The School of God: 1

 •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 6
“He teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight,” (1 Sam. 17)
There is one feature common to all those who have been trained of God for His own service; they have had to do with Him in secret before they have become prominent in the eyes of men. The contrast to this is that restlessness of the flesh which seeks to attract attention, before the soul has had this needed discipline. They run without being sent; and have to learn themselves by their own painful failures. If Paul is a chosen vessel of the Lord to bear His name, his training is in the school of trial: “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My sake.” Thus God has His secret ways of training for His service. It was so even with His perfect Servant, His beloved Son. “He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant and as a root out of a dry ground.”
Just so was it with David. In the previous chapter we find David in perfect obscurity; nothing thought of among his brethren, or by his father; away from the family, keeping sheep; not thought worthy to be called unto the sacrifice. Yet he was the chosen of the Lord. And he had not been alone in the wilderness; he had been under God's teaching; he had been preparing for public service, in the secret school of Him who looketh not on the outward appearance, and who seeth not as a man seeth. Now so it must be with us. There must be a living before the Lord. Unless our souls are exercised before Him, He will not use us as instruments in His service. We may think He will; but it will not be so. God will always have to do in secret with that soul which He intends to serve Him in public. The excellent wisdom of our God in this may be seen in the history of many of His most eminent servants. They come forth in the hour of need, prepared for its peculiar exigencies. They are found calm; wise, and enduring, when all around are perplexed and in fear. All they say and do tells us that they have been prepared for their work. Men who have been living in secret before the living God, can move onward, unhindered through the confusion and strife of men. They have learned how to stand in the breach before terrified Israel; or to meet, face to face, Goliath of Oath. And their preparation for this has been their living in secret before Him who is so infinitely greater than all, even before the living God!
Thus is it here with David. In the desert he has learned the resources which faith has in God; and now he is to be the champion of God against the champion of the uncircumcised. The lion and the bear he has slain already, unseen by men; now he comes forth to triumph over Goliath, in the sight of the armies of Israel and of the Philistines.
How fearful a foe had Israel before them in Goliath! Morning and evening he defied their armies, and his defiance was unanswered, for they were dismayed and sore afraid: Saul might set the army in array; the hosts might go forth to the place of fight and shout for the battle (ver. 19-21), but “behold there came “up the champion (the Philistine of Oath, Goliath by name) out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words, and all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid” (ver. 23, 24). This occurred just as David reached the camp. David heard the proud defiance of Goliath (ver. 23), and he saw the dismay and dishonor of Israel. Their loud shout for the battle was soon Over, and all the people were in utter consternation. But David was calm and undismayed amidst all. The stripling David is the Only one who feared not—he, whom his brothers despised, and spoke lightly of, in the naughtiness of their hearts—he, whom the Philistines disdained and cursed. Now there was nothing that any could see in David as a reason why he should put himself forward to meet the Philistine, when none else dared to do so: nothing that men who judge by “the outward appearance” could discern as, power, but quite the contrary. The flesh would see power in “the host,” in numbers, and in armor, or in the mighty Goliath; but never in the stripling, just come from his “few sheep in the wilderness!”
Beloved, mark this: David had had to do with the living God; and now he saw that the name of the living God was implicated. Israel looked to Israel's resources; and what were the resources of Israel compared with those of the Philistines! But here was one who had the mind of God, one who looked to the resources of the living God. It was not that there was natural courage in David more than in Saul; but there was faith in David. It was true that David had been in obscurity in the wilderness; but there he had learned communion with God. And now he came forth as one fresh from the living God, and viewed all around him according to God: and what he had learned of God in secret he brought out into the circumstances before him. And this was the secret of his strength and of his victory. The circumstances were well considered, their difficulty and danger weighed; but his faith brought God into them, and acted amidst them in His wisdom, and in His power. Thus it is that David here looks on all around him. He views the army of Israel as the army of the Lord of Hosts. He looks at it in the light of Him from whose presence he had just come (ver. 26).
