When I read the story of David in I Samuel, I am struck at the narrative; here is a man who goes from farm-boy working with livestock to suddenly the champion of Israel. He starts off as a nobody, but ends up being seen as a rival to King Saul. King Saul is not the only person who sees this; the Philistines at some point believe that David has become leader of Israel.
As David gained popularity, he became close friends with Saul’s son, and married Saul’s daughter. as Saul decided that David must die, Saul’s children helped David escape Saul’s wrath, and communicated the danger of the situation — so David had to run for his life. He ran, and hid in a cave. This hiding must have been especially nerve-wracking, because Saul managed to wonder into the cave himself.
While David was in this situation, he wrote two Psalms: Psalm 57 and Psalm 142. I am not surprised that David wrote poetry while hiding in a cave — war is, from what I am told a mixture of traumatic experiences, and waiting for a traumatic experience. David was being hunted, and was waiting to be found. This waiting offers a lot of time for writing, to say the least.
While it is not that remarkable that David wrote, it is remarkable what he wrote. David was outnumbered 10 to 1 and hiding in a cave with short supplies. Those hunting David could receive supplies and reinforcements, while David was besieged. David’s case looks hopeless.
In this environment of hopelessness, David writes two Psalms which, although they acknowledge that things look bad, are surprisingly optimistic. These psalms recognize that God is able to save David from an apparently hopeless situation, and they expect salvation. The cave is not a good enough hiding place, but David can write in Psalm 142: “You are my refuge”; and he can go on to speak of what will happen after God saves him from Saul writing: “the righteous will surround me, and you will deal bountifully with me.
I always find it remarkable how faith thrives in hopelessness. When I put myself in David’s position, I think I would be paralyzed with fear, rather than expressing how God would save me, and surround me with good people. I find the faith remarkable.
The truth is, however, I’ve seen this remarkable faith in people that I know. The yearly meeting I grew up in started its biggest commitment to foreign missions during the great depression; and it was during a financial crisis that I remember the best examples of my faith community looking out for its members.
Places that were once our missions have grown beyond their parents, as they applied their faith to times of civil war. African and Central American churches face poverty and violence in their own back yard, yet they are engaged in both foreign missions, and seeking ways to make their own communities better.
David was right — God surrounded him with good people. David’s story was pretty messy, and it is fair to say that in terms of justice, he had many people in his life who were better than he was. David’s faith was not misplaced — his experience and the experience of others with similar faith tells me that; but it is still hard to be in the cave.