But God - David and the unseen hand of God

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Bible Study Series: 'But God Bible Verses' 

'But God' - David and the unseen hand of God

by I Gordon

Welcome back! Or if it's your first time, simply welcome! We've been doing a series on the phrase 'But God' and the next example that I want to explore comes in the life of David. It comes during difficult times when he was under attack and on the run. Hiding. Fighting. Running some more. Unsure of what today would hold - let alone tomorrow! But God was with him. There was an unseen hand protecting him.

I want to focus on this because we, as Christians, also live in difficult days. The enemy is stirring up a lot of trouble. Lawlessness is increasing. The old established order is changing rapidly. The church is increasingly coming under attack. Christians are finding that they live in a society that is becoming intolerant towards the beliefs we hold. It is easy to feel more isolated. It is easy to feel concerned about what is coming. But through it all is the unseen protective hand of God just as it was in the days of David. 

So we'll look at this protective hand of God today: 

  • We'll start with a general overview of how the Bible pictures God's protection
  • We'll look at an Old Testament story concerning the life of David, contrasting the hand of Saul and God
  • We'll explore what the Bible says concerning the power of the hand of God
  • We'll include a personal 'But God' story from my family that involves life and death
  • We'll conclude with an application paralleling David's experience and ours today

How does the Bible picture God's protection?

So let's dive in with an overview of the protection of God. Can you think of any imagery used in the Bible to speak of the invisible protection that envelops the believer? "Um... wasn't there something about a hedge?" Yes... I knew you could! Let's zero in on a few of these. 

Theme & Verse
A Hedge1
Job 1:10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.
In this verse Satan complained that God had placed a 'hedge' around Job and his family. The word 'hedge' means to fence in. It refers to erecting a protective or restraining barrier. God had placed a restraining barrier around Job and his household which Satan was powerless to do anything about. As a very 'earthly' non-spiritual but possibly useful illustration, I recently planted a passion-fruit vine which was just getting murdered! Eaten alive! The slugs and the snails would come out at night and chomp it to pieces. Not good. And so I purchased and placed a copper barrier around it. Copper, in case you didn't know, is a snails kryptonite! A chemical reaction happens when they crawl over the metal, which causes unpleasant feelings on their skin. And what snail of sound mind likes that? Therefore, they avoid moving over copper. Well... it worked! It was a barrier that no snail or slug could get past and my new young vine started to grow and thrive! This illustrates, very loosely, the believer's hedge or protective barrier that the Lord has placed around them from the spiritual slugs in high places! 
An Encampment
Psa 34:6-7 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him And saved him out of all his troubles. (7) The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them.
Here the Bible tells us that the angel of the Lord (a term used for the Lord Jesus in the Old Testament) encamps around those that fear Him. This word 'encamps' has the Hebrew meaning of 'abides with' or 'pitches his tent'. And this is done 'around' the believer with this word translated around meaning to 'encircle', or be 'on every side'. So the one who fears the Lord is protected on every side by the presence of Him who dwells, or pitches His tent, with the believer! There is no sneaking up from behind with such a guard!
A Seal
Rev 9:3-4 And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. (4) They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
Revelation gives a glimpse of demonic spirits, seen as locusts, that have the power to strike and inflict pain on mankind in the last days. Yet they are not allowed to touch those with the seal of God on their foreheads. The word seal means to 'impress as a guarantee of genuineness.' Here again we see the keeping and protective power of God. Even the enemy, out to strike humanity, has to follow God's decree. They cannot touch those that have His seal - His sign of genuineness and ownership upon His people. 
A Shield
Gen 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great."
The Bible often speaks of God as a shield for the believer (Jdg 5:8; 2 Sam 1:21; 1Ki 14:27; Job 15:26) just as He was for Abraham. The Hebrew word is also used of the protective scales of a crocodile (Job 41:15). Just thought you might like to know that!
A Guard
1Pe 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, (5) who are protected (guarded) by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The Greek word translated 'protected' here has the thought of a sentinel or tower guard, a watcher. It speaks of Him who keeps watch day and night with nothing escaping His gaze. Does it not calm those fears when we realise that the Almighty is standing guard, as a watchman, over the affairs of our life?2 Because of our faith we are protected by the power of God as the scripture says.

