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Rise and Fall – David the Refugee

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org


Sunday, September 8, 2019  Brad Barrett

1 Samuel 18-24—Rise and Fall

David the Refugee

Over the centuries there have been many cruel and warped leaders.  Generals and presidents and prime ministers and kings who were extraordinarily evil, even killing family and staff members.

Sadly, we can find stories like this in the Bible.  Israel’s first king, Saul, was such a man.  Saul was opposed to his best military leader, David.  And on top of that, David was Saul’s son-in-law.

We pick up the story in 1 Samuel 19. 

1 Samuel 19:8–12 ESV  There was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him.  Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand.  And David was playing the lyre.  

David was a Warrior.  And a Musician, here playing a musical instrument for his king. 

And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall.  And David fled and escaped that night.

Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning.

This story is astonishing.  The king’s best general—his son-in-law, too—just wins a great battle.  Then the king—under demonic influence— decides to kill him.  What?  I shake my head.

Within a 12-hour span, David ran for his life twice, escaping the clutches of his king and father-in-law.

From this point forward, life was chaotic for David.  He lived the life of a refugee—a fugitive– for years, perhaps up to 10 years.  Most of his 20’s were spent on the run.

For you who are in your early 20’s, imagine for the next 7 to 10 years, all that you know and enjoy and love today is gone until your 30th birthday.

The story is simply bizarre. 

Yet in the face of all the pain and injustice, David never grows bitter.  He never turns from God

God himself called him, “a man after God’s heart.”  A man who sought after God.  Who loved God. 

We are in Week 6 of a sermon series traveling through a book called Samuel.  From last week on forward, the most prominent person we will look at is David. 

Today we will find two things. 


Here in 1 Samuel God is preparing David.  Preparing him to go from a simple shepherd as a boy to a fierce warrior as a 20-something to a terrified fugitive in his 20’s to a godly king at age 30.  God prepares and shapes his people into something greater and richer.  As with us who are in Christ:  “He is conforming us into the image of Christ.


And in this story there is a Presentation.  God is presenting himself.  Presenting himself to David.  To show David and then to show us who the Lord truly is.  His character.  His heart.  His power.  Presenting David to us to show Israel and us what God can do through someone.  And presenting himself….with an invitation to us… inviting us to himself.

You see, David’s story not only spoke to David and the people of Israel, it speaks to us.  And it invites us in to see and aspire to a life in God. 


Let’s briefly review the book so far.

In your bulletin is a handout giving an overview of 1st & 2nd Samuel. 

We handed this out 5 weeks ago, so I’m giving it again in case you weren’t here.  Or in case you simply want to see it again. 

My desire is that you would read it and gain a better view of the big picture.  What the book is all about. 

So far we’ve heard some remarkable stories.

  • A godly woman named Hannah who in desperate prayer sought a son. 
  • Hannah’s son Samuel became a great man of God and the leader of Israel for many years.
  • Then Israel’s first king.  Saul was a king who looked great on the outside—tall, handsome, and wealthy—but he was corrupt on the inside.  Unbelieving and half-hearted. 
  • Last week Pastor Dave introduced us to a teenager named David.  David is one of the greatest figures in OT history.  A young warrior who loved and feared God. 

The Lord is with David

Today we’ll pick up the story in Chapter 18 looking more at David’s life.  [page 241 in the house Bible]. 

The over-arching theme of the second half of 1st Samuel is this:  David is running for his life.   And we will finish 1st Samuel by looking at some snapshots in several chapters. 

1 Samuel 18:6–9 ESV As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”

8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul eyed David from that day on.

Saul was a proud, jealous man.  He was the king, and he wanted all the praise of his people.  So when his army commander had more success and popularity than he did, he was angry.  Displeased.  Suspicious that David might usurp him as king. 

1 Samuel 18:12,14-16 ESV “12 Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul…

This is a very important statement:  the Lord was with David, but the Lord had departed from Saul.  More on this in a moment. 

14 And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him.  And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them.”

Note that twice we are told, “The Lord was with David.”

The more that David went out to war, the more success he had.  David was successful not because he had a natural brilliance or strength or courage.  He was successful because the Lord was with him.

We typically think David is this great hero on his own.  Granted, there is a sense where David is heroic and an example to follow in many ways.  But ultimately throughout Scriptures, the True Hero is God.

God is the Difference Maker in David’s life, as he is in ours.

The Lord was with David but he had withdrawn…departed from Saul.    This is alarming.  God withdraws himself from Saul.  Why?  How?

The story is actually not complicated nor unforeseen.   Saul’s own unbelief and disobedience brought a judgment from the Lord.  As Matt looked at three weeks ago, Saul simply was an unbelieving, unrepentant man.   But all he needed to do was to look to the Lord first.  To love the Lord, to trust him.  Then, by the promise in the Mosaic covenant, all would be well with Saul and Israel.  The Lord would have blessed Saul richly. 

But his heart was hard, and the Lord withdrew from the king he had appointed over Israel. 

Let’s hold on to this thought of “The Lord was with David.”  I want to come back to it later. 

For now, we need to know that David’s success in life and in battle was because the Lord was with him.

