Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Where Do You Turn When You're Afraid?

Leslie Basham: Yesterday, Nancy Leigh DeMoss began a series called . . .

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “The ABCs of Handling a Meltdown.” 

Leslie: Yesterday she shared about a meltdown that affected her.

Nancy: I didn’t tell you this part. When I got back to my house after the Sunday when I couldn’t stay in the church service and I was crying for no big explainable reason, I got home that day, and there’s a family living in my home, a real sweet couple who serve in our ministry and two little children.

I said to the husband when I came in (they’re in their twenties), “I really feel sorry for you. You’re living in a house here with a fifteen-month old daughter, a post-partum wife, and a menopausal woman who is crying all the time, basically.” It must take a lot to live in that kind of household. A.J. is up to it, by God’s grace. These things have a way of sanctifying men, too.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, November 19.

Where do you turn when you are afraid? Nancy helps us find a solid answer to this question in Psalm 34.

Nancy: The title of this psalm tells us the setting. I just read through the psalm in the last session and told you we’d come back to what was the setting when David wrote the psalm. Now, many psalms that David wrote, we don’t know what occasioned the psalm, but in this case, the title tells us something about the circumstances.

If you don’t go back and look at the passage that’s involved, the psalm doesn’t seem to fit what’s described here. That’s why we’re going to go back and look at the passage that’s involved.

The title says, “This is a Psalm of David when he changed his behavior before Abimelech.” The NIV says, “When he pretended to be insane.” The NASB says, “When he feigned madness.” He changed his behavior. He pretended to be insane before Abimelech so that he drove him out, and he went away.

Now, let me ask you to turn to 1 Samuel chapter 21. While you’re getting to 1 Samuel 21, let me just step back and give you a broader context for where this chapter falls. Sometimes I’ll say in these sessions, “Of course you know that,” and I realize a lot of people listening to a program like this are not as familiar with some of these passages in the Old Testament, so I want to give you the context, and then it all starts to fit together.

Don’t turn there, but if you go back to chapter 16, you see that David, who was the youngest of eight sons, was chosen and anointed by God to be the next king of Israel, but there was an obstacle. There was already a king of Israel. His name was Saul.

So David knows that God has told him he’s going to be the next king, but there’s already a man on the throne whose name is Saul, and that proves to be a challenge.

Chapter 17 is the familiar story of David fighting Goliath. Goliath was the Philistine champion. Do you remember the name of his home town? Gath. Remember that. It’s going to be important when we come to the passage that prompted the writing of Psalm 34.

In chapter 17, this is also important, David kills Goliath with Goliath’s own sword. Remember, David didn’t have a sword. He just had a sling. So he slings the rock at the giant; the giant falls down, and then David takes Goliath’s sword and cuts off his head. So Goliath is actually killed with his own sword in David’s hand. That’s chapter 17.

Chapter 18, Saul is impressed with this young "whipper snapper" who has done this amazing feat—it’s God who has the amazing feat—but Saul ends up putting David over his army, and David is wildly successful. You read three times in chapter 18 that David was successful. Wherever he went, God was with him. He was successful. He was constantly winning battles, and the people loved David.

Women especially loved David. They would cheer for him when he came back into town, and the man who was already on the throne, Saul, grew to love David less as the people grew to love David more. Saul was threatened; he was jealous. So he set out to destroy David.

In chapters 19 through 20, Saul becomes a madman. There are numerous attempts, one after the other, to kill David. David is dodging spears. Occasionally he and Saul would get things back together, and then Saul would throw another spear, and David has to run again.

At the end of chapter 20, Saul’s son Jonathan, who has also become David’s dearest friend, is caught between his dad and his best friend. He comes to David and essentially tells him, “My dad is going to kill you, and you have to get out of town permanently. You can’t come back.”

So David has to flee. He becomes a fugitive. He’s just lost his best friend; he’s a fugitive from the king. The king has a lot of power, and out of desperation, David takes matters into his own hands. He embarks on a series of actions that at best are questionable and at worst are foolish and irrational.

In chapter 21, the passage we’re coming to, in the first several verses of that chapter, David, as he’s running away from Saul, goes to the priest in a town called Nob. He leads the priest to believe that Saul has sent him on a mission, so he’s being deceptive. This guy’s desperate. He’s hungry, so he begs for food. He talks the priest into giving him some of the holy bread, the bread of the Presence that is not supposed to be given to lay people.

