, of Saul’s robe. Now this is significant.
The significance of cutting Saul’s garment
Israelites attached tassels to this part of their clothing, to remind them of the Law of God, and as King, Saul was responsible for administering this law.
So could this piece of clothing, the corner of Saul’s robe, be speaking of Saul’s identity as King over Israel? And by cutting it off and holding it up to Saul, David is declaring “Look Saul, this here, the Word of God, is the authority. This is where strength and power comes from, without it you have nothing. I had the opportunity to take your life today – but it will be in God’s timing and by His hand, not mine, that the transition will occur.”
This marked a key difference between David and Saul.
The Difference between David and Saul
Saul was a king who relied on the strength of his own hand, he did not wait on the timing of God, he did things his way – even if it meant forcing a situation – we see examples of this in 1 Samuel 13, where Saul offered an unlawful sacrifice in Gilgal, and in chapter 14:52 where his reliance on strong and valiant men is described.
David was different. He had learnt to patiently wait on the Lord during his personal season in wilderness – as God led him in so God would lead him out. This was the witness of David’s faith and is why Saul called out to him “You are more righteous than I” when he realised what had just happened.
The result was a change in Saul, who now recognised David as the anointed future King of Israel. The conflict between Saul and David had not yet been resolved – that would still take some time. This was a step in David’s transformation that was occurring in the wilderness and it was an opportunity that David had to witness of the faithfulness of God to both his men and his enemies.
Applying the lesson in our lives today
So how do we bring this lesson into our own lives?
Going through a season of wilderness in life is hard. You may be experiencing this as you suffer persecution for taking a stand for Christ and His Kingdom.
Remember that wilderness is a time of humbling, testing and teaching. It is a time when the focus of our vision shifts – away from the harshness of the landscape and how we are to overcome it, and towards our shepherd, the one who will confidently guide us through.
We may be surrounded by well meaning people, just like David was, who are encouraging us to take certain action. But their intentions may not always be the best.
Let’s take this lesson from David that we hold securely to the Word of God. This is what will guide us through. This course of action will often times not make sense to those around you.
Taking a stand for Christ and His Kingdom will come with sacrifice. It may cause you to lose your home, your finances or your social standing.
But when we bind ourselves tightly and hold on to the Word of God we hold on to true power and authority, and as we trust God to guide us through and to deliver on the promises that He has made to us, those around us will see a demonstration of faith, of true strength, against which the power of evil can not stand. This will be a witness of God’s righteousness and justice.
His words in 2 Chronicles 7:14 will ring true:
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See you again next time.