There’s something peculiar about a born leader. Wherever he goes, there the Lord exalts him. Among many or few, among the genteel and among the rough around the edges; among the rich and among the poor. Even when this person is not seeking leadership, it follows him. This is a gifting and an anointing from God. Watch it unfold in David’s life.
“David therefore departed from there [acting like a crazy man in from of Abimelech] and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him. (1Sa 22:1-2).
This is the context of Psalm 34. David, a young man, finds himself alone in these caves. He is amazed that he escaped with his life, yet again. He is physically and mentally exhausted. Suddenly he hears a misplaced noise in the heat of the afternoon. His heart starts racing again and he ducks instinctively. The voice is not alone. David wonders, ‘Will I have no rest?’ The voices are getting louder. Suddenly he recognizes one voice. Then another one. It is his brothers’ voices. From his vantage point, he peers carefully. Sure enough, his family is standing around looking lost. They are dusty, worn out, and look pitiful.
Playfully, he leaps from a high rock right in their midst and scares them to death. A couple of them grab him and wrestle him to the ground. They are thrilled to see him. Soon, more and more people arrive. Many he recognizes and some he does not. He doesn’t understand why they are here. He thought he had carefully escaped and covered all his tracks. But not so from the Lord. Even when he was in plenty of his own trouble, the Lord was strategically placing him as leader over others. Here in the barren wilderness with no resources and no support, the Lord was exalting him as their head. He who had no food and no weapons was to be the sustenance and the protector of this crowd.
They weren’t a group of outstanding citizens either. These are vagabonds and bums, vagrants and rascals. Some have escaped from the law. Others are wanted. These shady characters, all four hundred of them, are “the children” that David is recounting his adventure to. These people love David and he is a rallying point for them. God has raised David up in their hearts and in their midst as the kingpin.
This cave must be like an amphitheater. He is a runaway among runaways. He marvels at his God as he studies the dry, chapped faces that look at him expectantly. His voice carries, crisp and clear and a shaft of sunlight shines on his scratched-up body like a spotlight. ‘What can I offer them?’ his gentle heart wonders to his God.
What would you offer them if it were you? Would you send off a party to hunt down some grub? Would you rally them around you and start a coup? Would you send them away or try to get away from them? After all, you had enough trouble on your own, without taking on those of four hundred others. God gives him water for their thirsty souls.
“Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord,” v.11. Children refers to a group or herd of young people or animals; or members of a specific guild. What do these desperadoes need more than anything? David taps deep down into the Spirit and comes to a strange conclusion: what they need more than anything is the fear of the Lord.
Lack of it may have gotten some of them where they are. A good dose of it will rescue them. “Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good?” v. 12. They only reason they are here is because they desire life. They were drowning in hopelessness, despair, and the threat of sure death where they were. Sometimes life is so hard that it seems you will do unreasonable things just to save your own hide. When all else had failed, they escaped to the wilderness – that’s desperation.
Already there is squabbling in the ranks. With a stern eye, David quells that instantly among this dog-eat-dog pack. He knows how quickly strife spreads in an already riled-up mob. “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit,” v. 13. Things are going to change. His eyes scan the crowd. “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Those in this crowd are not famous for peace. In fact, many pride themselves in violence. They are being introduced to a new paradigm. Here’s why they are to fear the Lord. David is teaching them a new identity they can choose – righteousness. A communal, uncomfortable chuckle sweeps across the space. Many shift and avert their gaze.
David doesn’t let up. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry,” v. 15. They eye of the law has been on them, hunting them down. But there’s a greater law. He presses in on the jugular, “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth,” v. 16. If you think the government and society is your enemy, you have one to be even more afraid of. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both the soul and body in hell,” Mt. 10:28.
He is pushing righteousness like an ice-cream van by a park on a lazy summer afternoon. “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles,” v. 17. He locks eyes with Malachi. Then with Benaiah. His eyes bore through their souls in conviction. He shifts his gaze to Abishai and leans in. “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit,” v. 18. A tear rolls down that hard face.
David leaps to his feet before his mesmerized posse and then drops to his knees, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken,” vs. 19, 20. He leans back and begs them. This very moment they can go from being evil to being righteous!
“Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous shall be condemned. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned,” vs. 21, 22. What words of hope to the damned, the doomed. God promises to redeem their parched souls. He will turn around their will, their affections, their minds, their passions, their endeavors, and their desires. Revival ensues in the cave of Adullam.