The apostle Paul encouraged the early Christians who were being fiercely persecuted for their new-found salvation with this lasting truth: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The Old and New Testaments alike testify that the way to the throne is a thorny one for all who are appointed to reign with Christ: “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12, KJV). Chapters 21 to 24 of 2 Samuel show how this process was at work in what David had to go through before he was prepared to take the throne.
Soon after Samuel anointed David to replace Saul, the young shepherd came under various life-threatening attacks. In this he was no different from the one he prophetically foresaw as his own Lord; the one who was both his remote physical descendant and the eternal “I AM” (Ps. 110; John 8:58). David’s hard path to the throne foreshadowed the experience of the one who, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
The baptism of Christ by John (i.e. His anointing for His messianic task) was immediately succeeded by the fierce attacks by Satan against Him during His temptation in the wilderness. Near the end of His ministry, after He had raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees, rather than believing and repenting, desperately determined to put Him to death (John 11). Victory was followed by a death-dealing attack.
This pattern of anointing, blessing, victories for the kingdom, and then hatred, persecution, and martyrdom also is experienced by the apostles in Acts, as God advances His church to victory through much suffering. In Acts 14, for instance, when the apostles’ preaching to the lost was blessed so that “a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed” (v. 1), immediately “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren” (v. 2). This was succeeded by stoning and flight (vv. 5–6).
Even Christ Himself had to suffer before He could enter into His glory, as He explained to the bewildered disciples whom He met on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:26). Small wonder, then, that David had no rose-strewn pathway to the throne.
Scarcely had David won the marvelous victory over Goliath than Saul became insanely jealous of his loyal servant, as the women tactlessly sang in his hearing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). A day later, under demonic influence, Saul tried to pin David to the wall with his spear (1 Sam. 18:11). From there, it went from bad to worse.
David was not always successful in his responses under such tribulation and relentless, day and night persecution. Out of fear, he lied to the priest, Ahimelech, and unwittingly occasioned the horrid murder of the entire priestly house (except for Abiathar) by Saul’s wicked Edomite servant, Doeg (1 Sam. 21–22). Also, he reacted very poorly—indeed, sinfully—against the insults of the arrogant Nabal, the wealthy landowner whose sheep and property David had magnanimously protected without pay. Yet, as is ever the case with the elect, God kept him from going too far, and sent Nabal’s beautiful and wise wife, Abigail, to keep David from wiping out Nabal’s household in anger (1 Sam. 25).
Only Christ Himself has ever reacted with utterly holy and heart-filled love, righteousness, and propriety under every insult and provocation. His holy responses no doubt are imputed to David, as they are to every believer in all times and places. Still, most of David’s personal behavior under the unrelenting assaults of apostate King Saul shines brightly with the increasingly godly characteristics of humility and willingness to forgive.
The inspired writer of Psalm 76 may well have had David’s painful, and ultimately victorious, experiences in mind when he sang, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; with the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself” (v. 10).
The attempts of the Evil One (who was manipulating Saul, who no longer resisted him) to sidetrack David from the throne were overruled by the Almighty to give His servant the kind of character training needed by such a king, training that can be received only in the searing heat of a crucible.
Those who will do great things for God and His people must first suffer great things to shape their heart and character in a trusting and self-sacrificial direction, that God can then trust them with great power. The infinite tenderness and effectiveness of Jesus’ high priesthood for us sinners is related to the unspeakable crucible that He passed through: “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18).
So it has to be with David, and with absolutely every believer who will bear fruit for Christ here below and one glad day reign with Him above: Testing and pruning are the pathway to power and blessing (John 15).
David and the tried-and-tested saints of all times could well have sung these lines from Katharina von Schlegel’s hymn, “Be Still, My Soul”:
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.