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Lesson 3: God’s Training School (1 Samuel 18-26)

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I have a recurring bad dream which I’ve heard is common to those who have studied in college. I dream that it is the end of the semester and I realize that I am enrolled in a class that I haven’t attended all semester. I haven’t studied and it’s time for the final exam. I’m panicked, wondering what I’m going to do. I usually wake up about this point and am relieved to discover that it was only a bad dream. College must be traumatic for those dreams to recur years later! But whether you’re in high school, college, or graduate school, you endure by realizing that it’s only temporary. Your hope is to get through the course.

Every Christian is enrolled in a school--“God’s Training School.” Hebrews 12:8 tells us, “If you are without training [discipline], of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” So every true child of God is enrolled in the program. There is some good news and some bad news about God’s training school. The good news is, nobody fails the course: “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). If God has begun a work in you, He will see you through! The bad news is, you don’t graduate until you die and you can’t drop out before then! If you try to drop out, the course gets even more difficult!

Some of you may be protesting because you signed up for the course without knowing what you were getting into! You were told that if you would trust Christ as Savior, all your problems would be solved (instantly was implied) and you would enjoy a trouble free life. Or perhaps you were told that if you would walk in the victory Christ offers, you would live on a higher plane where problems just glance off you. That sounds good, but it’s not biblical. The Bible clearly teaches that God uses trials to train us to become more like Jesus, who learned obedience through the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8). The process takes time and is often very painful, but the final product makes it worthwhile (Heb. 12:11).

Others of you are enrolled in the program, but you may not be aware of the course of instruction or the objectives of the training. You aren’t familiar with the catalog. So you don’t understand why certain things are happening to you. You’re wondering why you’re going through certain tests and why you never seem to graduate. Sometimes you think you passed the test, but the next thing you know you’re going through the same course all over again. It’s easier to endure the program if you know what to expect. So I’d like to explain, from the life of David, the program, the courses, and the objectives of God’s training school.

As we’ve already seen, David was an unusually gifted and advanced young man. While he was still a teenager he had been anointed as king to replace the disobedient King Saul. He also killed Goliath while he was a teenager. That victory pushed David into instant national fame and popularity. He was brought into the palace and set over the men of war (1 Sam. 18:5). Imagine how it must have felt to be not yet 20 years old and to be where David was at!

And yet God did not see fit to remove the corrupt Saul and install the upright David as king until David was 30 (2 Sam. 5:4). What was happening during the 10-12 years between David’s victory over Goliath and his ascension to the throne? He was in God’s training school. Let’s look at the program, courses, and objectives of that school:

1. The program.

Note several features of the program of God’s school:

A. God’s training program is not explained to the student in advance.

Note how the program began for David (1 Sam. 18:6-12, 14-15, 28-29). God did not, as far as Scripture records, sit down with David and say, “Now listen, David! Here’s what’s going to happen. You need some training and maturity before you’re able to handle being king. So I’m going to allow Saul to try to kill you and to chase you all over the Judean desert for the next ten years so that you will learn to depend more upon Me.” There is no record that David knew up front what was going to happen to him. It just started happening. Welcome to God’s training program!

That’s how God enrolls all His students. If He told us in advance what He planned to take us through to conform us to the image of Christ, we would make a mad dash for the nearest exit. Aren’t you glad God doesn’t allow you to know the future in advance? He reveals the program a step at a time.

But even though God does not explain the training in advance, we need to recognize it for what it is when it comes. Hebrews 12:5 instructs us, “Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord.” In other words, when you encounter difficult situations as a child of God, don’t chalk it up to bad luck. Don’t shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s life!” Bring God into the picture and recognize that this is His means of training you to share His holiness.

B. God’s training program goes on for a lifetime.

David was a sharp young man and was used mightily of God as a teenager. But God did not see fit to entrust him with the responsibility of the kingdom until he was 30. Joseph spent his 20’s in a dungeon in Egypt and was not elevated to the number two spot in the land until he was 30. John the Baptist was about 30 when he began his ministry. Even the Lord Jesus waited until He was about 30 to begin His public ministry. The Apostle Paul was probably about 30 when he was saved. He knew his Hebrew Bible well. He was exceptionally gifted. But God sent him to Arabia for three years of private training and then he spent 5-10 years in Tarsus before his ministry in Antioch began.

We cannot be hard and fast about it, because there are many notable exceptions (like Spurgeon!). But as a general rule, it might be wise to view our teens and twenties as a time of preparation and training for the ministry to which God has called us. And, of course, the training doesn’t stop at 30. It continues all our lives. Whenever we begin the process, we need to recognize that God does not have a cram course. His program involves years of training. There’s no such thing as instant fruit of the Spirit.

