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The Amazing Old Testament Switch: GRACE Becomes LAW!

Take it from a biblical history buff that this tale of epic shift, pulled off by David, might instruct us in our current trials. Didn’t Jesus, the Son of David, extol His all-sufficient grace that overcomes futility in all its bleak hues?  It helps here to distinguish between a superscription and a subscription.  Forget magazines.  How about the T-shirt I found for a friend that had this imprint, “Please cancel my subscription to your issues!”?

What King David wrote above two of his Psalms is poignant to a spellbinding degree.  “A Psalm of David [34], when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.”  This hymn of thanksgiving is followed by the lament of Psalm 142, “A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave.  A Prayer.”  Since we live in “dark” and “crazy” times, God’s responses to his protracted misery may surprise us.

As the youngest in his family, David was not one of the prized sons.  He was just the kid good enough to look after sheep.  Nobody cared that wild animals posed a constant threat.  His fame exploded after he took out the Philistine champion Goliath, but backfired when mad-with-jealousy King Saul repeatedly tried to kill the hero. The famed prophet Samuel had already anointed him to inherit Israel’s throne.  Fleeing for his life, David entered Philistine territory and in Gath found himself with the king, “feigning madness” to escape his wrath. Chased away, enduring many seasons of unrelenting hardships, the fugitive wound up in the cave of Psalm 142.  It is a must read to gauge David’s desperation and abject loneliness, but it highlights his utter reliance on the Lord.  He ends his prayer with the assurance that “the righteous will surround me…”

Oddly, his family shows up at the cave of Adullam, followed by 400 men who are all in distress, debt, and discontented (1 Samuel 22:2).  David becomes their captain; 200 more of such “righteous” ones will join them, and guess what?  Saul’s consuming intent to murder him drives the fugitives back to the Philistine king at Gath.  Convinced that David has no future left in Israel, he shows him all kinds of favor.  He and his band of brothers, along with their families, settle in the town of Ziklag.  Equally resigned to his permanent exile, David enlists in the Philistine army, poised to march on Israel.  The king is delighted, but his commanders are unwilling to take such a risk.  Actually, it is God who instigates the rejection, not wanting David and his 600 hundred to shed their fellow countrymen’s blood.  The battle looms in which Saul and Jonathan will die.

Returning to Ziklag, the king’s guests find their homes looted and burned, their families carried off by Amalekites.  The men weep to the point of collapse and want to stone David. He encourages himself in the Lord, then rallies volunteers to pursue the raiders.  Some are too exhausted to fight, the rest pull off a wildly successful recovery mission.  Some “wicked and base fellows” object to sharing the loot and credit with those “who stayed behind with the baggage.”  With gutsy grace David overrules them and makes his decision a law in Israel (1 Samuel 29, 30).  If grace is our ruling disposition, how do we allot it?  David called the dropouts and disgruntled his “brothers,” reconciling them.

-Vreni Schiess

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