The songs play it. The movies portray it. Even our church services have their part to play. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Yeah, well what if it isn’t? For many people, holidays bring up painful memories.
Sore spots from childhood or the loss of loved ones hit hard during this sentimental season. While many people celebrate the joys of Christmastime, others suffer lonely holidays.
During one of the most desperate times of King David’s life, the anointed future king of Israel found himself running from two separate enemies—hardly a time to celebrate. With the Philistines to the west and King Saul to the east, a distressed David sought refuge in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1–2).
David felt very alone.
His situation offers encouragement to us during lonely holidays.
The superscription of Psalm 63 notes how David prayed the psalm in the wilderness of Judah, either while fleeing from King Saul or, later, from David’s rebel son Absalom.
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. —Psalm 63:1
The “dry and weary land” that David described also described his own weariness, and the lack of water around him served to surface an even deeper thirst.
At the height of his emotional and physical distress, David sought refuge in his spiritual life. He yearned for God.
Our physical needs are connected to our spiritual lives for that very reason.
Many places in Israel adapt their modern names from biblical names or references. Horeshat Tal National Park takes its name from Psalm 133.
Horeshat Tal means “The Dew Grove,” a name derived from verse 3:
It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. —Psalm 133:3
Sitting in the shadow of Mount Hermon, this extensive park with its lush surroundings includes beautiful lawns, rolling streams, stone bridges, and a large swimming pool and water slide.
But the best parts of the park are the beautiful groves of centuries-old Tabor oak trees.
- At one time, these oaks grew in abundance on the hills of the Galilee.
- These trees are all that remain—saved partly due to a local legend that claims whoever harms a tree will endure suffering.
The superstition reminds me of a principle of unity that Psalm 133 speaks as truth—not legend.
We can only approach God’s presence God’s way. But are there multiple ways? The New Testament clearly reveals that only through Jesus can anyone come to God the Father (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:23). But what about in the Old Testament?
After King David conquered Jerusalem and secured it as his capital, he desired to bring the Ark of the Covenant up from Kiriath-Jearim into his new City of David. But in his passion to have God’s presence, David neglected to follow God’s principles. That negligence of improperly transporting the Ark cost a man his life (2 Samuel 6).
Three months later, David correctly transported the Ark into Jerusalem and placed it in a tent he pitched for its keeping.
In this experience, David gained a profound respect for God’s holiness.
This principle directly relates to the question: did the Old Testament offer only one way to God?
Except for sporadic fistfights among the priests in the Church of the Nativity, we usually picture Bethlehem as a place of serenity. After all, history reveals the city as the hometown of King David. It was the adopted home of godly Ruth.
And of course, it was the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Christmas cards and carols venerate Bethlehem as an idyllic, quiet place with “silent stars” above it and “deep and dreamless sleep” within its walls. A pleasant picture, for sure.
But it wasn’t always so.
Sometimes Israel’s archaeology offers marvelous vindications to its history and the Bible.
Gravel pathways of the ancient site of Tel Dan lead to a large, rock wall—a city gate that dates from the time of Solomon’s temple. Likely built by King Ahab in the ninth century BC, this Iron Age entrance helped to fortify the city of Dan.
Photo: Tel Dan Iron Age gate near where the stele
was discovered. Courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
And for good reason. The ninth and early-eighth centuries BC saw many battles between the northern kingdom of Israel and the expanding kingdom of Aram.
In the courtyard of Tel Dan’s gate complex, archaeologists unearthed sections of a large engraved stone—an ancient basalt stele.
Its discovery gave hard evidence that King David was no Robin Hood legend of Hebrew history.
Most travelers to Jerusalem never think to come to Nebi Samwil. The minaret towering above the hill looks like a misplaced lighthouse searching for the sea. On a clear day, a visitor can spy the Mediterranean to the west.
Very few come here today. And yet, there were few more important places in David’s and Solomon’s time—if any.
In fact, it signified Solomon’s most defining moment.
What’s more, it represents the potential for ours as well.
I pulled up behind a line of cars at a stoplight, and a guy on a skateboard whizzed past me. Like fast.
He held his arms above his head and swayed back and forth, leaning into each turn and showing his skills to those of us stopped at the light.
As he approached the intersection, he leaned to turn in the direction of the oncoming traffic but his skateboard fell out from under him. He and his skateboard (and his skills) flew into the middle of the intersection where the traffic zoomed both directions—toward him!
A large van swerved to miss the guy and hit his skateboard, bending it and sending it spiraling twenty feet in the air. After ten seconds of screeching tires, scrambling feet, and lots of yelling, Mr. Center-of-Attention grabbed his skateboard and limped off to hide somewhere.
It was the most entertainment I ever had at a stoplight.
And it made me think of life in general.
Ask five people on the street, “How can I find my way to God?” and you’ll likely get five different answers. They may not even believe in God. Or your God.
As I’ve thought about this question, I think it requires we ask another question first.
This one question boils down the issue like nothing else can.
One of King David’s most poignant prayers came after one of his greatest mistakes.
“Do not cast me away from Your presence,” he prayed, “and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11).
Pieces of Hebrew and Christian scripture come together in an ancient building on Jerusalem’s Western Hill. In this one small structure, events of history and tradition combine to offer the ultimate answer to David’s prayer.
In fact, the place offers hope for all of us.