The life of David has it all: stories of a man suffering through no fault of his own, and stories of a man suffering by his own foolish sin. But because David knew how to suffer well—whether the trial was inflicted by others or as a result of his failure—his life is a profitable study for you and me, because by the time we hit 30, most of us find ourselves dealing with both kinds of suffering.
Some people chide that we must not mine the Old Testament for role models, but not God. It is His big idea:
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
“As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10).
“… Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
God wants us to do some thinking about Job (James 5:11), He wants us to do some thinking about Elijah (James 5:17), and He is so sure people will do some reflecting on what kind of man Abel was that He considers Abel to be “still speaking” (Hebrews 11:4).
I have chosen one vignette to convey how David’s example of suffering in a godly way inspires me upon every remembrance of it, and especially when I am also in a dark place: It happened during the days when David was young and constantly on the run from a jealous King Saul. Having few options, he ran to Philistia and pretended to align himself with them, while actually making secret military forays with his band of loyal fighting men against random Israelite enemies. On a single day, tragedy befell him: The Philistines suddenly turned mistrustful of him, and a surprise attack on his camp by the Amalekites bereft him and his men of all their wives and children. There was talk of stoning him.
I cannot think of a lower point in David’s life up to this time. Rejection was total. He was not welcome in Israel, he was not welcome in Philistia, and his closest friends had had it with him. It is not even clear to me whether this trial was a case of no-fault suffering or at-fault suffering, or whether David was filled with self-recrimination and felt he had made big mistakes in judgment by coming to Philistia in the first place. He sat alone in a scorched field from which his family and goods had been carried away, and if you can top that scene in your own life for sheer misery and helplessness, you are truly a person acquainted with grief.
In our age of weakened manhood, this would be an occasion when many would check out of trusting God for a while, and give themselves permission to sink into abject self-pity, doubt, and anger at God until it passed. But David was an uncommon man. All he had was God, and he could see that this demonic all-out attack on him was far bigger than he was, and that only God could get him out. Furthermore, he believed that He would. And so we are told:
“… But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6).
This brief summary is as far as we are admitted into that private communion between David and God, and what words passed between them. But I feel quite certain that if you read the Psalms you will get a very good idea of what transpired. It suffices to know that out of that intense and muscular seeking of David emerged new energies and strategy and hope from God to turn around his fortunes.
Let us not waste our sufferings. It has been said that one is always either already in a suffering, coming out of a suffering, or entering into a suffering. If in good times only we speak pious words about God, what is the worth of our faith?