King David's 'but God' story

So let's look at an interesting story and example from 1 Sam 23 in the life of David, reading verses 1-14.

1Sa 23:1-5 When David was told, "Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors," (2) he inquired of the LORD, saying, "Shall I go and attack these Philistines?" The LORD answered him, "Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah." (3) But David's men said to him, "Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!" (4) Once again David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD answered him, "Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand." (5) So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah.

The context of this story takes place while David and his men are on the run from a crazed king Saul. They have been running, hiding, and running some more. Life is not easy. While it would be tempting to just think of yourself at such a time, David is not like that. Hearing that Keilah, a city in the lowlands of Judah is under attack from the Philistines, David asks the Lord if he should go help. The Lord says yes... but David's own men are saying 'steady on there Chief! Haven't we got enough problems of our own?' David's men are not keen, already fearful from the hostility experienced from Saul! So David asks the Lord a second time and again it is the same - 'Go down and I will give you victory'. So that is what David and his trembling men do. And he saved the people of Keilah through the great victory that the Lord gave them. So far, so good! But here comes Saul...

1Sa 23:7-12 Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and he said, "God has handed him over to me, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars." (8) And Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men. (9) When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, "Bring the ephod." (10) David said, "O LORD, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. (11) Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, God of Israel, tell your servant." And the LORD said, "He will." (12) Again David asked, "Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?" And the LORD said, "They will."

So hearing the David has gone to Keilah, Saul thinks this is the perfect opportunity to finally capture David. And for some strange reason Saul even thinks that God is on his side in this! Talk about deluded! That is what happens when God gives someone over! They can't even see how deceived they are! But never fear... David is safe in Keilah because, having just saved the entire city from the hands of the Philistines, they love him and would protect him even to the point of death... right? Argh, well, actually no. As David inquires of the Lord, the Lord confirms that Saul is indeed coming and the people of Keilah are going to hand him over to Saul. Not a lot of loyalty or support from his fellow Jews there! 

1Sa 23:13-14 So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there. (14) David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.

And so the running and hiding continues. Moving from place to place in the desert of Ziph, David and his men remained on the run from Saul. The Bible says 'day after day Saul searched for him, BUT GOD did not give David into his hand.' Now how strong was the hand of Saul? Let's not underestimate it. He was the demonically oppressed king of Israel.  He rules in a dictatorship. Anything he says goes. And in verse 8 the Bible tells us he had come to capture David with all his forces for battle. The hand of Saul is strong indeed. He has his army, his vast resources, and people willing to turn David in. 

God's greater hand

Yes, the hand of Saul is strong indeed. But God did not give David into his hands. God's was the greater hand! Think for a moment...

Would it have mattered how many men Saul had looking for David?
Would it have mattered how long they looked for?
Would it have mattered how many rats, moles and spies Saul had at his disposal willing to dob David in?

It wouldn't have because Saul had an unseen problem that was stopping his search from being successful – God! The unseen protective hand of God was far stronger than the seen destructive hand of Saul. So what are you currently fearful of? Have you also seen the unseen protective hand of God?

God's hand & Power

Let's just pause and think about the hand of God for a moment. The hand of God is often expressed in relation to His power. Meditate on the following verses that mention the hand of God. 

  • Creative Power - Isaiah 48:13 It was my hand that laid the foundations of the earth, my right hand that spread out the heavens above.
  • Sustaining Power - Job 12:9-10 Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
  • Guiding Power -  Psalm 139:10 Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 
  • Strengthening Power - Isa 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
  • Upholding Power  - Psa 37:23-24 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. (24) When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.
  • Saving Power -  Joh 10:27-29 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (28) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (29) My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.

In Isa 49:16 God said to the nation of Israel 'Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands...' This brings to mind, does it not, our Saviour who has an ever reminder of those that are His and what it cost upon His nail scared hands! (Rev 5:6)

Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea; The great High Priest whose name is love, Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands, My name is written in his heart; I know that while in Heaven he stands, No tongue can bid me thence depart.

So why the troubles?

When I gave this study at my home group, about now the following question was raised: "We are protected under the all-powerful hand of God, so how come so many difficulties still come our way?" 

That is a fair question! We need to remember that the same hand that protects also shapes and molds. He is the protector but also the master potter. He presses His thumbs and fingers into spots that can hurt to shape and design as He wills... but for our good! 

