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Lesson 5: The Way Back (1 Samuel 30:6)

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A familiar legend tells how the devil had put his tools up for sale, each marked with the appropriate price. Hatred, lust, jealousy, deceit, lying and pride were all there. Apart from these and marked with a ridiculously high price was a harmless looking but well-worn tool. A buyer asked, “What tool is this?” “Discouragement,” replied the devil. “And why is it priced so high?” asked the man. “Because it is more useful to me than the others. I can pry open a man’s heart with that when I can’t get near to him with anything else. It’s so badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since few people know it belongs to me.”

We’ve all known discouragement to varying degrees. Even the giants in the faith, such as the Apostle Paul, knew times of deep despair. He wrote, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). But perhaps the worst form of despair is when you realize that you’re reaping the consequences of your sin; that you’re responsible for the mess you’re in. Add to that the accusations of those you thought were your friends, who now are blaming you for problems they’re having because of your failure. You feel alone, rejected, and as if everything you’ve been working toward has gone up in smoke.

That’s where we find David in 1 Samuel 30:6. But it’s at this moment of utter despair and gloom that we read one of the most encouraging sentences in all the Bible. It breaks through the storm clouds like a ray of sunshine: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” It teaches us that

No matter how low you go, the way back to the Lord is always open.

Failure is not final. Even failure due to our sin is not the final chapter for a Christian. Even though, like the prodigal son, you find yourself in the muck of a pigsty, polluted by the corruption of the world, and even though those circumstances are the direct result of your own rebellion against the heavenly Father, His grace can still break through the gloom and find you there. Even in the pigsty you can say, “I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned ....’” (see Luke 15:18). And you can be assured that the gracious Father will see you from afar, will feel compassion for you and will run to you and welcome you back into His presence! Note first,

1. How low can believers go?

Remember the old Chubby Checkers song, “Limbo Rock,” with the line, “How low can you go?” The answer, even for believers, is, “Pretty low!” David was in the lowest place he had ever been in his life.

As we saw last week, his problems started when he lost hope and thought (1 Sam. 27:1), “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape to the land of the Philistines. Saul will then despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.” As we saw, at first things got much better for David. Saul did stop pursuing him. He was given a city and he was gaining wealth and power. Things were looking up. Sin is always that way: It snags us by making us think that it will get us where we want to go. At first, it seems like it’s delivering on its promise. But then, like buying on credit, the bills come due, and life gets very unpleasant.

As we saw, David’s sin had gotten him into a tight spot: The Philistine king wanted David and his men to go into battle with him against Israel. David seemed to have no choice. To refuse would have blown his cover on the con game he was playing. God graciously intervened through the Philistine commanders who distrusted David, so Achish was forced to send David and his men home.

It was a three day trip and as they approached Ziklag David and his men no doubt talked excitedly about how good it would feel to get home to their families, to enjoy the embrace of their wives and children, to eat a home cooked meal and to sleep in their own beds. But as they came over the hill and looked down on what they expected to be a peaceful domestic scene, they were horrified to see nothing but a pile of smoldering ashes! Their town was burned to the ground, their families were no where in sight, and everything they owned was gone. These tough warriors fell apart and wept until they had no more strength to weep (30:4).

To add to David’s despair, his own men--those who had pledged their allegiance to him, those who had gone into battle with him before--now spoke of stoning him, they were so bitter (30:6)! So in addition to David’s grieving for his wives, he felt rejected, totally alone in this world. And he realized that he was in this mess because he had acted apart from the Lord.

I want us to feel David’s utter despair and gloom because when we feel down, we all have a tendency to think that no one else has ever been in as bad a situation as we’re in. And if the enemy can make us think that our situation is uniquely bad, then we will despair of thinking that there is any way back.

But there’s always a way back! You can never go so low but that the grace of God is sufficient to bring you back. There is always hope in the Lord! The only reason He allows His children to despair, even of life itself, is so that they learn not to trust in themselves, but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9).

Perhaps some here feel overwhelmed with discouragement. It may be due to a health problem or a family problem. Maybe you can’t find work or you’re in debt so deeply that you can’t see your way out. Maybe you’re lonely, without family or friends who seem to care about you. Perhaps you’ve sinned and you feel like God has cast you off. But to you especially God put David’s terrible situation in the Bible to say, “There is a way back! In times of deepest despair, there is hope in the Lord!”

2. The way back

David’s experience teaches us a number of things about the way back to the Lord from our deep despair:

A. The way back is an intentional way.

“But David ...” This is one of the many great “buts” in the Bible. Everything around David was gloom and doom. His property was either destroyed or stolen. His wives were gone and he didn’t know at this point if he would ever see them again. His men were talking of killing him. “But David!” He intentionally, deliberately rejected the faithless gloom and doom of his men. He intentionally looked beyond the smoldering ruins of Ziklag to the greatness of his God.

