Faith that is shaped and nourished by regular contact with Scripture learns to anticipate sudden turns in circumstances. More often than not a certain merciful lurching becomes our experience as what some call Providence directs our steps in ways that contain equal parts peril and mercy.
Fleeing the irrational rage of Saul, David falls in with the Philistine petty king Achish. David’s emerging military prowess now takes the shape of mercenary pillaging of Achish’s rivals and neighbors. His apparent loyalty (a virtue that is always delimited by circumstance and environment) gains him the Philistine’s affection, a response David’s temperament would seldom struggle to elicit from those who stood near him.
When Achish turns to plundering the Israelite cities, a horrible quandary stands in David’s way. One wonders, as he must have, whether his spear will end up penetrating Israelite flesh, whether the blood of brothers will stain his warrior’s gear. Providence, in the strange shape of reluctant Philistine co-warriors, saves David from the terrible choice that would otherwise have fallen to him. He is relegated to the back lines, not out of any shrinking from his consolidating hero-warrior profile but because others have unwittingly stepped into save him from the worst of dilemmas.
The text does not linger over explanation. Rather it anticipates that a certain readerly discernment will sense the horror of what might have been, detect the silent movement of Yahweh’s hand in the nocturnal deliberations of a Philistine war-camp, and breath a sigh of relief when David is saved from fratricide.
Jesus too both warns and promises sudden changes as his Father’s hand moves the pieces of the historical drama without exempting it of the bloodshed and tragedy that have fallen upon it. Indeed, biblical redemption insists upon walking through the horror that human decision has brought on its tenants’ dark world rather than plucking favorites from it.
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.
Jesus’ perplexed followers are denied the secret knowledge they crave. In its place, they are given a warning that change will come silently, unexpectedly, violently, and by no one’s calendar. Blood will flow, innocent people will perish, the groans of oppressor and victim will mingle in awful harmony.
Yet mercy, too, will be in it.