Over the past several months, I’ve been praying a lot about what the Lord wants me to do with the various desires I have. I would like to do a few posts over the next few weeks on “Desires and the Believer,” looking at some Scripture passages that have been challenging to me.
Today I would like to look at the example of David and how he dealt with a particular desire he had.
In 1 Chronicles 11, there is a rather interesting story about King David. It’s not long, but it’s very thought-provoking.
Three of the thirty chief men went down to the rock to David at the cave of Adullam, when the army of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” 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 took it and brought it to David. But David would not drink it. He poured it out to the Lord and said, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men. (1 Chronicles 11:13-19, ESV)
This chapter (and it’s parallel in 2 Samuel 23) is mostly focused on David’s mightiest warriors. These men helped him become king and were noted for their battle accomplishments. The setting is the beginning of David’s reign as king over all Israel. Shortly after he ascended to the throne, who should come to cause trouble, but the old enemies of Israel…the Philistines. David, after years of fighting battles and running from Saul, doesn’t get much time to rest after being crowned king. He has to go out to battle again against the Philistines. The Philistines were encamped in the Valley of Rephaim, and David and his men were holed up in the cave of Adullam. This wasn’t the first time David had used this cave; it had been a valuable hiding spot when King Saul wanted his head.
As they are encamped in the hot, arid region, David expresses his longing for a cool drink of water from the well of Bethlehem. The mighty warrior-king was thirsty. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with this desire. He desired fulfillment to a very human need. He was in the midst of a difficult battle, and his thoughts turned toward his boyhood home and the refreshing water from the well by the gate. I can almost picture David sitting down and leaning against the rock with a sigh as he mopped his forehead, weary from the battle or preparations for it.
“Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” He said. Perhaps it was a spontaneous request – a longing expressed, but not expected to be fulfilled.
The Men’s Response
I can almost picture his men gathered around him. Some had been with him for years as he fled from Saul or fought Israel’s enemies. Some were part of his special body guard force. These were his “mighty men.” Perhaps one of these mighty men leaned over to another and whispered in his ear, “You know, I think we could get David that water he is longing to have.”
So, three of these mighty warriors set off. Perhaps they slipped quietly away without David knowing. Perhaps they intended to surprise him with their gift. They loved David enough that they were willing to risk their lives to fulfill this simple request. It wasn’t easy; as they neared Bethlehem, they had to fight their way through the enemy. However, they accomplished their mission and returned with a drink of water for David.
This water they offered to him; the water that had cost them dearly to retrieve. Yet, what does David do with this precious gift? He takes it and pours it out on the ground saying, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.”
This is the part of the story where I always stop and say… WAIT, WHAT JUST HAPPENED HERE? David was longing for a drink: a drink from a specific well. His men risked their blood, sweat, and tears to bring him water, which was not just from any well, but from the well of Bethlehem as he had requested. And now, David shows his gratitude by dumping it on the ground? All that was left of their sacrifice was a muddy spot on the floor of the cave. The water would have given him strength to continue fighting! I can just picture the men standing there after he says that and thinking, “We risked our lives so David could drink that water! Doesn’t he value our effort? Why is he wasting our sacrifice by throwing it away? What is David thinking?!”
Those have been my thoughts as I’ve read this story in Scripture. I didn’t understand it. It frustrated me that the way David paid honor to the men’s lives was to waste the very thing they risked their lives to retrieve. Yet, recently, I began to see this story in a different light…
There’s a key part to this story, “[David] poured it out to the Lord.” It wasn’t that David devalued the sacrifice of his men. He recognized that they risked their lives to bring him this valuable gift. In fact, he recognized the value of this gift was so great, that it was too much for him to keep for himself. So, David presented it to the Lord as a drink offering, a sacrifice given voluntarily to the Lord. David presented to God the most valuable treasure he had in that moment: the fulfillment to his thirsty longing.
David isn’t the only example we see of this kind of selfless sacrifice. Abraham willingly offered his precious son Isaac back to God as a sacrifice, laying his most precious treasure on the altar (Genesis 22). Hannah offered her son, the object of her tearful longings and prayers, to the Lord’s service, laying aside her own rights to raise him (1 Samuel 1). Mary took a vial of valuable perfume and dumped it all over Jesus’ dirty, smelly feet to honor Him and the sacrifice He was going to make (John 12:1-8).
Ultimately, God Himself offered His own precious Son, Jesus, as mankind’s substitute for sin. God didn’t send a second-rate substitute. He sent the only One who could make a way for us to be right with God. Jesus suffered and gave His life, dying to pay the price of mankind’s sin. It was the greatest sacrifice in history, yet it also appears foolish to those who don’t understand its significance (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).
God gave His best for us. What do we give back to Him? Do we give Him the leftovers of our time? Or money? Or possessions?
Do we give Him our deepest longings and desires? Sometimes, God chooses to give us the things we desire. Sometimes, He chooses to say no. Are we willing to leave the choice with Him? If He does not give us the longings of our hearts, do we trust His wisdom, that He knows what is truly best for us? Or, if He does choose to fulfill the longings of our hearts, do we cling to the gift He has given, or offer it back to Him, recognizing the Giver?
What are the things most valuable to you? What are your most precious treasures that God has given? Are you willing to pour those out before the Lord as an offering to Him? Are you willing to surrender your desires for how you want your life to be lived? For how you want your time to be spent? For the things you long to have? Is Christ more precious than the things that are most precious to you?
Scripture doesn’t say anything about the reaction of David’s mighty men or the others surrounding him. Perhaps they understood and were honored by the sacrifice. Perhaps they were confused or upset. By all appearances the sacrifice probably looked like a waste as the dry ground licked up the water. If we offer our most valuable treasures to the Lord, others may not understand the sacrifice. It may look foolish to them. It may look like a waste. Yet, by declaring Christ a more precious treasure than the treasures we cling to and willingly pouring them out in surrender for the sake of Christ, it’s never a waste!
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good (Psalm 107:9, NASB).