“During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. David longed for water and said, 'Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!' So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the LORD. 'Far be it from me, LORD, to do this!', he said, 'Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?' And David would not drink it.” [[2 Samuel 23:13-17]]
A long, long time ago, there was a baby born in the little town of Bethlehem. People from all over the world have heard his name. That name was 'David'. Have you ever wondered what life was like for him growing up? Can you imagine what the world looked like through David's eyes? He was the youngest of eight brothers, all strong sons of their father Jesse. Bethlehem was their life, their world. David spent his life outdoors in Bethlehem's fields; he knew the area like the back of his hand. When he was old enough, those fields were the fields where David tended his father's sheep. He spent his days out there, alone with his music and the sheep (and the occasional lion or bear). And when he or his sheep were thirsty, he knew just where to get water. It was from the well by the town gate, the well of Bethlehem.
When David was just barely into his teens, he was probably confused when Jesse called him out of the fields, away from the sheep, to come meet an old guy named Samuel who poured greasy oil all over him. But back to the sheep he went, until called away again and sent to entertain King Saul. But David still went back home as often as he could to care for his sheep. When his three oldest brothers enlisted in the army, David made sure to bring them bread from Papa Jesse in Bethlehem. And I'm sure, whenever David went home, he eagerly drank water from his hometown well and thought about his childhood.
But after that whole Goliath thing, the simple life of youth was over. He became best friends with the prince, he became a leader in the army, he became the king's son-in-law, he became a sensation. But celebrity has its drawbacks; it's not all glitz and glamor. When jealous Saul got in a murdering mood, David went on the run. David set up camp at a stronghold called Adullam. His family and all the men of the countryside who were unhappy with the status quo joined him. With his brothers there, with his cousins there, at last David had a little taste of Bethlehem, a taste of the home he missed so much.
But then the message arrived that the Philistines had taken over that little town of Bethlehem. Can you imagine how sick to his stomach David must have felt to learn that Goliath's family and friends were in his town? It must have gotten David thinking about the days of his youth, before Saul, before the Philistines – when everything was peaceful and innocent, when David was home. I'd bet that when David closed his eyes, he could picture it all perfectly. And his heart was filled with this longing, this nostalgia. Now I'm sure David had water there at Adullam, probably in cisterns that filled with rainwater. But this was the dry season now. The water left in the cistern had been there a while, stagnant and brackish. With every sip he took and winced, he got missed the familiar well of Bethlehem even more. One thirsty day, David was musing out loud about it. I'm sure all his soldiers from Bethlehem nodded their heads in heartfelt agreement. But three of David's top warriors loved their leader more than they loved life, and they decided that if David's thirsty for Bethlehem water, well then David will get Bethlehem water!
They fought their way for miles through the Philistine camps until they reached the well of Bethlehem. They went miles again back to Adullam. Can you imagine the look on David's face when they walked back into camp? No matter how much he longed for that water, he knew that he and his own satisfaction weren't worth the risk of human life. Only God was worthy of that. The water might as well have been their blood, and so he treated it that way: he poured it out to God on the ground as an offering. And David's words might as well have been, “Render unto David what is David's, but render unto God what is God's”.
There's a powerful lesson in that, about what it means to have our priorities in the right order, about what it means to make sure that our lives are caught up in giving the God-treatment only to God and not to any hero, not to any celebrity. But is there maybe, just maybe, even more going on here? I'm convinced there is. Henry Francis Lyte, the man who wrote the hymn “Abide with Me”, also once ended another poem this way:
There is a well in Bethlehem still,
A fountain, at whose brink,
The weary soul may rest at will,
The thirsty stoop and drink:
And unrepelled by foe or fence
Draw living waters freely thence.
Oh, did we thirst, as David then,
For this diviner spring!
Had we the zeal of David's men
To please a Higher King!
What precious draughts we thence might drain,
What holy triumphs daily gain!
A thousand years after David's time, there was a much more important baby born in Bethlehem. There is a well in Bethlehem still! It's the only well we'll ever need, the only one that can give us living waters. That well is Jesus Christ! All of us have thirsts in our lives, all of us are parched and filled with longing from time to time. Turn to Jesus and drink freely. No one bars your way. You don't have to fight through the Philistines to get to this well of Bethlehem. Jesus already conquered all our Philistines. No Philistine can ever separate us from the well of his love. Go to Jesus. Turn back to him again and again and again, rest by his side, and let him quench all your thirst. There is no water purer, no water freer, no water more satisfying than the water of salvation that he offers. But it works more than just a one-time salvation; this water is good for every need, every thirst. We don't need to stay content with sipping the mosquito-infested water of the world's cisterns, looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places. Just turn to Jesus. He satisfies.
When David was brought the water from the earthly well in Bethlehem, he poured it out on the ground. He poured it out because it was like blood, and he knew that he wasn't worthy of blood; blood was reserved for God. But look at this great reversal! The water that gives us life, the water from the heavenly well of Bethlehem, is the blood of Christ that was shed on Calvary, the precious redeeming blood that washes away every stain of sin and purifies the soul to stand in the presence of a perfectly holy God! The blood that means life and death belongs to God alone – and yet when God became flesh and blood, he offered us not merely the flesh and blood of an Israelite soldier, but the flesh and blood of God the Higher King. And he said that unless we ate and drank of it, unless we made him the sole source of our nourishment and our satisfaction, we should surely perish, because only in that costly gift could we ever have life everlasting! And he invites us: Come to the well and drink freely, for the bill has been paid in full already!
But as you come to this well, to this Jesus, don't keep the water to yourself. Look to the example of these three men. They went to the well of Bethlehem and out of love they brought that water to someone else. Friends, the world is full of Davids. The world is full of people who are incredibly thirsty, full of dry and dusty souls. Every person you meet is either drinking from this well already or badly in need of its water, even if they don't realize it. This is the only water that can satisfy. The world is full of Davids, full of people whom this water can make priests and rulers in Christ. Greater than David is the least man or woman in the kingdom of God!
There are so many lost and thirsty around us. Can we see that hope of glory in them? Can we find it in our hearts to love and serve them for the sake of our King of Kings and Lord of Lords? We're called to let no effort be spared in serving those around us for the love of God. And what better way to love than to bring the water of life? Bring them what you've found: this satisfaction, this refreshment, this healing from the wounds and scars and wars of this life. Bring them this precious Jesus, carried in the bucket of your heart that overflows with his love. Let this be our challenge: to see this whole community come to thirst no more, because they've turned from the stagnant water of this world's cisterns to gathering around the well of Bethlehem, filled with the water of our true home. Make no mistake: there is a well in Bethlehem still, and all who drink of it may have life, and have it to the full. Amen. Hallelujah and amen!