Isa_64:8 But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.
Jer 18:6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the Lord. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!

So though under the protective hand of God, He allows circumstances that try and refine us for our good. If you just think that God is there to smooth out every road, calm every sea, ease every wind and make life easy, I'm sorry to report that you have a very limited, even unbiblical view of God!

How did David feel during this time? Psalm 18

Let's go back to the story of David for it is important not to just gloss over how David felt during his time in the desert areas of Ziph. Though he was always under the unseen protective hand of God, that doesn't mean that things were a walk in the park! It doesn't even mean that David knew how things would turn out. There is even some instruction in the name 'Ziph' which according to 'A dictionary of scripture proper names', means 'melting'. An associated word Ziphah means 'refinery'. 

In the wilderness of Ziph Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hands. And David learned by experience what the name of Ziph means; it means “refining.” In the refining process of suffering and endurance the shepherd-king was fitted for his coming exaltation.  
Arno C Gaebelein

The refining of David is seen in many of his Psalms that he wrote during this period3. Let's have a look at one of these. Psalm 18 gives, in both poetic and prophetic imagery, David's experience both before and after his deliverance from Saul's hand.

Psa 18:1-6 For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love you, O LORD, my strength. (2) The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (3) I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. (4) The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. (5) The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. (6) In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

So here we see, in very rich imagery, how David felt. The cords of death had entangled him and were pulling him down. The cords of the grave were wrapping ever around him and dragging him into death. That is how David felt. Constantly having to run, hide and fight for you life takes its toll! His own strength and resources were not enough for David and so he cried out to the Lord...

Psa 18:7-19 The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. (8) Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. (9) He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. (10) He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. (11) He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him-- the dark rain clouds of the sky. (12) Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. (13) The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. (14) He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them. (15) The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. (16) He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. (17) He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. (18) They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. (19) He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

These are poetic and important prophetic words4 which show the Lord rising and coming to David's rescue. Only God could save him here from enemies too powerful for David. 'They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.' And what a support this is! The word translated support is 'a masculine noun designating a staff, a support, a supply. It indicates something serving to firm, keep stable'. God was David's stay when all seemed lost.

An Application - A personal 'But God' example

Graham, Fiona and Jason's 'But God' story

Like David's experience, there are times when it seems like the cords of death are about to take hold and the end is near... 'but God' has the final say and the unseen hand of God prevails. I'd like to share part of Graham and Fiona's story (my brother-in-law and sister) and their experience with their first born son Jason. Jason was born with hydrocephalus which is a build up of fluid within and around the brain. As soon as he was born the doctors noticed his enlarged head, knew there was a problem and rushed him to Auckland hospital for surgery. During those early days, scans of his brain showed only two thin strips of living brain tissue and the prognosis was pretty dire for these first-time parents. Because of the brain damage, they were told that if Jason even manages to sit up, that would be an achievement. Despite this, Jason continued to develop well astounding the medical system. In fact they said his case was 'remarkable' (which is basically medical talk for miraculous without being able to say that!) But the repeated issue of pressure upon his brain from the hydrocephalus led to constant trips to hospital for many years in Jason's early life. Sometimes they would be given the all clear, released from hospital and make the 2 1/2 hour drive home only for the pressure in Jason's head to come back, leading them to turn the car around and drive the hours back up to hospital again!   

Despite many praying for Jason this went on for many years. When he was 8, and in the Auckland hospital once again, the doctors really came to the end of what they could do and told his dad Graham so. You see, inside Jason's head was a mess. Cysts were intertwined with living brain tissue and the shunt, tubes and valve system they had placed in his head wasn't working leading to more and more pressure upon his brain. The specialists were at a loss. It was then that Graham, having come to an end himself, gave Jason fully over to God. Like Abraham being willing to offer his precious son Isaac, so Graham came to the place where he placed Jason in God's hands, on the altar, willing to trust that God's will would be done. And if that meant taking him, then he is God's.  Jason’s life was in His hands. 