David the Refugee

So back to our story.  The Lord was with David.  God gave him success in every endeavor.  Saul grew more and more jealous and angry and murderous.  Saul even made David his own son-in-law, but not because he loved David or thought David would be good for his daughter.  Saul gave David his daughter Michal because he hoped David would go out to fight more battles and hopefully die.

That didn’t happen.  So Saul took more direct action. 

1 Samuel 19:1 ESV And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David.  But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David.

Such a contrast.  The king wanted to kill David.  But the king’s son, Jonathan, was best buddies with David.  They were like twin brothers. 

Jonathan defended David to his father.  But Saul was out of his mind in jealousy and rage. 

1 Samuel 20:30–34 ESV Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “…As long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established.  Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?”

But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death.  And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him.

Saul was insane with jealousy, hatred, and murder.  He tried to kill his own son! 

From chapters 19 until Saul died in battle in chapter 31, David was fleeing for his life, whether hiding in caves or living among Israel’s archenemy, the Philistines.   This may have been 10 years!  David may have spent most of his 20’s as a refugee.  A fugitive.  Homeless.  Few friends.  Constant danger.

This is the main story of the second half of 1st Samuel. 

Let’s look at some other scenes to get an idea of David’s life. 

So David fled from Saul.  He fled without food or weapons.  So he went to seek help from a priest named Ahimelech.  A short time later, a horrific scene unfolds, and Saul has the priest Ahimelech killed for helping David.

After leaving Ahimelech, David was so desperate, he sought refuge in the land of Israel’s archenemy, the Philistines.  Maybe David figured, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  He went to a Philistine city named Gath.

1 Samuel 21:10–13 ESV  And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath.  And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”

And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.

I’ve always found this story to be rather odd, and I’ve never known what to think of it.  Perhaps what strikes me as odd about this story is the contrast between David’s well-known warrior spirit and this pretending to be insane. It seems like embarrassing behavior for a great warrior.  I expect David in his desperation to grab a sword and kill 100 men to escape.

Whether David acted in faith and used wisdom here, or whether he panicked and used mere human tactics to escape, we are not told.  But it worked, and he was sent away.

Though I don’t know what to make of this, there is one bright spot:  He wrote two Psalms. 

During this time, he wrote Psalms 34 and 56. 

Here we get some rich insight into David’s life in his years as a fugitive. 

Psalm 34:1–7 ESV

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul makes its boast in the Lord;  let the humble hear and be glad.

Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Recognize that David wrote this after he feigned insanity and was let go!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

David had intense fears, but the Lord heard him and delivered him.

Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

David felt shame, but he looked to the Lord.

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.

David had innumerable troubles, but the Lord heard him and saved him.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

David needed deliverance from his enemy, his own father-in-law, and the Lord did. 

I have loved this Psalm for many, many years.  In the early days of Stonebrook 35-40 years ago, we had songs we sang to some of the verses in this Psalm. 

The Psalm is so much more meaningful when we know the back story of David’s situation.  A fugitive, running for his life.  Being held prisoner by the Philistines.  Feigning insanity.  Then being let go.

As I read Psalm 34, I am struck with the faith and knowledge of the Lord that David had.

He wants to praise the Lord continually.

He boasts not in himself but in the Lord.

He sought the Lord in his fear, and the Lord delivered him.

He believes the Lord is like an army encamped around him to protect and deliver him. 

And he was so young when he wrote this.  Only in his early to mid-20’s!  I expect something so beautiful and heavenly to be written by someone who has walked with God for 30-40 years!

But it shows the Lord was indeed with David, working in and through him. 

God was PREPARING David.

God was PRESENTING himself to David, and now to us. 

David also wrote Psalm 56 when he went to the Philistines and they seized him.

Psalm 56:1–4 ESV

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;  all day long an attacker oppresses me;

my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;  I shall not be afraid.  What can flesh do to me?

Two things to me that are quite remarkable and astonishing about this Psalm:

First, it is the difficulty of David’s situation contrasted with what he wrote.   He was on the run for his life.  A refugee.  A fugitive.  No home.  Few friends.  In the middle of all that, we don’t see a man bitter.  We don’t see someone who says, “If that’s the way God is going to take care of my life, I want no part of God.”  Rather, we see a humble, faith-filled man who prays, seeks the Lord, praises him, and trusts him. 

There is something quite inspiring to me about David’s deep walk with God and his raw honesty with the Lord in the face of the most severe trial.

The second thing I take out of this Psalm and David’s story as a fugitive is this:  Doing the right thing and following the Lord does not always lead to good things happening, at least not in this life.  (In the next life, the Lord will make all things right.)  But in this life, bad things—even horrific things—can happen even to the most devoted follower of the Lord.

Through all this, David grew in faith.  Like Pastor Dave said last week, David saw God.  We all know what we can see physically and experientially.  But can we see spiritually?  In our pain and in our injustices, do we look upward?  Do we have hearts that believe God is for us?  That he is good.  That he is powerful.  That he will fulfill his promises to us?

Let’s get back to some of the stories in 1 Samuel.  Skip forward to Chapter 24. 

