1 Chronicles 12 is a flashback. The Chronicler has told the story of Saul’s death at the battle of Mount Gilboa. He has described how “all Israel” gathered to David at Hebron to make him king over all Israel (11:1-3). At the beginning of chapter 12, we move back to a time when David was exiled in the land of Philistia, in the city of Ziklag that Achish the king of Gath had given to him (12:1).
Saul tried to kill David twice, and with the help of Saul’s son Jonathan, David eventually fled the land. And while David is exiled in Philistia, the Lord sends help. The word “help” appears seven times in verses 1-22, and several of the men who come to David have the word “help” (ezer) as part of their name: Ahiezer (my brother helps, v. 3), Joezer (Yah helps, v. 6), and just plain Ezer (help, v. 9).
David went into Philistia alone, but the Lord knew that it was not good for David to be alone. So He sends helpers suitable to him. God helps David, and that divine help takes the very human form of mighty men skilled with sling, bow, sword, and shield. God’s help comes in the form of lion-faced Gadites, as swift as mountain gazelles.
These warriors gather to David when he is “restricted” because of Saul (12:1). It’s an interesting phrase. As Sara Japhet points out (1 & 2 Chronicles, 260), the Chronicler assumes that David is king-designate, and that even in Saul’s reign he is acting as king. As the tribes say when they meet David at Hebron: “even when Saul was king, you were the one who led out and brought in Israel; and Yahweh your God said to you, You shall shepherd My people Israel, and you shall be prince over My people Israel” (11:2). Even in Saul’s reign, David goes in and out as shepherd of Israel. But for the moment, David is “restricted.” David is king in all but title, but his going in and out is constrained. He is not able to shepherd because there’s a false shepherd in his way.
But the Lord doesn’t leave David in that restricted place. David needs help, and God provides help in the form of helpers. And so the chapter traces a progression: David is restricted because of Saul; David gets help; and then David becomes king at Hebron. Ultimately, David brings Yahweh’s throne into Jerusalem. This is how the kingdom comes: From constriction to Yahweh’s rule through Yahweh’s help.
Notice when David gets stronger, and when he gathers an army like the army of God. It doesn’t happen when David becomes king. While David is still in Ziklag, while Saul is still king, David’s army becomes like the army of God. David’s army becomes a “sacrament” (William Johnstone, 1 & 2 Chronicles, 164-5) of God’s army. He increases as Saul decreases, because Saul drives them away. The best men, the most skilled warriors, defect to David. Even in the stronghold, even in exile, even when he is restricted, he gets stronger and Saul gets weaker. What we see here is the formation of a bride for the king, a people who will leave father and mother to cling to the king, a people who will be a help to the king. And that bride comes to David even before he becomes king.
We see the same dynamic in the history of the prophets during the divided kingdom. Elijah goes alone into the wilderness, but the Lord sends help in the form of Elisha. And over the lifetime of these two prophets, the Lord forms a company of prophets who are prepared to reconquer the land. It foreshadows the same process in the life of Jesus. He offends the Jewish leaders, and they want to kill him. He withdraws from Israel, and mighty men start coming to Him – mighty men like Peter and Andrew and James and John, men of prowess and wisdom who understand the times and defect from the mainstream of Israel to cling to Jesus the Bridegroom. A renewed Israel begins to emerge within Israel, led by the anointed Jesus, who is king even though He doesn’t bear the title of king. Even for Jesus: It is not good for a king to be alone.
It’s a process repeated throughout the history of the church. Faithful Christians have often found themselves excluded from the centers of power. The faithful have often been forced into exile, often by other Christians. But when the Lord sends His faithful remnant into exile, He doesn’t leave them alone. He sends help, and eventually He fulfills His promise to place David on the throne.
We shouldn’t be discouraged if we find ourselves on the outside, if we see our institutions clamping down on Christians and subtly and overtly marginalizing us. The anointed one is with us, and however weak we look, He is sending help. We should expect defectors from the world to join us. We should expect God’s help. We should expect that even in exile, even in our weakness, God makes us stronger and stronger, forming us as a host, an army like the army of God.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis.