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The book of 2 Samuel begins with that weeping that is the prelude to joy. One wonders whether David had his grief over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (and all Israel’s defeat) at the hand of the Philistines in mind when he composed Psalm 30:5: “… weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Apparently this psalm was composed for the dedication of David’s house in Jerusalem, which happened several years after the loss of Israel’s original leaders. During most of those years, the majority of the bereaved nation still refused David’s kingship (except for the tribe of Judah). It took years of further testings and pressures before David could clearly see the joy that succeeded those times of weeping.

The first five chapters of 2 Samuel paint a picture of how the secret providence of God works wonderfully during our trips through the valley of the shadow of death. True spiritual leadership in the kingdom of God can reach the high hills of visibly fruitful influence of personal and shared joy only after forced marches through dark and hard places. The Lord Jesus tells us that “a servant is not greater than his master” (John 15:20), and explains the necessity of pruning (which He experienced more than any other human): “ ‘Every branch [in Me] that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit’ ” (John 15:2b).

In these early chapters, David reflected the compassion of God in the death of Saul and Jonathan. His sorrow exemplified the principle of Proverbs 24:17: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” The lament he composed graciously refrained from listing the sins of Saul (2 Sam. 1:17–27), just as Hebrews 11 passes over in silence the failings of the Old Testament heroes of the faith.

The inward grace God gave him when his enemy was laid low was preparing him for greater outward service, as the people could not but appreciate his noble spirit. David also was given the grace to carry out the instructions of his own psalm: “Truly my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation” (Ps. 62:1).

Abner selfishly set up a puppet king (Saul’s weak son, Ishbosheth) to reign over the majority of the tribes, and then took aggressive action against David’s loyalist Judeans (2 Sam. 2:14–32). Abner was put to the worst, and yet David patiently refrained from taking advantage of the situation so as to rule over the recalcitrant tribes by force. And all the while that David was waiting upon his divine Master, the unseen Ruler of all was patiently removing every obstacle to the reign of His servant over all Israel. David’s waiting must be compared to what Moses said at the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army on his back: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Ex. 14:13). Moses’ and David’s waiting for God resulted in the supernatural blessing David sings of in Psalm 31:1: “In You, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness.”

The providence of God removed those who would have blocked His anointed’s way to the throne, without David ever raising his hand. The Philistines killed Saul and Jonathan. A bad spirit came between Abner and his puppet king, so that Abner transferred his loyalty to David (2 Sam. 3), and evil people killed Ishbosheth, so that all Israel (after seven years of prevarication) was now prepared to accept David as their king (2 Sam. 4 and 5). Through His providential mercies, God gave David what he would not attempt to take by force.

This providential mercy was clearly seen in the massive attack by the Philistines upon the new king, David. Since the Philistines had given shelter to David while Saul was persecuting him, it would have been very questionable for David to attack his former hosts. But the Philistines themselves started the war, and David had no choice but to respond (2 Sam. 5:17–25). Thus, with full righteousness, he was able to subdue the major threat to his kingdom. In doing so, unlike proud and impetuous Saul, he specifically sought the guidance of the Lord as to strategy and timing (2 Sam. 5:19, 23). This way, he gave God time to work, and hence “to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chron. 16:9).

The book of 1 Chronicles mentions an added blessing that came because God allowed the Philistines to attack David so early in his kingship, a blessing not mentioned in 2 Samuel: “Then the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations” (14:17). Not least among God’s providential mercies to his servant during the times of waiting and then times of fighting was the grace to give the glory of his victorious experiences to the One who alone deserved it: “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me, like a breakthrough of water” (2 Sam. 5:20).

Long waiting, passing through hard tests, would in due season bring David out of the night of weeping into the morning of joy. During both evening and morning, David learned who was in charge. As one of “the songs of degrees” would later express it: “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.… The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.… The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in, from this time forth, and even forevermore” (Ps. 121:4, 6, 8).

God Marches to Battle

The Matter of Names

Keep Reading Counting It All Joy: The Acts of Christ in the Third Century

From the August 2003 Issue
Aug 2003 Issue