1 Samuel 24:1–7 ESV When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.”  Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks.  And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself.  Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave.

Here’s a detail you might not want to know about, but it’s an important part of the story:  Saul goes into this dark cave to go to the bathroom.   Perfect, right?  Quiet.  Dark.  Alone.

He doesn’t know that David and his men are in the back of the cave. 

And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’ ” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 5 And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.”   So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul.  And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way.

This is such a lofty, remarkable moment.  David has before him the man who is making life miserable, terrifying, and lonely.  The man who is being completely unjust.  Saul hatred toward David is 100% unjustified.  With the plunge of his knife into Saul, David could end his trial.  This fearless, young warrior who killed a giant with a stone could easily kill this unsuspecting king.

And David could excuse himself, too.  After all, the prophet Samuel had anointed David as the future king (from Chapter 16).  David would simply hurry the process up.  But his conscience struck him.  The Lord had anointed Saul as king.  It was not David’s job to end Saul’s kingship.

What a high, high regard David had for the Lord.  He was more concerned with pleasing God than making his own life much, much easier. 

Sometime later in Chapter 26, Saul chases David again.  And one more time, David had the opportunity to kill his enemy and free himself from this life as a refugee.  But David spares the king’s life again. 

There is much more we haven’t covered in 1 Samuel.  The book ends sadly with Saul and Jonathan dying in battle against the Philistines.  Next week, we’ll begin 2 Samuel and David’s coronation as king.


What can we learn from this multi-year saga of David as a Refugee, running for his life?

Remember our two main points:



God was preparing David, using long and severe trials to take him from a simple shepherd boy to a fearless warrior to a God-seeking refugee.   To eventually become a godly king.   David became the best king Israel ever had. 

Similarly, God is PREPARING us, isn’t he?  He is taking us through trials of various kinds, desiring to shape us and make us into people who, like David wrote in Psalm 34, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  God is preparing us for greater things ahead.  Greater endurance in trials.  Brighter lights to the world.  Deeper love to one another. 

And God was also PRESENTING. 

He presented himself to David.  We can read it in Psalm 34 and 56 when he was with the Philistines.  David saw God as his deliverer.  His refuge.   He saw that God was involved, attentive.  God was good.  God was just, and would eventually bring justice into the situation.

Through all of David’s pain, we have received some of the benefit of it through the six Psalms he wrote.  They are in the Bible for our benefit.  For our growth and encouragement and comfort. 

And God is now presenting himself to US today.  Though our trials and circumstances are much different than David’s, we can take these stories and like David, find the Lord in it all.  We can taste and see that the Lord is good.  He is good.

All of it is possible because the Lord was with David.

I want to finish our time this morning by camping on that key phrase:  “The Lord was with David.”

For us today, the same is true for us who know Jesus:  “The Lord is with us.”

We must not underestimate the importance of this truth. 

What made the difference in David’s life was one thing:  God was with him.

God is the Hero in David’s story.

God is the strength of David’s life.

God is the Judge over all the injustices thrust upon David.

God is the Sustainer and Helper in all the chaos Saul brought on David.

God is the Preparer of David’s life for much greater service later on.

For us, our circumstances are very different.  But God remains the same. 

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same….yesterday, today, and forever.”

Such a simple sentence with a heavenly meaning:  “God is with us.”

I have loved this phrase for many years.  As I have read and re-read the Bible over the years, I have kept a record of all the times in biblical history the Lord has said this to his people.  I have a list of more than 50 passages.  50 times God has promised and reassured his people, the ones he loves, “I am with you.”  It’s often associated with a command from the Lord or some task he wants his people to accomplish.  And he reassures them and strengthens them by saying, “I am with you.”

For example, Jesus’ last words on earth, we call his “Great Commission” to us.

Matthew 28:19–20 ESV  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

He is with us.  He will never leave nor forsake us.  And that makes all the difference in the world.  We will never be alone. 

Today for the follower of Jesus, the Lord is with us through the promised eternal indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1:13–14 ESV  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

This is remarkable.

God is with us.  He actually dwells inside the believer in Jesus.

The same God who empowered David to kill a giant warrior.

The same God who sustained David during years as a fugitive, scared and lonely.

The same God who comforted David during severe trials.

And under the Old Covenant, the Lord would take his Spirit away, as he did with Saul.

But under the New Covenant, the Lord commits himself to an eternal presence through the Holy Spirit. 

If you know Jesus, believe that God is with you.  All the resources of God are yours.

If you want an assignment, here it is:

Read Psalm 34 today.  Read Psalm 56 today.

(And there are 4 others David wrote during this time.  Psalms 18, 52, 54, 57.)

As you read it, first remember what David was enduring.  Then, examine David’s words.  They will startle you.  He knows the Lord in a way that many of us do not.  And his words can inspire us and strengthen us.  Seek the Lord like David.  And if you don’t know what to pray or how to pray, simply open up the Psalm and pray David’s words.

We can trust the Lord like David.  We can know the Lord like David.

Seek the Lord like David.  Open your heart up to him like David.  He will not let you down. 

As he did with David, the Lord is PREPARING you.  He is PRESENTING himself to you.