Then he says, “I not only need food, but I need a weapon to defend myself.” All the priest has there is, would you believe, the sword that had belonged to Goliath. That was in the priest’s possession at this point. Well, David is familiar with that sword—he has seen it before; he has handled it. He says, “I’ll take it.” He’s desperate. He needs something.

Now, the results of this whole trip to the priest—the taking of the bread and the sword—prove to be disastrous because, as you remember, somebody sees David there and reports to Saul. Saul’s been looking for David, and somebody says, “Here’s where David was. Here’s what happened.”

In chapter 22, which is beyond where we’re going to go today, Saul ends up killing eighty-five priests, and every man, woman, child, and animal to be found in the city of Nob. So David’s choices, David’s running, David’s desperation out of fear lead him to some steps that end up being very costly for a lot of people.

Now we come to verse 10 of chapter 21, where David continues fleeing.

I was talking about this whole passage and its connection to Psalm 34 yesterday with my friend Holly Elliff, who you’ve heard numbers of times on Revive Our Hearts. Holly has taught through this passage before. Holly’s a mother, so she’s a really good story teller. So I said, “Holly, would you come in the studio with us today and just tell this part of the story that helps to set us up for what Psalm 34 is all about?” The intro to Psalm 34 says it was this scene in chapter 21, what happened next, that is what caused David ultimately to write Psalm 34.

So, Holly, pick up where David has been to the priest; he’s got the food, and he’s got the sword, and he continues running. Pick us up with the story from there.

Holly Elliff: Well, there were a lot of moments in David’s life where he was applauded as a hero, where he was trusting God for what he needed each moment, but this part of this chapter is not one of those moments.

David was not at a moment in his life where he was trusting what God had for him. This story is a really funny picture of what happened to David as he went his own way. So David is handed the sword of Goliath. We are told in verse 7 that a servant of Saul was there that day, but that servant was detained there in Nob for several days. Because of that, David was free to go on his own way. During that period, the rest of this chapter happens.

David is handed a sword. It happens to be the sword of Goliath. He gives an excuse for why he doesn’t have a weapon. We know that the truth was that he left in a hurry. So he fled without food or weapons or anything. So he has Goliath’s sword. Here it is; it’s handed to him. And David says, “There’s none like it. Give it to me.”

Now, David, in the past, has told God, “There’s none like You.” But now he’s saying about this sword, “There’s none like this sword. I’ll take it.”

Now, you remember who the sword belongs to, right? It was Goliath’s sword. We know that Goliath was a huge, a tall man. The sword was probably also huge. But David is carrying this sword.

It says that he arose, he fled that day from Saul, and he went to Achish . . . He could also be called Abimelech, which was kind of his regional name. He was the king of a city called Gath.

As Nancy has already mentioned, we’re told that Gath was Goliath’s home town. Now, it’s very interesting to me that David would choose to run to this place, especially since he’s carrying a huge sword that belonged to Goliath.

As he enters the town, the servants of the king come, and they say to David, “Aren’t you David, the king of the land? And did they not sing of you?” They’re reminding David of his record as a hero. They’re recognizing him as he comes into town.

The interesting thing is that David is surprised to be recognized in a place where he has not been a leader, but they know who he is. It’s as if he did not recognize the fact that if he was carrying a six-foot-long sword, a gigantic sword belonging to Goliath, a sword they would have known because Goliath grew up there. Goliath was their hometown hero. David has just walked back into Goliath’s home town, carrying Goliath's sword, that they know David killed him with.

In verse 12 it says they recognized David. They know who he is. They’ve heard of his reputation. They become aware that he was the killer of Goliath, that he’s wielding Goliath’s sword, walking in like a king into their town. It says in verse 12, “David took these words to heart and greatly feared the king of Gath” (NASB). 

I think that maybe this was a light bulb moment for David where suddenly he realized he was in big trouble, that he had made a choice. Through the avenue of deception and lying, he was now was in a place where he was in big trouble. He has obviously left God’s direction behind and has gone his own way. He is in a town where he has just walked in carrying the sword of the home town hero. He is now recognized by the people for who he is, and he became very afraid.

Now, there are other moments where David had been afraid, and he had run to the Lord with that fear. But he does not do that in these circumstances. This chapter is hilarious to me. When you really think about what was going on in David’s heart and mind.

