Unbelief and its Unworthy Device
1 Samuel 27:1
And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul…

This history metes out equal justice, and, having shown to us the perversity of Saul, immediately exposes to us the fault of David, for he also, though no fool, returned to folly. In both cases equity and charity allow some plea of extenuation. Saul's hostility to David was due in some measure to an unsound brain, unable to shake off morbid suspicion. And David's mistrust of the Divine protection was the result of a very sensitive temperament tried beyond measure, a chafed and weary spirit. How far such pleas may be considered in weighing actions is a question for the Divine justice rather than for our sentence. Enough for us to recognise them, that we may the better understand how Saul could renew a pursuit which he had abandoned with tears, and how David could return to the land of the Philistines, from which he had formerly escaped only by simulating madness.

I. THE FAULT OF DAVID WAS UNBELIEF. It was not his habit; but it came upon him as a fit or mood, and, while it lasted, led him into actions unworthy and umwise.

1. He broke down at a strong point, as men often do. His faith rose to a heroic pitch in the valley of Elah, when the stripling, as a believer, encountered the blaspheming giant. But when he was put among princes his faith failed under apprehensions of mortal peril, and he fled to Nob, and thence to the Philistine town of Gath. He recovered his faith in God, and, assured of Divine protection, refused to injure Saul when the king on two occasions was within his power. But again his faith failed, and he was afraid. There is no mention of his having prayed, or consulted God through the priest as at other times. In his unworthy fear he took counsel with himself, and "said in his heart" that he would surely perish. Such is man. He falls at a strong point. Noah stood in his integrity against a whole world of sinners, but when he had no world to stand against he fell, and disgraced himself by intemperance. Moses was the meekest of men and most observant of the word of the Lord, and yet he erred at Kadesh in respect of self-control and fidelity to the Divine command, so forfeiting his entrance into Canaan. Hezekiah was eminent for prayerfulness and humility, and yet he fell in not spreading a matter before the Lord, but giving way to vain boasting. Simon Peter was all ardour and devotion to his Master, and yet, just after honest protestations of attachment, he lost courage, and denied his Lord. In like manner strong believers may fall into a fit of unbelief, in which past blessings are forgotten, promises are doubted or let slip, dangers are exaggerated, and the heart, instead of asking counsel of the Lord, takes counsel with itself, and suggests all sorts of folly.

2. Unbelief seems to have been the sin to which David was most tempted in his youth. We infer this both from this history and from the Psalter. The former tells how he more than once despaired of his life, and how Jonathan exerted himself to reassure his desponding mind. The latter reveals to us with touching candour the apprehensions of his youth in those psalms which plainly refer to his wanderings and hairbreadth escapes. The sorrows of death had compassed him, and the floods of the ungodly made him afraid, lie saw his enemies ready to swallow him up. And though he was naturally brave, unbelief enfeebled and distracted him, so that. his "heart was sore pained" within him. Indeed David's cries to God in the Psalms, and his way of repeating to himself that God was on his side, and was able to defend and deliver him, indicate not obscurely his inward struggle. If he had felt no fear he would not have thought of writing, "I will not fear what man can do to me." If he had known no failure of faith he would not have said so much as he has of crying after God and putting his trust in him. We read of Abraham simply that he believed. He fell on his face and listened to the voice of God; then he acted, journeyed, obeyed in faith; but we do not find him speak of his believing. David had a struggle to hold fast his confidence, and therefore has he given so much expression to the life of faith and its conflict with doubt and fear.

II. UNBELIEF LEADS A SERVANT OF GOD TO UNWORTHY DEVICES. "Nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines." Now we know that God did order and overrule this flight for the good of David and of Israel; but none the less was it, on the part of his servant, an unworthy action springing from unbelief. Better surely to have lived by faith in the forests and caves of Judaea than live by sight and behave like a freebooter in the land of the heathen Philistines. His stay at Ziklag, the town assigned to him by the king Achish, marks a bad period in the life of David. His incursion into the territory of certain southern tribes was most unjust and cruel. The injustice, indeed, may not have been apparent to his mind; for David and his men had, of course, been educated in the ideas of their own age and country, and had no scruple about invading and laying waste any territory of the heathen. They had also little, if any, respect for the lives of the heathen. Yet David must have sinned against his conscience in the cruel massacre of the southern tribes. One sin leads to another. And the son of Jesse added deceit to cruelty, and exulted in covering the first sin by the second, leaving no man or woman alive to contradict the tale he told to the Philistine king. Lord, what is man? When thou didst not hold up the goings of thy servant, into what miry places did he stray, into what a ditch did he fall! When his faith failed, what a breakdown of his character and conduct! Restraint of prayer, self-direction, then rapine, bloodshedding, and falsehood! What are we that we should have immunity from similar deterioration of character, if we give way to unbelief? A Christian in good repute takes some course that we should have thought incredible and impossible. We ask in amazement, What infatuation seized him? or, Can it be that he was always insincere; and wicked at heart under a cloak of seeming goodness? The real clue to his misconduct lies here - that he lost hold of God and fell through unbelief, allowed himself to doubt whether God would or could keep him in some strait, and took to trusting and keeping himself. So he fell into unworthy company, or betook himself to unworthy devices; and the end is what you see - dishonesty, duplicity, prevarication. Remember that nothing is so hard to be extirpated from the heart as unbelief. In his book of the Holy War Bunyan shows that when the town of Mansoul was in the devil's power, Incredulity was first made alderman, then lord mayor. When Immanuel took the town, Incredulity (unbelief) was doomed to execution, but managed to break out of prison, and lurked in hiding places where he could not be found. When the devil assaulted the town in hopes to retake it, "Old Incredulity" reappeared, and was made general of the army. After the assailing army was defeated, and many of the officers and soldiers in it were put to death, Unbelief still evaded capture. He did yet dwell in Mansoul, though he "hid in dens and holes." Application: -

1. Let believers beware. It is easy to slip off the way of faith, and it may seem to answer well for a time. You may get your Ziklag to dwell in, and find it more comfortable than the hold at Engedi or the hill of Hachilah, but you are in a state of declension from God, and on the way, as David was, to commit presumptuous sin. Matthew Henry remarks in his sententious way, "Unbelief is a sin that easily besets even good men. When without are fightings and within are fears, it is a hard matter to get over them. Lord, increase our faith!"

2. Let unbelievers be warned. If unbelief be so damaging when it prevails even temporarily over a servant of God, what ruin must it work in those who lie always under its power! "He that believeth not in the Son of God shall not see Life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." - F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand.

WEB: David said in his heart, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me any more in all the borders of Israel. So shall I escape out of his hand."

The Danger of Doubting
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