TODAY’S READING: Psalm 17, 35, 54, 63
The Philistines were a sea people that inhabited the coastal plain along Israel’s southwest Mediterranean coast. Philistia was comprised of five major cities, each with a leader or king, with vassal cities (like Ziklag) all around. The Philistines’ constant encroachment from the coastal plain up towards the hill country of Judea was the cause of ongoing tension and war with the Israelites. With the long-running life and death animosity between these two nations, it’s shocking that David was forced to go to Gath (one of the five principle Philistine cities) for shelter. It would be like Winston Churchill asking Hitler for sanctuary in Nazi Germany in 1941. For a year and four months, David was exiled to the homeland of his mortal enemies, wrestling every day with sadness and shame.
It was from Gath that these precious truths from the psalms emerged: “Let my vindication come from Your presence” (Psalm 17:2). “Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings…from my deadly enemies who surround me” (vv. 8–9). “Fight against those who fight against me” (35:1). “I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people” (v. 18). “Let them shout for joy and be glad, who favor my righteous cause; and let them say continually, ‘Let the Lord be magnified, who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant’” (v. 27).
It was from the Judean desert when David was either hiding in the wilderness or being betrayed to Saul by the Ziphites that we get these beautiful verses: “Behold, God is my helper” (54:4). “I will praise Your name, O Lord, for it is good. For He has delivered me out of all trouble” (vv. 6–7). “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You. My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water” (63:1). “Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice” (v. 7).
After fifteen years serving in Sudan, my wife and I could truly confess that we needed Sudan more than Sudan needed us. It is true that God sends His people to the nations and uses us there for His glory, but along the way of lifting Jesus up in difficult places, we find Jesus uses those difficult places to make Himself incredibly sweet to us. It was as a shame-filled refugee that David realized the Lord was his vindication. It wasn’t until enemies surrounded David that he realized he was the apple of God’s eye. It was while living in Philistine territory that David determined he would give thanks in the great assembly and praise God among all the peoples. It was under the duress of a dual identity that David exhorted shouts of joy and the magnification of the Lord for the prosperity He brought out of duress. If David had not spent some time at the mercy of the nations, he would not have as deep an appreciation for the mercy of God. We go to the nations hoping to bless (and God help us be that blessing) and then we are sweetly surprised to find that God uses the nations to bless us.
Thirsty lands and dangerous contexts are unimaginable blessings, for they show us what we really want, Who we really want. When all dignity, strength, capacity, and resource are stripped away, we are finally alone with God Almighty. We have nowhere else to go, and we find Him immeasurably sweet. We find that He is our help, and we find that He delivers us from all trouble. We find that being delivered from all trouble is a heart and spirit deliverance, not necessarily a no pain, no problems, no disappointment guarantee. We need the difficulty of serving among the nations to open our eyes to how sweet Jesus is, to help us see that He is all we really want, all we really need, and all we really have to give out to the peoples of the earth.