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Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David.  But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the Lord… (2 Samuel 23:16)

Please open your Bible at 2 Samuel 23.

We looked last week at the return of the king. King David returned in triumph and you would think that with Absalom’s rebellion over and with God’s anointed king restored to his throne in Jerusalem, the last years of David’s life would be filled with peace and joy.

But we have seen that the life of David falls into three parts: His trials, his triumphs, and his troubles—and troubles followed David unrelentingly through the later years of his life. The last years of his life were the hardest ones.

David was God’s anointed king and we are going to see today that he was deeply hated and dearly loved. The same was true of our Lord Jesus. The same will be true for you as a Christian. You will experience the hatred of the world and the love of God in Jesus Christ.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you,” Jesus said.  Then our Lord gives this explanation: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18, 19).

The message this morning is very simple: When you are hated, weary, or discouraged, remember how dearly you are loved.  We’re going to look today at two stories that show how deeply David was hated and one story that tells us how dearly he was loved.

The King Who Was Hated

More Rebellion

As if Absalom’s revolt had not been enough, we now have the story of another rebellion!  No sooner was David restored as king when “there happened to be there a worthless man, [we would say, “a scoundrel”] whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, ‘We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!’” (2 Sam. 20:1).

As soon as one rebellion against God’s anointed king was over, another one began!  Notice, Sheba was a Benjaminite.  He belonged to the tribe of Saul, but his appeal was not limited to the Benjaminites.  We are told that “all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri” (20:2). Eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel joined in this rebellion!

David was God’s anointed king.  But it is clear from the response to Sheba blowing the trumpet that, despite all that David had done for God’s people, there was a deep antagonism in the hearts of many toward him.

In hindsight, David is revered as the greatest of the Old Testament kings.  But it was not like that at the time.  Why could God’s people not see that they are blessed in David and rejoice in the good gift that they have received from the hand of God?

Only one tribe remained loyal to the king: “But the men of Judah followed their king [David] steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 20:2).  Judah was David’s own tribe, and when Sheba rose up against God’s anointed king, they were the only ones who stood with him.

So now, at the end of his life, David is right back where he started.  Way back in 2 Samuel 2, David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” (2:1).  Is there any place, any community ready to receive God’s anointed king?  God said, “Go to Hebron,” so David went to this small town out in the sticks, where the people of Judah anoint him as king.  He had one tribe for him and eleven against him.

At the end of David’s life, he is in exactly the same position! David must have wondered…

Has any good been done.  Has any progress been made?  Has any lasting achievement been accomplished?

There may be moments in your life when you wonder the same thing.  You build something up and then it gets torn down, and you find yourself wondering, Why did I bother? What was the point? Did any lasting good come from all that I did?

Sheba’s rebellion failed, as all rebellion against God’s anointed king finally will, but even this was not the end!  If you turn a few pages forward to 1 Kings 1, you will see that David faced yet another rebellion: “Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king.’  And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him” (1:5).  This is exactly what Absalom did (2 Sam. 15:1)!

We’ve seen all this before.  So you read these words, and you find yourself saying, “Not again!  When will this ever end?”  Not only was there more rebellion in the last years of David’s life, these years were also marked by more conflict.

More Conflict

Notice how the word ‘again’ is repeated in these verses:

There was war again between the Philistines and Israel (21:15).

After this, there was again war with the Philistines at Gob (21:18).

And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob (21:19).

And there was again war at Gath (21:20).

No wonder we read: “And David grew weary” (21:15). When will these battles ever end?  How long do I have to deal with this?

The best-known story from the life of David is the story of David and Goliath.  David killed that giant of a man early in his life when Saul was still king.  Now we are into the last years of David’s life and we read about “Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants… [who] thought to kill David” (21:16)He wasn’t the only giant David had to deal with.  In the course of these endless wars, four ‘Goliaths’ appear on the scene:

  • Ishbi-benob (21:16)
  • Saph (21:18)
  • A second Goliath (21:19)
  • An un-named giant who had six fingers and six toes (21:20)

All of these giants have one thing in common – they hate David and they want to destroy him.  There seems to be no end to this!