However, a remarkable thing happened. Having placed Jason on God's altar, Graham was filled with faith and assurance that Jason would be ok and rang Fiona filled with scriptures, hope and assurance that God would look after him! On the surface, without God, it seemed hopeless. The doctors had said as much. But the doctors, who had previously been devoid of any way forward, decided that they would open Jason's skull up for this, the 14th time, not knowing what procedure they would actually do.  During the surgery, they suddenly decided they would turn all the valves in his head on at once, as one last thing to try. So that is what they did – and they were amazed – everything started to flow!  When Jason came round after the surgery, he gave a great sign saying that he was hungry and was soon eating a roast dinner followed up by apple pie and icecream - miraculous! Jason was 8 at the time. He is now in his early 30's with his own child Ezekiel, and from that day on (over 22 years) he has never needed another surgery! 

But here is the important point:  It wasn't the great work of the specialists that performed the miracle that day for they had run out of ideas. It wasn't the skillful hand of a surgeon that can be credited with saving the day. It was God. It was the far more skillful unseen hand of God that prevailed that day. In the language of the Psalmist, the cords of death entangled Jason and the torrents of destruction overwhelmed the whole family... 'But God' reached down and drew him out of the deep waters. But God!

Conclusion - An application from David's days and ours

To conclude, as I prepared this message and thought about the times of David once again, I couldn't help but see the similarities between David's day and our own. Even the place that David and Christianity had within society seems similar.  

  • In the early days David was accepted and loved within Saul's kingdom. He had conquered Goliath and Israel prospered because of him. 
  • He was given a seat with the king (1 Sam 18:2) and was successful in all that he did (1 Sam 18:5). 
  • But in time, Saul's jealousy and hatred of David grew as an evil spirit afflicted Saul (1 Sam 18:10). David went from being the golden boy and loved in the kingdom to being despised by a partially mad king. 
  • Soon unexpected spears were getting thrown his way (1 Sam 18:11). Before long David and his men are not welcome at all within the kingdom and were driven out. 

I don't think it is too much of a stretch to see that Christianity within Western society is like that. Western society was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs. The church was seen as an integral part of society shaping how people thought. It was respected. Our societies flourished and prospered just as they did when David was honored within Israel. But over time things changed. Over time the spears came out. Soon they were directed at Christians and their beliefs. Maybe you have noticed the increased hatred and antagonism? The biblical message of Jesus being the only way of salvation is largely despised in a day where everything now has to be politically correct. The biblical message of God ordaining marriage to be between a husband and wife is shamed today. Too narrow! Too bigoted! Too exclusive! The sanctity of life, especially for the unborn, has been tragically discarded. In many countries hate laws are increasing which often target Christian beliefs. There are more spears... More driving out from society of that which made the society strong to begin with. All in the name of being 'progressive'. Just as an evil spirit came upon Saul and everything changed within the Kingdom, so there has been a 'giving over' 'to a 'depraved mind' (see Rom 1:18-32) which blinds many from even seeing the destruction that their 'progressive' values cause.

So things became difficult for David. 'But God' was with him and He did not give him into the hands of Saul. God's hand was greater! As believers today we look to the 'blessed hope', the coming of the Lord who rescues us, according to 1 Thes 1:10, from the wrath to come. We see the signs of the nearness of His coming but do not know how much change, trial and general tribulation there will be before that day arrives. 

But what I do know is that the believer is loved, cared for, and kept under the unseen protective hand of God. So whatever changes come upon this world, and this year has been just a foretaste of the crazy changes ahead, do not forget or take your eyes off the 'but God' aspect. 

Always look to see, with the eyes of faith, the unseen hand of God. 

He is your stay. He is your staff. He is your support. He is your supply.

May God Bless.   


  1. For a rebellious Israel the Bible also speaks of this hedge being removed for a season so that their enemies could overcome them. Isa 5:3-5 "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. (4) "What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? (5) "So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.

  2. It is the same word that is translated 'guard' in Php 4:7 'And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' So God can guard our hearts bringing peace from the fears and worries that strike in this life. That of course occurs as we follow what it says in the preceding verse: Php 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  

  3. Psalm 18, 34, 52, 59 and 142 are all written during this time of hiding and running from Saul.  

  4. While Psalm 18 is poetic in its language it is also prophetic. The language given of the earth trembling and quaking at the anger of the Lord as He splits the Heavens and comes down to confront David's enemies is poetic for the days of David but prophetic of what will take place at the end of the tribulation when the Lord Himself will actually descend to protect Israel and destroy His enemies. It is worth reading Psalm 18:6-18 with the end times in mind. Like David in his distress, the nation of Israel will call for their Messiah to come. And come He will!