Jewish history is a remarkable story that ultimately showcases God’s amazing grace. God has loved, chosen, disciplined, and preserved the Jewish people from the time of Abraham and will continue to do so until He restores the promised Kingdom.
The story of David, the shepherd boy turned king, is a microcosm of Jewish history. His fascinating life reveals some major themes of the story of the Jewish people, which we’ll study over the next three weeks.
Collectively the Jewish people have a history of being persecuted. The Bible’s records of Israel’s persecution thousands of years ago show that this is no new issue.
From the second book of the Bible when enslaved by Egypt, the Israelites have faced oppression. They faced persecution when they were at their best from the Philistines and Amalekites. They faced persecution when they were at their worst, being taken captive by the Babylonians and Assyrians. They even faced terrible persecution from Crusaders who called themselves Christians. They faced perhaps the deadliest attacks of all from Nazi Germany in the Holocaust. Today they face terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah in surrounding countries. Escaping violent enemies is a way of life for the descendants of Israel.
No one represents this part of Jewish identity like David did before he became king. It didn’t take long for him to go from an unknown boy working in the fields for his father to the #1 target of Saul, the first king of Israel.
The people of Israel knew there was something different about David. He had that “it” factor about him. Saul seemed like the person that should have had it, too. In fact, that’s why the people of Israel chose him as their king. Saul was a physical specimen, as Scripture notes that he was as handsome as anyone in all of Israel and measured a head taller than the rest of the people (1 Samuel 9:2). He came from good stock, as his father was a man of good standing (v. 1). Yet for all of his outward glory, Saul couldn’t hold a candle to David spiritually, and he knew it.
For all of his outward glory, Saul couldn’t hold a candle to David spiritually, and he knew it.
David had a special rapport with God and was gaining an impressive reputation in Israel. He was known as a “man after God’s own heart.” He had trusted God to deliver him from the jaws of the bear and the lion, then most miraculously from the sword of the Philistine giant, Goliath. As impressive as Saul was, a man who had “slain his thousands,” the Israelites praised David as the man who had slain “his ten thousands” (18:7). He was the people’s champion and God’s favored man to lead Israel, not Saul, who had damaged his relationship with God and fallen from favor among the people.
Life on the Run
So Saul made bad decisions. A bad decision had led to David’s emergence in the first place: Saul had disobeyed God by allowing the Amalekite King Agag to live. When God took His favor from him, Saul went down a dark path. He attacked David in his palace, trying to pin him to the wall with spears multiple times. He then wanted to kill his successor over dinner. Then he began his most ruthless campaign: an extensive manhunt in which he pursued David for months throughout Israel. It was during this time that David penned some of the most inspirational psalms of hope that we read in our Bibles today. David’s words were desperate, yet trusting, and with good reason: Saul had murder on his mind, but God was protecting David.
Saul had murder on his mind, but God was protecting David.
Saul’s persecution of David became so persistent that it clouded his vision. All he could think about was destroying David, the threat to his throne. This obsession led to some mistakes. In fact, David had a chance to kill his bloodthirsty enemy. When he chased David into the wilderness in En Gedi in 1 Samuel 24, Saul was in a vulnerable position, being defenseless in the recesses of a cave where David and his men were hiding. David could have easily struck the king dead and been rid of his threat forever, yet he instead spared his life, taking just the corner of Saul’s robe as proof of his decision. His act of mercy was done in obedience to God, knowing he had no right to rise against God’s anointed king. As a result, Saul chose to stop pursuing him, seeing that God’s hand was upon David.
But just two chapters later, Saul returned to his old ways, chasing after David to take his life. Again he made a mistake, leaving himself vulnerable to attack by falling asleep unprotected. David again had a chance to strike Saul dead in an instant, yet he chose mercy once more. He showed Saul the water jug and spear he had taken from him while Saul slept, showing Saul once again that though he wanted David dead, he couldn’t destroy the one the Lord was protecting.
The Jewish Parallel
Like David was hunted by Saul, the Jewish people have faced devastating threats throughout their existence. They were chosen by God like David was when Samuel anointed him to be the king of Israel. Naturally this favor led to resentment from others. Though favored by God, David likely spent years fleeing from Saul and those who wanted David killed to preserve Saul’s reign.
The Jewish people have faced similar persecution but over a longer span: thousands of years.
Being hunted down unjustly is far too common in Jewish history.
Jewish persecution has taken many different forms from a host of attackers. Some methods were outright—first-century Rome’s destruction of the Temple, the bloodshed of the Crusades, and the Holocaust—while others were more subtle or socially acceptable—blaming them for the bubonic plague, literature that stirs up dissent against them, and today’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Being hunted down unjustly is far too common in Jewish history.
The threats against David’s life give us a great picture of the plight of the Jewish people throughout history. But the threats also give us hope by showing us that God loves and protects those He has chosen. David and the Jewish people faced enough deadly attacks that they should have both been destroyed by their enemies. Yet God preserved them because of His special plans for them. We can rest in the fact that no enemies can interfere with the will of God.