Verse 13 says, “So he disguised his sanity before them.” David knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn’t even that it was unintentional. David knew exactly what he was doing, and this was his plan for his own salvation at this moment.

It says that “he acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and he let his saliva run down into his beard” (NASB). Now, when I read that, I thought, why would that be mentioned that he let saliva . . . he was drooling into his beard. I thought that was very interesting that it’s even noted in this passage. But the reason is because that was very revolting to a man in that day.

To drool into your beard was about as rude as spitting in someone’s face. That would be the only thing that would be more revolting to these men. So David has sunk to the lowest level of degradation here. He has made himself look like an idiot, like a fool, and he’s intending to do that. He has chosen to do that.

He is seeking his own devices to save himself. Here he is, scribbling on the doors, drooling in his beard, acting as if he has no mind at all. King Achish (or Abimelech) says to his servants, “Behold, you see this man behaving as a madman. Why do you bring him to me?” (verse 15, NASB).

So here the people who have recognized David, have brought him now into the presence of the king are saying, “Look, this is the guy who killed Goliath. Aren’t you going to do something to him?” But David, out of concern for himself, is feigning madness. So when he’s brought into the presence of the king, he is so pitiful that the king doesn’t even want to do anything about him. He simply says, “Get him out of my presence.”

He says, “Do I lack madmen that you brought me another one? Get this man out of my presence. Shall this one come into my house?” And he literally kicks David out of his kingdom because he is so pathetic in front of this king.

As I read this, I had to ask myself, “Have there been moments in my life when I have so ignored what God would have me do that I ran to my own devices?” Later, I think, What was I doing? How foolish that is to think that anything I can pick up and use in my life would rescue me more than the God of the universe.

David had great moments of victory in the past. He knew that God was able to rescue him. But in this moment of his life, he chose to go his own way.

Nancy: I think we see here, Holly, that fear can cause us to do desperate and foolish things and to act in crazy ways, which only worsens things.

As I see this account of David, I think, How many times have I been acting like a madman, or a madwoman, under circumstances that are prompted by fear or confusion or uncertainty?

Here you see David acting in ways that are uncharacteristic, and he’s on a roll. But God has a way of bringing him back to the refuge that there is in God. So in the very next paragraph, chapter 22, verse 1, you see that David leaves the town of Gath. He leaves the king there, and he escapes to the cave of Adullam. That may be where we think David actually wrote Psalm 34.

He finally has a chance to reflect on all that has happened, on what he has done, on how he had lost perspective. You see such a contrast between David’s behavior in leading up to the cave, in the town of Gath, and taking matters into his own hands, going to his own resources, and now he realizes, This is where I end up when I go out on my own. When I don’t run to God, when I do run to my own resources, I end up acting crazy.

I think God must have had some other method. God knew that Saul was going to lose it. God knew that Saul was going to be pursuing David. God knew that David was going to need rescuing. But you just wonder if David leaned on his own understanding in that moment rather than saying, “Lord, how do You want me to get out of this situation?”

He obviously wasn’t thinking when he goes to Goliath’s home town with Goliath’s sword. But interestingly, God lets him go that way. God lets him have his way. And how often does God allow us to go our own way so that we can experience the consequences of trying to figure this out on our own?

I sometimes think that God lets us out on a whole lot of leash sometimes so we can hang ourselves and then come running back to Him and say, “Lord, I can’t do this without You. I do need You.”

He wants us to experience the futility of trying to manage without God, letting us see what the end result of that is. And then there is that moment . . . thank God there are moments of repentance when we wake up. We come to our senses, and we say, “How foolish was I! What was I thinking? What in the world was I doing?” In that moment we realize, instead of turning to the Lord, we went to our own plan and ended up having to act like a madman to get out of the circumstance.

Now this psalm, Psalm 34, where we’re going to spend the next couple of days, comes on the heels of this experience.

So here is David sitting in a cave with a chance to think, a chance to reflect. The evidence that you belong to God is that when you see the light, you respond to it. When God shows you what you’ve done, when you see that you’ve been going in the wrong direction, you turn around.

So in Psalm 34, we have David exalting God for who He is and for the fact that when we run to Him, He will provide for us. If we go our own ways, we’ve got to provide for ourselves. You see this theme of deliverance throughout Psalm 34. David is saying that when you take refuge in the Lord, instead of running to your own resources, that’s a place of safety, that’s a place of security.