David’s strong intention is also seen in the Hebrew verb, “strengthened himself.” It implies persistent and continuous effort. There is nothing passive about coming back to the Lord at a time of despair. It doesn’t happen accidentally. Sometimes, like the psalmist, you have to grab yourself by the lapels and talk to yourself: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God” (43:5; see 42:5, 11). Like the prodigal son, you have to determine, “I will get up out of this pigsty and go back to my father!” The way back is always intentional.

B. The way back is a personal way.

“David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” David knew God in a personal way. God was not just the God of David’s country, though he lived in the covenant nation of Israel. God was not just the God of David’s father, though he was raised in a God-fearing home. God was David’s personal God. David had enjoyed personal fellowship with God as he watched his father’s sheep out in the fields as a boy. David had composed and sang many psalms, such as Psalm 23, which show that he knew the Lord as his personal shepherd who cared for his every need.

You do not know God if you do not know Him personally. You can know about God, but not know God. You can use a lot of religious language and attend worship services and even say eloquent prayers, but not know God personally. We come to know God in a personal way through personal faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins. Jesus said, “For this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

C. The way back is a repentant way.

To repent means to turn around or change direction. As we saw last week, David hadn’t sought God’s direction in his decision to go over to Achish, king of Gath. In fact, this move violated God’s explicit prohibitions for His people not to form alliances with the pagans in the land. But now David is very careful to seek God’s direction and to obey it.

In David’s day, a person could seek God’s will through the Urim and Thummim which were contained in the ephod, a vest-like garment in the possession of the high priest. Though scholars differ in their understanding of exactly what this was, it seems to have been some sort of God-ordained system of drawing lots. David now sought God’s direction in this way. The point is, this was a change from David’s earlier self-willed decision. He repented.

The way back to the Lord always involves acknowledging that I was wrong, turning from that wrong, and doing what God wants. Just as David now called for the ephod in front of all his men, so that they could see that David was not calling the shots, but rather that he was seeking and submitting to the Lord, so repentance often needs to be acknowledged in front of others, so that those who saw us going our own way realize that now there is a change.

D. The way back is a submissive way.

Note 30:8: “Shall I pursue this band?” Many would not have bothered to ask the question: “These guys stole our families and our possessions. Let’s go get ‘em!” But David deliberately stopped to ask the Lord if he should pursue this band to try to recover what they had taken.

What if God had said, “No, David, your wives and your possessions are gone”? It would have been hard, but I think David would have submitted. You can’t write your own terms when you come to the Lord. You can’t say, “Lord, I’ll come back if You will do what I want.” He is the Lord, which means that He does what He wants, which doesn’t always fit with what I want. Submission means that I let Him call the shots. Whether He says, “It’s all gone,” or whether He graciously gives it back, I submit.

E. The way back is a trusting way.

God told David that he would recover everything and David took God at His word. He believed God and acted upon that belief in pursuing this band and fighting to take back what had been lost. It would not have done for David to sit around the ruins of Ziklag saying, “I’m just trusting the Lord.” He had to go and fight to recover what had been stolen.

Genuine faith is always active and obedient. Faith doesn’t passively sit around saying, “I believe.” Faith is taking God at His Word, often in the face of overwhelming circumstances to the contrary, and then obediently acting upon that Word until what is promised is reality. If you are recovering from a situation caused by your sin, you often have to believe what God says concerning your sins (that they are charged to Christ’s account, not to yours) and act upon it in spite of your feelings.

F. The way back is a generous way.

On the way to pursue this enemy, 200 of David’s men were too exhausted to continue, so they stayed behind with the baggage (30:9-10). After they had defeated the enemy and recovered more than they had lost, some of the 400 men who had fought didn’t want to share the spoils with those who had stayed behind (30:22). But David would not let them act in this greedy way. He gave the men who stayed behind an equal share and he sent generous gifts to his countrymen in the surrounding towns (30:23-31).

The point is, the Lord doesn’t restore you to Himself so that you can live a comfortable, happy, self-centered life, hoarding all the blessings He has graciously given. The problem with David’s greedy men was that they thought they had recovered the spoil (30:22). But David’s reply makes it clear that he knew it was the Lord who had given them what they had recovered (30:23). If the Lord has given, then we must give an account to Him as stewards for how we dispense His gifts. The Lord never gives us His blessings just to make us happy. He gives us His blessings so that we can share them with others so that He is glorified.

So believers can go pretty low when they take the path away from the Lord. But, praise God, the way back is always open, even in our deepest despair! It is an intentional, personal, repentant, submissive, trusting, and generous way. Finally, let’s look at ...