And I ask whether our failures are not invariably here, that we have not been in secret with the living God? This is the essential and primary matter. Do we esteem communion with God our highest privilege? Do we value living with God, even more than living before the saints and with the saints I believe we prefer living before the saints and with the saints, to living before God and with God. We may be comforted when surrounded by the saints; but our strength is in walking in fellowship with the living God, knowing that we are to endure as seeing Him who is invisible. The flesh itself may seek its own, and find a response too, among the saints; but the flesh withers—it is truly grass—in the presence of God. Hence it is our security as well as our joy, to dwell by faith in “the secret place of the Most High,” and to come forth into service, in strength gathered up there. Then shall we be able to look at every foe, as David here looks at Goliath.: “for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
But the language of faith instantly excites the flesh. So was it with Joseph, when telling his brethren his dreams. So it is here with David and his brethren. This we see in Eliab's words: “I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart.” The moment the flesh sees a power greater than its own (as Eliab here sees in David), all it can do is to talk of it as pride. Now Eliab was the eldest brother, and he stands forth here in that prominence which the flesh always loves and seeks. He was a man distinguished for natural attractions; but however goodly his countenance or his stature, God “had refused him” (chap. 16:6, 7). The Lord's anointed was not he whom man esteemed. And how constantly are we taught this lesson in the word, by God's rejection of the first-born, and His choice of the younger! Eliab stands, therefore, like Ishmael or Esau, as the representative of the natural title of the flesh. In the exercise of this title, he thus scornfully rebukes David. But David was speaking according to a wisdom, and moved by a power, of which Eliab knew nothing. David was speaking the language of, faith. The living God, the Lord God of the armies of Israel, filled his eye; and by Him he measured the Philistines and their champion. Eliab had no such standard as this; he spoke and felt as a man: and therefore the language of faith was to him “pride and naughtiness of heart,”
And the flesh always thus mistakes faith. The flesh angrily replies to us “It is pride,” as often as we speak of confidence in the living God. That very confidence, which is the deepest humility, is always condemned by the flesh as pride. For there is no depth of humility so great as self-abandonment, in order to bring in the, living God. David, in the whole of this action, loses sight of himself, seeing only God and the armies of God. It is the power and the privilege of faith to have self cast entirely out of sight, and God alone filling its vision. “No flesh shall glory in His presence;” “he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” This is what David had learned; this, David is now displaying; and this it is, which Eliab calls pride. Now the truth is, that the flesh is the proud thing. I trust that we know this; and that we know also, that faith is a self-emptying thing; because faith receives everything from God; yea, beloved, more even than that; faith receives God Himself, as beyond every blessing which God can give.
“David said, What have I done? Is there not a cause?” Had David gloried in himself? No, indeed. And was there not a cause for his speaking as he did? If ever the name of the living God is brought in question, there is always a cause. The very purpose for which we are left here in the world is, that we may confess the name of Jesus before men, and set aside our own name. Oh, that the hearts of all God's saints were united in this one thing, the confession of the name of the Lord Jesus!
But let us follow David as he passes from Eliab to the presence of Saul. What conscious dignity, what entire self-possession, are now seen in David! “And David said to Saul, Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (ver. 32). While the whole army of Israel trembles, one stripling stands before the king and says, “Let no man's heart fail him.” Yes, there is in faith that self-possession which enables us, not only to feel, but also to minister comfort and confidence, amidst the most trying circumstances. Faith draws from resources untouched by circumstances, and therefore, instead of being overcome of trial, it is able, as the apostle says, “to comfort others with the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:4). David had already gone through trial, and had &Weedy therefore proved the God in whom he trusted. “He knew Whom he had believed.” He had been in danger before, and had been victorious: therefore is he confident now. There had been dealings between his soul and God in the wilderness: dealings, it would seem, never brought out to public life until this moment (ver. 34- 37). O beloved, where is it that the saints learn really to get the victory? I believe, where no eye sees us save God's. The hearty denying of self, the taking up the cross in secret; the knowing the way, in the retirement of our closets, to cast down imaginations, and everything that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God; these are our mightiest achievements. The closet is the great battle-field of faith. Let the foe be met and conquered there, and then shall we be able to stand firm ourselves, and to comfort and build up others also, in the hour of outward conflict. He who had already slain the lion and the bear” in the desert is the only one unterrified by Goliath in the valley of Elah.
How does this disclose to us the real secret of David's strength—the true strength of faith! Now we can tell what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “I am a fool.” He was obliged to speak of himself: that was his folly. His great strength in service—the reason why he was able to bear so much from the petulance of the saints—was because there had been exercise between Paul's soul and the Lord, which no one was a party to, save himself and his God. For the like reason David can now say to Saul, “Let no man's heart fail because of him.”