He starts out . . . and we’ll just start into this psalm, and we’ll pick it up in our next session . . . but he starts out by saying,

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LIRD; let the humble hear and be glad (vv. 1–2).

He’s turned from himself and his own resources and his own plans and his own schemes. He’s being reminded that the Lord is truly a deliverer, that the Lord can be trusted, and that the Lord will meet his needs. So what comes out now is praise.

What comes out when he’s going his own way, looking to his own resources is lunacy, madness, acting like a madman. What comes out when he has turned his heart and realizes that God is his provider, God is his resource, God is his refuge, what comes out is blessing and praise and joy and contentment.

As I think about moments in my life, and you think about moments in your life, where you find yourself losing it. Don’t tell me I’m the only one who ever does this in this room. (Laughter) We all do at times. I believe that more often than not, the reason we’re acting in uncharacteristic ways, out-of-control behaviors, losing it emotionally, not being able to bring our emotions under the control of the Spirit, the reason we end up feeling afraid and hopeless and desperate and depressed may be related to the fact that we’ve been going our own way, trying to solve things with our own resources, trying to make things work.

Ask yourself:

  • Where do I turn when I get in trouble?
  • Where do I look for help?
  • Where do I turn first?
  • Do I use God as a last resource, when nothing else has worked and my world has gone crazy, or do I turn to God first?
  • Do you turn to a friend?
  • Do you turn to television?
  • Do you turn to yourself?
  • Do you turn to the past experiences that you’ve had? “Well, this has worked before.”
  • Do you turn to alcohol or drugs or illicit sex?

Where do you turn to get those needs met, when you’re desperate, when you’re scared, when you’re anxious, when you’ve got the king chasing you, when you’ve got circumstances falling apart around you? What are you in the habit of running to?

I think when we come to Psalm 34, we’ll see that David has learned a really, really important lesson, and that is: When I am afraid, I will trust in You. I’ll make You the reference point in my life. I’ll orient my life around You. I will look to You. I will cry out to You. (We’re going to see that in this psalm.) I will call out to You. I will not rely on my own understanding or my own resources, but, Lord, I will cry out to You.

Then the promises of this psalm are so rich and so many. God hears; God answers; God delivers. David sits in that cave and says, “Lord, I’m coming back to You. This is where I should have gone all along, and I know that in coming to You, I will be safe.”

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back to lead us in prayer.

If you know what it’s like to let emotions run out of control, I hope you’ll pray with Nancy. She’s in a series called "The ABC's of Handling a Meltdown." We’ve just seen how David combated his destructive emotions by turning his focus on God. “I will bless the Lord,” he said.

Emotional low points will come at different times throughout your life. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a copy of this series to listen to when you feel discouraged? It will help focus your mind on the Lord and the truth.

You can order the entire series on CD when you visit, or listen online. Each day the program audio is posted. You can also read each day’s transcript. Again, it’s at

To help keep your mind on Jesus through the year, we’d also like to send you the 2014 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar.  It’s called “The Wonder of His Name.”  Artist Timothy Botts illustrated twelve names of Jesus of this calendar, using calligraphy and watercolor. We think you’ll love it and find it’s a beautiful addition to your home.

We’ll send “The Wonder of His Name” wall calendar when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Call us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit

Did you know that praise is not a feeling? That’s what Nancy says. She’ll explain more tomorrow.Now she’s back to lead us in prayer.

Nancy: Thank You, Lord, for giving us examples in Scripture of those who are not perfect but who do have meltdowns. As I look at David’s meltdown in this situation, and I think about my own not too long ago, Lord, I can just see ways that my heart and mind were not running to You and that I was looking for some of my own solutions to challenges that I was facing.

Thank You, Lord, that You bring us back to the point as Your children of realizing to whom shall we run other than You. You have the Words of life. We have no hope; we have no life; we have no grace in times of trouble apart from You.

Lord, this nation is facing a lot of trouble. Our world is in a lot of trouble. I have a lot of friends who are facing a lot of trouble, and I’ve got a few troubles of my own. I just want to say, I know that You are good, and You are a refuge, and that You can be trusted.

So, Lord, help us to run to You and to find all the refuge that we need. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.


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