3. The God to whom we come back.

A. Our God is a sovereign God.

The Amalekite raid on Ziklag while David and his men were gone was not an accident. God wasn’t in heaven saying, “Rats! While I was worried about Saul and the armies of Israel, those dirty Amalekites sneaked in there and got one over on Me!” The God who works all things after the counsel of His will used this seeming tragedy in the lives of David and his men to teach them to seek Him and trust him when everything seems hopeless. At the moment of despair, I’m sure that David could not imagine how God could allow such a tragedy nor how He could use it.

But as he strengthened himself in the Lord his God, David saw this great disaster as a great opportunity for God to show Himself mighty. So David didn’t do what we’re being told by many Christian counselors in our day: He didn’t express his rage toward God. He didn’t shriek, “God, if You really loved me you wouldn’t have allowed this to happen!” He didn’t blame God. Rather, he submitted to the sovereign God and obeyed what God told him to do.

God’s sovereignty is also seen in a small incident in the story. They “happen” upon an Egyptian in a field who turns out to be the discarded slave of one of the Amalekites (30:11). The Egyptian had gotten sick and couldn’t keep up with the raiding party and the Amalekite probably thought, “I’ve just gotten a bunch of new slaves; who needs this kid?” So he tossed him aside like an empty Coke can.

But as so often is true, God uses the world’s discards in His sovereign plan. This slave proved to be the key in recovering what the Amalekites had taken. Note, too, that if David had not been kind and generous to this hurting man, he would have missed God’s provision! It’s of great comfort to know that however bleak our situation, our sovereign God is still on His throne and that He has ordained all things, even little details, to display His might on behalf of those who trust in Him.

B. Our God is a sufficient God.

The Amalekites had stolen David’s goods, but they could not steal David’s God. As Alexander Maclaren points out (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], p. 387), “Whatever else we lose, as long as we have Him we are rich; and whatever else we possess, we are poor as long as we have not Him. God is enough; whatever else may go.” Often the Lord graciously strips us of the earthly things we so readily trust to teach us that He is the all-sufficient One. He is our all in all!

The great 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon was prone to depression. One day he was riding home feeling weary and down when suddenly God burst through with the verse, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Spurgeon replied, “I should think it is, Lord,” and burst out laughing. His unbelief seemed so absurd. He said, “It was as if a little fish, being very thirsty, was troubled about drinking the river dry and the river said, “My stream is sufficient for you.”

Or, it was as if a little mouse in the granaries of Egypt after seven years of plenty feared it might die of famine and Joseph said, “Cheer up, little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for you.” Or again he imagined a man fearing that he would exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere, but the earth saying, “Breathe away, O man, and fill your lungs forever. My atmosphere is sufficient for you.” What need do you have, no matter how desperate your situation, that the God who spoke the universe into existence is not sufficient to meet?

C. Our God is a gracious God.

God’s grace means that He does not deal with us according to our sins, but according to His great mercy shown to us in Christ, who bore our sins. God’s grace is inexhaustible toward His children. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

Do you suppose that when David and his men saw Ziklag burned to the ground and their families and possessions gone that anyone asked the familiar question, “Where is God in all this?” Where was God? Had He abandoned David because David had gotten snagged by sin? Don’t miss this, because it’s the beautiful part of the story.

While David was reaping the consequences of his sin and at the lowest point of his entire life, God was graciously acting on David’s behalf to give David the throne of Israel. We’ve already seen how God graciously used the Philistine commanders to get David out of a compromising situation. And at the very moment that David and his men were lamenting the destruction of Ziklag, God was using the Philistines to remove Saul so that David could be king.

Even the loss of Ziklag was God’s gracious provision, because it destroyed David’s roots in Philistia and opened the way for him to move to Hebron where he began his rule over Israel. Often God must destroy our links with the world so that He can give us His best. Sometimes it may be “a severe mercy,” but God always acts in grace toward His children.


On one occasion, the great reformer, Martin Luther, was overwhelmed with depression. It didn’t seem to lift in spite of the appeals of family and friends. Finally, his wife, Katie, put on the black garments of a widow in mourning. When Luther noticed, he asked her who had died. She replied that God in heaven must have died, judging from Luther’s demeanor. His depression lifted instantly as he laughed and kissed his wise wife.

You may be low this morning--perhaps due to your sin, as David experienced, or perhaps due to some other hard circumstances. Just remember, no matter how low you go, the way back to our sovereign, sufficient, gracious Lord is always open. He bids you to come back to Him. Like David, you can strengthen yourself in the Lord your God!

Discussion Questions

  1. Is depression sin? Cite biblical evidence pro or con.
  2. Does God’s sovereignty eliminate the need for human effort? Where is the biblical balance?
  3. Does a knowledge of God’s abundant grace encourage more sin or more holiness? Discuss in light of Romans 6.
  4. Can there ever be a situation for a Christian in which there is no hope? Why/why not?

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: Character Study, Confession, Failure, Faith, Hamartiology (Sin)

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