C. God’s training program involves many courses that must be repeated even if you pass.

In the schools of this world, a passing grade means that you move on to a new course. But in God’s school, quite often a course must be repeated even if you pass. As we’ve seen, God called David a man after His heart while he was still a teenager. He was not rebellious or disobedient. He had strong personal faith in God.

And yet God enrolled David in course after course where He put David in extreme difficulty so that he had to trust in the Lord again and again. (See 1 Sam. 19:8-10, 11-12; 21:10; 22:1, 5; 23:12-14, 24-29; 24:1-2; 26:1-2.) It was during this time that David penned Psalm 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

In other words, God’s training or discipline is not just for those who are wayward to bring them back into line. It’s also for those who are faithful and obedient, to make them even more like Christ. Thus, you may pass a course in God’s school with flying colors, only to find yourself enrolled all over again in the same course.

I am not in the Social Security program, so I have to set aside some funds toward our old age. A few years ago, both investments that we had for that purpose went bankrupt, one due to fraud. I had to examine my heart to make sure I wasn’t being greedy and that my trust was in the Lord, not in my retirement fund. Then, this year we lost over $40,000 on our house, due to fraud. I told Marla, “We passed the first course, so the Lord enrolled us in the graduate program!”

D. God’s training program is necessary for a person to be able to handle prosperity.

As we have seen, David was catapulted into fame and popularity as a result of his victory over Goliath (1 Sam. 18:7, 12-16, 30). Often that is the most dangerous thing that can happen to a young person. The Scottish historian Carlyle said, “Affliction is bad; but for every person that can handle prosperity, there are a hundred that can handle adversity.” God often uses adversity to humble a person so he can handle success.

The Apostle Paul, after he was caught up into Paradise and “heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Cor. 12:4), was given a thorn in the flesh--most likely some sort of physical ailment--to keep him from exalting himself. If you are going to experience any sort of success in serving Christ, then you can be assured that you will be enrolled in His training school of adversity, so that you learn to handle the success properly. That’s a description of God’s program. Let’s look at ...

2. The courses.

We can’t cover all of them, because they are many and varied. But we’ll glance at a few.

A. Broken Promises (101)

In this course, the student will be promised something by someone, but the person will break the promise. This course may be repeated often for many credits.

Note 1 Sam. 17:25; 18:17-19. To get Saul’s second daughter, Michal, for a wife (she must have been a real winner--18:21a), David had to do more than Saul had promised (18:25, 27). (Note also Saul’s broken promise in 19:6, 10-11.)

B. Evil for Good (102)

In this course, the student will do something good for someone, only to have that person do something evil toward him in return. To pass, the student must not become bitter. This course may be repeated often for many credits.

David had saved Saul’s kingdom from being overrun by the Philistines by defeating Goliath. Note the result (18:11). This course was repeated for extra credit in 19:8-10. Note also 23:1-5, 8-12. David delivered this city from the Philistines, and they would have turned David over to Saul. See also 25:4-11. This must have been David’s favorite course, he repeated it so often!

C. Opportunity Testing (104)

In this intriguing course, the student will be given an opportunity to take revenge on an enemy who has been attempting to ruin the student. The student will be tested for his response to this enticing temptation. This course may be repeated for extra credit.

Note 1 Sam. 24:1-7. David could have taken off Saul’s head; instead he cut off a small corner of his robe, and even that bothered his conscience. David repeated this course again in 26:4-12.

That’s only a sampling of the courses God uses in His school. There are many others. Paul lists his curriculum in several places (2 Cor. 6:4-10; 11:23-2-8).

What is God trying to accomplish with His curriculum? Why does He require His servants to go through such a difficult barrage of courses?

3. The course objectives.

Many things could be mentioned. I will limit myself to four course objectives which can be seen in what David was learning during these years on the run from Saul.

A. David learned to take refuge in the Lord and to see the Lord’s love even in adversity.

In a word, he learned to trust God even when it seemed like God did not care. Note Psalm 59 which David wrote after his escape described in 1 Sam. 19:11-17. Note 59:9b-10a, 16-17. David’s emphasis is on God as his refuge and strength and on God’s lovingkindness. Remember, David had just been forced to escape for his life from his own house when he wrote this. And here he is, singing about God’s strength and love! What would you be singing about in those circumstances? Would you even be singing?

C. H. Mackintosh wrote, “Never interpret God’s love by your circumstances; but always interpret your circumstances by His love.” (Miscellaneous Writings [Loizeaux Brothers], VI, “Bethany,” p. 18.) But how do you do that? Maybe an illustration would help.

When a parent takes a small child to the doctor, the child is frightened and doesn’t understand why. The nurse with the needle scares the child even more. During this time, the child will hug close to the parent all the more, even though he doesn’t understand why his parent brought him to the doctor.