The great achievements of David’s life were to unite God’s people and to subdue their enemies, and by God’s grace these things had been wonderfully accomplished.  But at the end of David’s life, the work had to be done all over again!  God’s people were divided, their enemies were rampant, and David was weary!

When you are tired of the battle… 

We all know what it is to face times of discouragement, when you wonder if anything of lasting value has been accomplished.  Like David, you have grown weary and you are tired of the battle.

  1. Don’t be surprised by the persistence of sin and conflict in the world

Our world is in rebellion against God and against his anointed king, Jesus Christ.  Everything God has put in place, the world will sooner or later seek to overthrow.  The world will keep inventing new ways of sinning.  50 years from now, people will be sinning in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Our world has always hated Jesus Christ and it always will.  As long as people continue to exalt themselves rather than submit to God’s anointed king, there will be wars and rumors of wars.  And our world will continue to be in conflict.

If you have a Christian worldview, you will understand that the world is not going to evolve into a panacea of peace and love and joy.  That dream rises in the heart of every generation, but it will not happen.  We live in a world of rebellion and conflict. David couldn’t stop it. We can’t stop it. Only Jesus, God anointed king, can bring it to an end, and one day he will.

  1. Learn to accept help from others

God’s best servants grow weary and need the help of others. That was true for David, and it will be true for you and for me.  David, you don’t have to slay all the giants.  Let me help you with this one.”  It is God who gives the victory, and he can do that through others as well as through you.

Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his [David’s] aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him.  Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel” (2 Sam. 21:17).

I don’t suppose David was pleased when his men said this to him, but it was the provision of God.  David needed the help of others, and when he was weary, God put other people around him to help him.

  1. Remember that victory may be closer than you think

When these four giants arose, David must have thought, When will this ever end?  David could not have known it at the time, but these four were the last of the giants.

We never read of Solomon facing giants. Instead, we read: “Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt.  They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life” (1 Kings 4:21).

So the enemies David had fought all his life were subdued!  And the people of God, who had been so divided, were united throughout the entire reign of Solomon.  The two great achievements of David’s life that seemed to be undone stood firm: God’s people prospered. The temple was built.  The cloud of God’s glorious presence came down among his people.

God will only allow you to see a small part of the fruit of your ministry in this life.  David faced endless battles, but he accomplished more than he thought.  And when he was most weary, he was closer to what he longed for than he could ever have dared to dream.

The King Who Was Loved

In the middle of all this darkness, we have a story that shines out as a beacon of hope.  It reminds us that while David was deeply hated, he was also dearly loved.  

Almost certainly, this story comes from an earlier time in David’s life.  David was “at the cave of Adullam” (2 Sam. 23:13).  That was where David hid in his early years, when he was on the run from Saul (1 Sam. 22:1-5).

If this story belongs to an earlier period in David’s life, why is it told here?  It may be that the story is here because David needed it here!  Perhaps when David was surrounded by hatred, someone reminded him of this story that shows how much he was loved.

Here’s the principle: When you are weary of the battle remember how much you are loved!  That is how God will refresh you.

David is in the cave of Adullam.  It is harvest time (2 Sam. 23:13) which means that it is hot.  Good water is scarce and David is thirsty.  His mind goes back to the town where he grew up.  Bethlehem!  He always had a special affection for that place.  He remembers going to the well and being refreshed by the water. But Bethlehem had fallen into the hands of the Philistines. It was occupied territory.

The Philistines had turned it into a military base, from which they could launch further incursions: “The garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem” (23:14). So there was no hope of making a visit to Bethlehem any time soon.

As the temperature rises, David thinks about the well beside the gate at Bethlehem, and he says longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” (23:15).

It was nostalgic: “What would I not give for a drink from the well at Bethlehem!” But Bethlehem is 15 miles away, and it is home to an entire garrison of enemy soldiers.

Three of David’s mighty men heard what their king said.  “Our king wants a drink from the well at Bethlehem?  We’ll get it for him.”

