Why God Is Sending Us Into Exile

People continue to ask the question, and it is a question very much worth asking, “Why did God put us here? You know, here. The place where up is down and down is up, women die on the front lines in combat while men win woman of the year. There is a a good answer to the question and it will lift the spirits that are very much in need of being lifted.

The Text – A Summary

In 1 Samuel 27, Saul has recently sought David’s life yet again in the land of Israel. David knows that he must flee to Philistine territory to escape death (v. 1). David has not lost faith. God has said that Saul is going down and David is going up. David knows that. And he also knows Saul will not stop pursuing him if he remains in Israelite territory. 

David heads to Achish king of Gath with his six hundred men and their households. As David anticipates, Saul no longer pursued him. Eventually, David appeals to Achish attempting to leave Gath and take up residence in the country towns. Achish grants David’s request, giving him Ziklag. David lived 16 months among the Philistines. While doing so, he made raids against various peoples. He would leave neither man or woman alive so there was none to bring back news to Achish of what David was doing.

David’s actions were not unlawful, but an act of faith and obedience to God. David is the anointed king of Israel, and he was continuing the conquest of Israel even while in exile. God has already said that the Amalekites, both men and women, were to die. David, here, strikes the Amalekites, which is what God had already commanded. David was shrewd in his communication with king Achish. Achish developed the impression that David was fighting Israel and becoming a stench to them. David was happy to leave him with such an impression.

Even while David moved out of Israelite territory, he moved toward the throne of Israel. Even while living in exile among the Philistines, he conquered God’s enemies. God advanced His conquest by sending his people into exile. 

The Pattern of Exile (and Return)

What David experiences here is not uncommon. Scripture reveals a pattern of exile and return. Abraham’s offspring had to go down to Egypt before returning to that Promised Land. And that there-and-back-again story involved Israel plundering the Egyptians. Likewise, Christ Himself was hidden in Egypt while a worldly king sought his life. When King Herod died, Jesus returned to the land. In just a few chapters King Saul dies and David returns to the land. Israel also went into exile in Babylon. Eventually, while in exile, they were nearly annihilated by Haman’s plot.

But in that exile they ended up destroying their enemies. In the New Testament, Christians were made to flee Jerusalem. Acts 8 tells us that a great persecution against the church arose such that they were scattered abroad through the regions of Judea and Samaria. And verse 4 adds, “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” The apostle Paul had to escape to Rome when the Jewish leaders sought his life. And his exile was designed to spread the good news in that godless land. When God gives you a pattern, you ought not be thrown off when He does it again. Now we say, “But I thought that when we prayed ‘Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” things would get better!” Well, they will . . . but you’re going to need to buckle up.

We can see the pattern: conquest through exile. But what exactly is exile? There indeed would not be any exile had sin not come into the world. But, it does not follow that we can draw a straight line between our sin and our exile. Israel’s Babylonian exile was certainly due to their sin. But, Israel had to stay in Egyptian exile until the sin of others, the Amorites, was complete. And exile does not exactly mean to be “away from the Lord.” Joseph was in Egypt, and Genesis repeatedly emphasizes that the Lord was with him. Exile is, however, being away from normalcy. There were familiar customs and traditions in Israel. Things were different among the Philistines. It also means being away from safety. To be within the walls of Jerusalem was to benefit from their protection. But when Babylon leveled those walls, the danger could no longer be kept out. Exile also signals a movement away from comfort. You can see Job’s experience as one of exile. And he did not have to go to it, but it came to him. He lost the comfort of his home, his children, his wife, his health. 

Exile is the dark night, the burned down house, it is Bilbo in Smaug’s lair. It is Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund in the White Witch’s winter. It is the doctor telling you your wife has cancer. It is the death of a child. It is the crumbling of law and order and the rewriting of the dictionary. It is something that a host of God-fearing Christians are feeling right about now. 

The question is, of course, why would God send His people into all of that? Why exile? Well, the Amalekites need to be defeated. Ever since the rebellion in the Garden, there have been dark places in the land. They need the light. There are evil places and they need to be purged of that evil. The white witches winter needs the warmth of Aslan’s breath. 

Christ is the King who leads the conquest. With him, the conquest will be completed. Apart from him, there will be no conquering whatsoever. But, he does bring us along. And if we would join him in advancing God’s conquest, then we must exercise faith. David for example is not out randomly killing people. God had told Israel to conquer the Promised Land. David was the Anointed King with the right and obligation to conquer the Promised Land and defend Israel against God’s enemies. David conquers by trusting God’s Word. David is included in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. And that chapter says that David put armies to flight and subdued kingdoms by faith. As he lived by faith, he actually evidenced the promise of God.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Now think about that verse. “Things not seen.” By definition, you cannot see them. And yet faith is the evidence of things not seen. Do you want proof that David will sit on the throne of Israel? Just look at him conquering by faith in exile. And faith is so beautiful and critical at this very juncture because it is in exile that everyone wants to start doubting the promises of God. “I know David is anointed to be king and all, but have you heard he is in the land of the Philistines?” And people today say the same, “You tell me Jesus reigns? You tell me His kingdom is coming upon earth? Have you seen our situation, buddy?” Ah, but look at the saints in battle. By faith, they conquer. And by faith, they evidence the things unseen. Do you want proof that the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ? Look to the saints exercising faith, for faith is the very substance of things hoped for. 

And what is our faith in? Our faith is in the Greater David, Jesus Christ—the One who went into exile: He, the righteous one, came to the land of sinners. He who was One with the Father cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The light of the world was covered in darkness. The friend of sinners was betrayed. Life Himself went to the grave. And in that terrible exile, He conquered all of God’s enemies. He triumphed over sin, death, and the devil. For God made Him to be sin who knew no sin; that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. So “thanks be to God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ in every place . . . be it within the walls of Jerusalem or within the land of the Philistines.