The famed war general had gone crazy. The residents of Gath likely thought he had cracked under the pressure of Saul’s death threats. Here was one of the mightiest men of war the world had known with a tool in his hand and a crazed look in his eye as he compulsively carved marks on the city’s gate. If that weren’t bad enough, he was also drooling, and spittle was running down his beard (1 Sam. 21:10–15). How embarrassing.
The context of 1 Samuel 21 clues us in on the fact that all was not as it seemed to the residents of Gath. We read that David found himself on the run from Saul, fleeing for his life and forced into exile in Gath, one of the chief cities of Israel’s enemy, the Philistines. Recognizing that he could be viewed as a threat and killed, David humbled himself, taking on the appearance of a spittle-caked, gate-carving lunatic. And it saved his life.
But those two points of view—what the residents of Gath saw and what David was attempting—are not the only two views the Bible offers of this event in David’s life. The introduction to Psalm 34 tells us that David wrote it in response to this incident of feigned insanity: “Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” What is shocking is that Psalm 34 is a psalm overflowing with praise to God for His protection. At one point in the psalm, David writes, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (v. 8). In this brief narrative, there is ample opportunity for David to distrust the sovereign plan and protection of the Lord. But what David learned was that when he walked with the Lord down the road to humility, especially when it included suffering for righteousness’ sake, he could be sure the Lord would stay with him.
However, Psalm 34 is still not the last glimpse of this event in the Bible. The middle of Peter’s first epistle is marked by a challenging call to obedience, exhorting Christians to submit to different authorities—civil, vocational, marital, familial—even if it means enduring hardship in the process (1 Peter 2:13–3:7). Peter is calling Christians to humility, even to suffering righteously. And, almost predicting their response, Peter quotes Psalm 34:12–16 to prove that God is with His people when humility produces suffering. But Peter doesn’t stop there. He presses further, pointing to Christ. “For Christ also suffered once for sins” (1 Peter 3:18a). You see, the ultimate proof that God is with His people in unjust suffering is the suffering of Jesus to redeem His people. Jesus, the perfect man, suffered the worst unrighteousness with the greatest humility according to the perfect plan of God (Acts 2:23).
Christian, are you being driven to humility while suffering for righteousness’ sake? Know that David’s example, Peter’s exhortation, and ultimately your Savior’s suffering on your behalf all are ample proof that God has not left you. Trust Him in your suffering.