So they went on this “navy seal” type mission, at risk of their own lives, to get their king a drink of water on a hot day.  Notice verse 16 says, “Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines.”

This was not a stealth operation.  They did not get in and out without being noticed.  They fought their way in and they fought their way out.  These men would do anything for David.  What they did here showed the extent of their love.

Imagine David’s surprise when these three men returned with a skin of water from the well.  These men surprised the king with a gift that showed the depth of their love.  “You asked for a drink of water from the well at Bethlehem.  Here it is!”  David never asked these men to do this.  He didn’t even know they were gone.

When did you last do something to surprise someone you love?  Not something you were asked to do, or something you had to do, but something you did simply because you wanted to bless someone.  Love looks for ways to bring joy and blessing to the one who is loved.

The three mighty men brought the water to David.  Then we have this astonishing statement: “But he would not drink of it.  He poured it out to the LORD…” (2 Sam. 23:16).

Imagine David saying, “O that someone would bring me water to drink from the well at Bethlehem.”  Three men break through to Bethlehem at risk to their own lives, they bring back the water, and the king pours it on the ground!  Why would something so costly be poured out?

The key words here are “to the Lord…”  David “poured it out to the Lord.”  This was an act of worship.  Other kings, lesser kings, would have drunk the water.  But to drink the water would be to say, “You exist to satisfy my thirsts.  My comfort matters more than your lives.”  And David was not that kind of king.

David knew that the love and loyalty of those who stood with him was not a right that was his; it was a gift from the hand of God.  And when that love was shown in such a generous, sacrificial and lavish way, the only thing he could do was pour it out as an offering of thanksgiving and worship to the Lord.

There is an anticipation here of the day in Bethany when Mary brought a jar of costly perfume and poured it over Jesus.  Judas said it was a waste.  But for Mary it was worship.  What better use could she have made of this costly gift than to pour it out over Jesus?

If you see the people who love you as being there to serve your needs, you will become demanding, you will become dependent, and you will get to the place where you live in fear of what you will do if one day they are taken away from you.

But if you see the people who love you as a gift from the Lord, you will be filled with gratitude and thanksgiving for every evidence of this, and you will be confident in the God who gave them to you.  There is all the difference in the world between these two things.

How does this story apply to us? 
It would be natural to say, “These mighty men showed their love for their king, so we must show our love for Christ, however costly that may be.  We must extend ourselves to show our love for him.”  This would be a good application, but it would not be the best.

The point of this story is to show how much David was loved.  And I think that what the mighty men did for David points not so much to what we must do for Jesus, but to what Jesus has done for us!

  1. Jesus “broke through” at Bethlehem

He went there, not from a cave, but from the glory of heaven.  God became a man in Christ Jesus, and he was born in Bethlehem!  Why did he come? He came not to bring us a skin of water; he came because he is the living water.

  1. Jesus is the living water

Jesus met a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water from a well, and he said to her: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:13-14). 

Later, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).  How does this living water become ours?

  1. The life of Jesus was poured out for us 

David “poured out” the water from Bethlehem “to the Lord” (2 Sam. 23:16).  Jesus Christ could say, in the words of Psalm 22, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint” (22:14).

David’s mighty men risked their lives to bring David a drink of water. But the Son of God gave his life so that the living water could be yours. He gives us this water at the price of his own blood!

David’s breath must have been taken away by the love and loyalty of men who would risk their lives to bring their king a drink of water. What are we to say about our king who gave his life for us?

If we struggle to get our minds around David pouring out the water, how can we fathom what it meant for the uniquely precious life of the Son of God to be poured out for us?

Amazing love! How can it be?
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me! [1]

When you are hated, weary, or discouraged.  When you are tired of the battle, or you are tempted to think your life doesn’t count for much, or you wonder if you’ve accomplished anything of lasting value, remember how much you are loved.

Begin here: The Son of God loved you and gave himself for you. And the Lord who loves you is worthy of the deepest love and loyalty of your life, irrespective of what it costs.


[1] Charles Wesley, from the hymn: And Can It Be, 1738.


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