David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.
1 Sam. 22:1-2
David, God’s anointed King, has been utterly rejected by the establishment. He flees from King Saul and finds himself in the cave of Adullam. But certain men gather to him and he becomes “captain” over them. The word “captain” means commander, official, leader, or ruler. These 400 men come under the authority of God’s anointed (yet persecuted) King. What a picture this is of the church in its relationship to the Lord Jesus, God’s Anointed, and coming King of Kings! He has been rejected by Israel and also the world at large. He is despised and rejected by man, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And whereas the world as a whole “gathers together against the LORD and His Anointed” (Acts 4:26, cf. Ps. 2), Christians gather to Him. The mentality of the world is to break the bonds of the LORD and cast away His cords (Ps. 2). They want to be free of every residue of the authority of God and His Messiah. Yet to born again believers, Christ is now their captain. They have come under His authority and own Him as Lord. Those who come to salvation in Christ are like the 400 men in David’s day—in distress, in debt, and discontented. These are three vivid descriptions of people who are down and out:
1) IN DISTRESS – The word is “anguish, distress, in a narrow straits.” Figuratively the word can mean in a narrow, confined place, i.e. in trouble. The Bible speaks of the Lord being a haven for those in distress: “For Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall” (Is. 25:4). Believers are said to be those “…who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18).
It might also remind us of the words of the Lord Jesus when He said, “Come to Me, all you labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Christ invites those who are in trouble, those feeling the weight of sin and the judgment to come to Him. The Philippian jailor had this burden. Note the language in the Acts account: “Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” (Acts 16:29-30). He was trembling. He had heard them singing hymns and praying to God. The man was in distress, as he was trembling. We can hear the distress, the narrow straits, in his voice as he entreats Paul and Silas, “WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?” Paul and Silas point him to the Captain of their salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ.
2) IN DEBT – The word relates to having a “creditor,” i.e. being in debt to someone. Perhaps it was poor planning, laziness, or idleness that left such ones in debt. Or perhaps it was some unforeseen setback, or some event out of the person’s control that left him owing money to a creditor. Whatever the case, these ones were in debt, and they came to David. It might remind us of the servant in Matthew 18 who owed his master 10,000 talents. The Bible says, “But as he was not able to pay…” (18:25). He had a debt he could not pay. What a picture of the sinner before a holy God! He owes a tremendous, terrible debt that he cannot pay, and thus the Lord has the right to exact from him some other compensation (cf. 18:25)—judgment and eternal separation from Him.
But notice also the lord’s compassion on his servant: “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt” (18:27). When the servant sought for mercy from his lord, his lord was kind and compassionate, forgiving him the enormous debt he had accumulated. O the grace of God in this! That God would forgive our sins, and do it justly in the Gospel! He shows mercy and compassion to the ones who repent and place their faith in God’s Anointed, the Lord Jesus.
3) DISCONTENTED – (mar) lit. bitter of soul. It is similar to the word “Marah” in Ex. 15, which means “bitter waters.” In 1 Sam. 1:10 the exact same word is used when it says Hannah was in “bitterness of soul.” She was childless and provoked by her rival. Scripture says she was “miserable” and “wept in anguish.” In Prov. 31:6 the same word is used but translated a little differently. It speaks of those who are “of heavy hearts” (KJV). It is that state of being in which a person is tired of life—we might even say sick of life. As Job would say in his misery, “My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 10:1). Life just does not seem worth living in such a state. The soul cringes at going on another day. After the victory at Carmel, Elijah found himself in such a plight under the broom tree in the wilderness outside of Beersheba. He said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Ki. 19:4). The demoniac also was of this same spirit: “And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:5). It is utter despair!
But the Lord meets such discontented people where they are. The prophet says of Him, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He will not quench…” (Is. 42:3). The Lord does not look on the down and out and see their hopeless condition and say, “Well, there is no remedy. I can’t help you.” O the tenderness of the Lord Jesus! Though the person is about to break and though the wick is about to go out, He does not finish off the process.
What a compassionate God we have! What a Captain to gather unto! Though the world rejects Him, though the vast majority of people mock Him and belittle Him, we as believers gather unto Him, being enlightened by the Holy Spirit that He is the “Savior of the world” and the coming King of Kings—God’s Anointed, God’s Messiah. We may be small. We surely are the outcasts and rejects of society, but the Lord is all to us. We are “not many mighty, not many noble…” We are the “weak things” and the “base things of the world” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). We can do nothing without Him (John 15:5), yet we can “do all things through Him who strengthens [us]” (Php. 4:13). We are outside established religion (“without the camp,” Heb. 13:13), and people will look at us as strange. As the Lord is a reproach and a byword among men, so are we. We “bear His reproach” for we have identified with Him. The Lord is our unseen Captain. We gather unto Him, we own His authority, and we delight to serve Him. Whereas the world gathers together “AGAINST the LORD and His Anointed” (Acts 4:26), we gather unto Christ in faith, trusting God’s Word that He is the Savior, Messiah, and Son of God. And one day it will come to pass that, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). We may suffer in these few short years while on earth, but this is nothing compared to the glory and kingdom that will soon follow (Rom. 8:18, Rev. 5:10)! Grace upon grace! And look at what many of these men became: “mighty men” under the authority and rule of David! Where David slew the giant and overcame the enemy in 1 Sam. 17, these mighty men later will be seen doing the same thing (2 Sam. 21:15ff.)!
We have become overcomers, in the true sense of the word. Just as Christ overcame the world (John 16:33), so we too are called and given the power to overcome. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).