By way of contrast, if you’ve ever tried to help a trapped bird, the frightened creature doesn’t trust you. If it would just relax, you could free it easily. But its attempts to free itself and get away from you make it all the more difficult to help without hurting it. In times of suffering, we should be like the trusting child, and not like the scared bird. Cling tightly to God and don’t doubt His love. One of His objectives in His training school is to get you to take refuge in Him and to see His love even in a time of adversity.

B. David learned to seek the Lord’s mind rather than to act impulsively on his own.

In a word, he learned submission. So many of us act first and think later. But David was learning to take the situation to the Lord before doing anything else, and then to submit to the Lord’s direction. We have already seen how David carefully sought the Lord’s mind regarding the city of Keilah (23:2-4, 9-12). In the matter of Nabal (chap. 25), David flunked the course. He reacted in anger and rode off to wipe out Nabal and his men before he stopped to ask the Lord about it. The Lord sent Abigail to stop David in his tracks.

We have also seen how on two occasions David could easily have killed Saul on the spot, but he obeyed the Lord. In later narratives there are other examples of David very carefully pausing to seek the Lord’s mind on a situation before proceeding, and then acting in obedience to the Lord (30:1-8).

How do you react when adversity strikes? Do you push the panic button and try to eject yourself out of the situation by any means possible? Or do you stop to say, “Lord, how do You want me to respond in this situation? What do You want me to do?” And then do you do it? Are you learning to submit to God in the courses in which He enrolls you?

C. David learned to wait upon the Lord for His timing.

In a word, he learned endurance. Note 1 Sam. 26:10-11. David said this after this thing had been going on for years! He was running for his life and living in caves, while Saul lived in the luxury of the palace. Perhaps it was during this time that David wrote Ps. 62:5, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.” David was learning to persevere.

Anyone who serves the Lord must learn to wait upon the Lord--to endure. The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash. It’s a marathon. A marathon is never judged by how fast the runners spring from the starting blocks. It is always determined by the long haul.

It’s exciting to be anointed as king when you’re a teenager. It’s thrilling to defeat Goliath and to be famous and popular as a young man. But excitement and thrills are not enough to sustain a man who must face the pressures of running the government and defending the kingdom day in and day out for 40 years. That takes a man who knows endurance through waiting upon the Lord.

It’s exciting and fresh to begin to serve the Lord in some new ministry. It’s thrilling to see God using you and to hear the acclaim of people. But excitement and thrills are not enough to sustain you in the pressures of ministry for Christ over a lifetime. To be running strong at the finish line, you’ve got to learn to wait upon the Lord. It’s a required basic course in God’s training school.

D. David learned to acknowledge his sin quickly to the Lord and to those he had wronged.

In a word, he developed a tender conscience. At one point during his running from Saul, David came to Ahimelech the priest. David lied by telling the priest that he was on a mission from Saul (21:2). As a result of that lie, the priest helped David. Saul heard of it and executed the priest and the whole village of priests where he lived. But one son, Abiathar, escaped and fled to David.

Put yourself in David’s sandals. By your lie you have caused the death of this young man’s father and every person in his household. The man comes to you. What would you say? It seems to me that there would be a strong temptation to blame Saul. But David accepted the blame and confessed it openly to this man (22:22). As we’ve also seen, David’s conscience was stricken after he cut off the edge of Saul’s robe (24:5). And when Abigail confronted David with the wrongfulness of taking revenge upon her husband, he immediately, before his men and before a woman (very humbling in that culture!), acknowledged his sin and thanked the Lord for sending her (25:32-33).

The difference between David and Saul was not that Saul sinned and David did not sin. The difference was that when Saul sinned, he would not confess his sin, but when David sinned and was confronted with it, he was quick to confess it to the Lord and to those he had wronged.

One of the objectives of God’s training school is that we learn to acknowledge our sin quickly to the Lord and to those we have wronged. He wants us to develop a tender conscience before Him and to keep a clear conscience. As Paul testified, “I ... do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16).


Those whom God uses must go through His training school to develop trust, submission, endurance, and a tender conscience.

If you’re a Christian, you’re in the school! I hope that realizing that doesn’t give you recurring bad dreams! Be assured that God has your best interests at heart. Though it is difficult and not always fun, He is training you to share His holiness (Heb. 12:10).

If you’re not enrolled in the school, you may be thinking, “Why would I want to get into that kind of program?” The answer of God’s Word is that the school may be difficult, but the alternative is devastating. If you “do not know God and obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus,” you “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Christ bore that awful penalty for you and offers eternal life to you as a free gift.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are small irritations and frustrations due to “chance” or from the Lord? What Scripture supports your answer?
  2. Is God’s discipline only for the disobedient, or for the obedient Christian as well?
  3. With all of his trials, David could have become bitter and depressed. Instead he was a man of praise. Why?
  4. How can we know when to wait on God and when to move ahead in dependence on Him?

Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Character Study, Christian Life, Curriculum, Discipleship, Discipline, Sanctification, Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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