In the Wood

A True Friend Is an Encourager

And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand. And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood. (1 Samuel 23:14-15)

David was in the wilderness of Ziph, a rugged terrain near Carmel that was removed from any true settlement. He had no bed to sleep in, no table or chairs, no recliner, no comforts of home. He was on the run—again. King Saul was determined to eliminate his perceived enemy at any cost. The text records that Saul sought him every day. These were desperate times for David. Running for your life is never an easy challenge.

It was also a very frustrating time for David because he had done nothing to harm Saul. He had fought valiantly for the armies of Israel, he had behaved himself wisely, God had even used him to soothe Saul’s troubled spirit by his skilful playing on the harp. He had been loyal—he was the king’s son-in-law no less! But none of that mattered to Saul. Moved by his own paranoid jealously, Saul chased ruthlessly after the young man and his followers. And so David found himself in the wilderness, in a wood.

There comes a time (probably many a time) when God’s leaders will find themselves in the wilderness, in a wood. Circumstances in life take a turn for the worst. They are dealt a blow of unfairness, or critical enemies show up when there should be no enemies at all. It is frustrating, discouraging, and disappointing in this wood. They don’t belong there and yet, there doesn’t seem to be much of a way out. I am sure that all this time in the wilderness was wearying to David. All he wanted was to get on with his life. Leave me alone!

And then, something wonderful happened:

And Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God. (1 Samuel 23:16)

David’s friend Jonathan took a big risk on his own life and wellbeing to visit David in the wood. What a refreshing sight it must have been for David to see his friend!

Notice what Jonathan did for David; he strengthened his hand in the Lord. David and Jonathan didn’t sit around and complain about the unfairness of it all. They didn’t talk of revenge. Jonathan sought to encourage and strengthen David’s hand in God. Jonathan wanted David to keep his eyes on the Lord, keep relying upon Jehovah, and keep walking with the Lord. In essence Jonathan said, “David, keep your faith; God has brought you through many things; He hasn’t changed; He has a plan in all this. My friend, don’t quit even in this difficult time.”

It is a true friend who will strengthen you in the Lord—point you to the Saviour and undergird your faith with theirs.

And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth. (1 Samuel 23:17)

Jonathan did this even though he knew that his friend was going to be blessed at his expense. It is amazing how many people will be your friend until it looks like you might get ahead of them. Jonathan was more concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of his friend than his own personal advancement.

Can I tell you that there will be times in your life when you will be out in the wood. It will not be where you want to be, and you will hunger for a friend to come to you and strengthen your hand in the Lord.

And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house. (1 Samuel 23:18)

Notice the visit of his friend didn’t get David out of the wood. His trial went on for a bit longer, but I believe that David’s whole view of the wood changed that day. He still didn’t like it, but with his hand now strengthened in God, he could endure it and let God work in his life, in His time.

I don’t know where you might be in your life or ministry right now. Maybe you are in the wood and could use a friend—I trust that you will let someone know where you are. But maybe you are in the place where you could be a Jonathan. Your friend doesn’t need to re-hash the ugly details of the wood nor does he need empty pious phrases. What he needs is someone to find him in the wood and minister to him—remind him of the greatness of God, and that he is not alone.

I am blessed by the life of Jonathan—he was a friend—a friend in many ways, but I think it was in this moment of greatest need, when David was in the wood, that Jonathan’s friendship showed itself  most powerfully. It has stirred me to want to be that kind of friend. A friend who will do more than cluck his tongue and say, “Oh, that’s too bad,” but who will dig deep in his own faith to strengthen someone’s hand in God—the God Who never leaves us nor fails us.

Is it any wonder, when Jonathan was killed in battle, David wept bitterly and said, “How are the mighty fallen!”

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