“And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him.” Saul looks at David and then at Goliath; and, speaking as a man, Saul was right. But Saul knew not the secret of God which David had learned. Saul never knew what David was now going to tell. If Eliab had done such exploits, he would not have kept it secret for a day: but David had learned in another school; a school in which he had been taught to make much, not of David, but of the living God. David therefore, so far as the Scriptures inform us, had never boasted of, or even mentioned, his victory: but when the occasion demands it, he can come forward and tell of the Lord's goodness unto him. So saith the apostle, “I knew a man in Christ, fourteen years ago,” &c. For fourteen years, no one, it seems, knew he had been up to the third heaven; but when an occasion comes to bring it out for his Master's glory, not for his own glory, then he declares it. A great deal more was going on between the Lord and Paul than anyone else knew. So it was with David. Who knew what this stripling had already done? Who knew that he had delivered the lamb of his flock out of the mouth of the lion, and that both lion and bear had fallen by his hand? Eliab knew not this. Saul knew not this. It might possibly have been known to the keen discernment of individual faith (1 Sam. 16:18), but it had gone no farther. Beloved, be assured that if you would really be strong, it must be by secret living before God. I believe that the reason why we are all so weak is, that we care so little about this secrecy before God. We are ready and eager to ran into some service to be seen of men; but do we esteem unseen communion and discipline before God beyond all? Depend on it, if there is not the slaying of the lion and the bear in secret, there will be no killing of Goliath in public—no power or wisdom in our public service.
This should lead us to understand that little word, “taking up the cross daily.” People can take up the cross, they think, on some great occasion; but doing this on great occasions is nothing like taking up the cross daily, daily denying self, daily hating and losing one's life in this world. God's eye is always on us; it is our privilege to walk always before God, and thus we have hourly opportunity of taking up the cross before Him—confessing Jesus before Him and denying self.
“David said moreover, The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out, of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (ver. 37). David knew that one was as easy to God as the other. When we are in communion with God, we do not put difficulty by the side of difficulty: for what is difficulty to Him? Faith measures every difficulty by the power of God, and then the mountain becomes the plain. Too often, beloved, we think that in little things less than Omnipotence will do; and then it is that we fail. Have we not seen zealous and devoted saints fail in some trifling thing? The cause is, that they have not thought of bringing God by faith into all their ways. Abraham could leave his family and his father's house, and go out at the command of God, not knowing whither he went: but the moment he meets a difficulty in his own wisdom, and gets down into Egypt, what does he do? He constantly fails in comparatively small things. Once in a wrong position, one which we have chosen and how weak are we! Faith knows no little things. Faith discerns our own weakness so clearly, that it sees that nothing less than the power of God can enable us to overcome in anything. So that faith never makes light of the danger, for it knows what we are; just as, on the other hand, faith never faints at the danger, because it knows what God is. This true estimate of our weakness and peril always gives a chastened tone to the confidence of faith. Measuring ourselves by our foes, what do we appear? “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6). And what are we compared with such? what our strength compared with theirs? “We were in our sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight!” “Therefore put on the whole armor of God.” Thus does faith discover the reality of our own weakness, while it rests secure in the might of the Lord. Thus faith knows what the flesh is, though the flesh knows not itself; and consequently he who is most strong in faith will least glory in self. “When I am weak, then am I strong.”
Thus it is here with David. He well knew that he was no match for Goliath. None need tell David that. David was not acting in pride of heart. Far from him was any thought of his own strength, when he saw the terrible giant of Gath. He felt himself to be less than either Eliab, or Saul, or Goliath thought him to be. Nevertheless, he could go forth in most perfect confidence. He knew that he should be delivered. Out of weakness he was made strong.
“And Saul said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee.” Having said this, Saul clothes David in his own armor. “He put an helmet of brass on his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail,” Saul could say, “The Lord be with thee,” but Saul knew not how to trust in the Lord, as David knew. He sought to arm David as Goliath was armed: he brought forth these his own carnal weapons. But these will not suit the soldier of faith. The moment David had got Saul's armor one he could not move at all. All was constraint; all was effort. Now, beloved, there is no effort in faith. Whenever you and I are acting beyond our faith, we are conscious of effort, we are awkward. Whenever there is simple faith in the living God, we see saints go on quietly, easily, unobtrusively, and (it seems to me) victoriously. There is a happy liberty in the service which faith renders unto God, which no skill or effort of the flesh can assume; and we must watch against mistaking effort for faith. There are many modes in which such effort is made: to imitate the faith of others; for example, to make sacrifices because another has made them, is one mode. I believe that all this is truly, awful. Whenever there is real strength from the Lord, persons move on easily and quietly, laying aside and relinquishing all other resources, because of what they have learned in the cross.
(To be continued.)