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Occasional Letters - Men who Gathered to David

D Newell, Glasgow

A little while ago my Choice Gleanings reading scheme brought together 1 Chronicles 3 and 4, alongside John 1.1-18. It reminded me that although all Scripture is equally inspired and authoritative, it is not all equally important. The initial chapters of 1 Chronicles can seem initially a bit of a spiritual wasteland with their interminable genealogies, their unpronounceable names, and their almost complete absence of compelling narrative. Of course, like all God’s Word, they have a valuable function. For a start, by beginning with Adam they testify to the historical continuity of the Old Testament, demonstrating that it is logically impossible to herd the first few chapters of Genesis into a "mythological ghetto". No, the whole of God’s Word treads the ground of accurate history. Further, they anticipate those crucial messianic genealogies in Matthew and Luke which demonstrate that the Son of God entered time and space by the virgin’s womb, joining Himself to the family of David. But, that said, they are certainly not as spiritually nourishing as John 1.

And yet, even in the early part of the book we stumble across interesting narrative oases. For example, there is a list of men who came over to David during the time of his persecution by Saul: "And of the Gadites there separated themselves unto David into the hold to the wilderness men of might, and men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains; Ezer the first, Obadiah the second, Eliab the third, Mishmannah the fourth, Jeremiah the fifth, Attai the sixth, Eliel the seventh, Johanan the eighth, Elzabad the ninth, Jeremiah the tenth, Machbanai the eleventh. These were of the sons of Gad, captains of the host: one of the least was over an hundred, and the greatest over a thousand. These are they that went over Jordan in the first month, when it had overflown all his banks; and they put to flight all them of the valleys, both toward the east, and toward the west" (1 Chr 12.8-15).

Although David had been anointed king by Samuel, he was currently being hounded by the reigning monarch Saul, and forced to live as an outlaw in the Judean hills. Nevertheless a steady trickle of people began to gather to him. Saul’s apostasy was well-known, and his manic obsession with David was patently ruining the land: instead of protecting his people from Philistine incursions he was vainly scouring the wilderness for one who had been his faithful servant. Israelites were starting to notice that David was doing for them what Saul should have done. What we learn of David’s growing band of followers can stand as a little lesson in the spiritual dedication required of those who today gather to the Lord Jesus, for He too is at the moment rejected by the masses and valued only by the few.

Gad’s tribal territory, largely synonymous with Gilead, was east of Jordan, for they were one of the two and a half tribes who had elected in Moses’ day to settle outside the land. This rendered them vulnerable to invasion from the east; indeed, they were among the first to be carried into captivity (1 Chr 5.26). It is a risky business to remain on the margins of our spiritual inheritance. For safety, every believer needs to be in the thick of assembly activities. Nonetheless, from that peripheral zone came men whose hearts were moved to join up with David (1 Chr 12.8ff). What can we learn from them?

They were, first, separated men. Geographically they had to travel away from their homeland, crossing the Jordan (which they appear to have done courageously while it was swollen with the winter torrents), breaking allegiance to Saul and allying themselves with the rejected David. That was certainly costly dedication. Anyone who has used a washing machine knows the importance of keeping whites and coloureds separate – and spiritual separation (or, if you will, holiness) is the keynote of the Christian life. Just as Israel was "separated…from other people" (Lev 20.24) and "holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine" (Lev 20.26) so believers today have been set apart from this sinful, hell-bent world to live in a way that pleases the God of heaven. Not for nothing does Peter adopt Old Testament language to describe New Testament responsibility: "as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Pet 1.15-16).

But they were also strong men, "men of might, and men of war fit for the battle". At this stage in his career David needed men of physical prowess, military experience and proven stamina, for he was out in the wilds with his guerrilla band, with neither time nor desire for the normal civilities of urban life. David’s men had to rough it. We too have to be strong – the difference lies in the nature and the source of our strength. It is found in the Lord (Eph 6.10), for not one of us has any inherent ability; and paradoxically it is best seen when we recognize that we are weak (2 Cor 12.10). Those who do most for God are men and women who know how feeble they are.

But brute force alone was not enough. David’s soldiers had to be skilful, for they were joining a military contingent where the use of "shield and buckler" was obligatory. Although "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (2 Cor 10.4), they are nonetheless real. There is no more effective cutting blade than the Word of God (Eph 6.17; Heb 4.12), but we have to learn how to handle it aright. That’s why Paul urges Timothy to "study [be diligent] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2.15). Just as regular exercise with the sword makes a sturdy warrior, so daily feeding upon the Scriptures of truth trains us for those spiritual battles we all face. We can only use the Word to the extent that we know it.

They were steadfast. This I assume is the implication of their lion-like faces. You may be able to say boo to a goose (although I confess I have never tried it), but it is another matter with a lion. Here were men who would not easily be deflected from their mission by danger or difficulty, and what David ordered them to do, they would do. The same should be true of us. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor 15.58). When temptation to abandon God’s truth comes along, the Christian digs in his heels and will not be moved. It’s the great principle of steadfast continuance (Acts 2.42).

Finally, they were surefooted, "as swift as the roes upon the mountains". The idea, I think, is not so much speed as secure footing. Just as the gazelle can leap safely from crag to crag (Song 2.8-9) so these Gadites could move with ease, grace and silence across the Judean hills. Paul encourages us to "walk circumspectly [carefully], not as fools, but as wise" (Eph 5.15). When winter ices up the pavements old men tread warily, so as not to take a tumble. The spiritual parallel is obvious. As the old Geneva Bible notes put it, "the worse and more corrupt that the manners of this world are, the more watchful we ought to be in every situation, and give regard to nothing but the will of God". That’s the rule for the careful walk.

And what held them together, governing all they did, was the initial fact that they "separated themselves unto David" – he was the magnet that attracted them. If we have been drawn to Christ Jesus may we be as loyal and diligent.

To be continued.


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