The World in a Downward Spiral

Phillipp Ottenburg

Looking at the world can make us scared and anxious. But Bible prophecy and the visual imagery of one of David’s stories, show us how the downward spiral will really end.

When I was a child, I was always afraid of pulling the plug after my bath. Nothing happens at first … And then, almost imperceptibly, the water level begins to lower. Suddenly, a whirlpool forms over the drain, causing the water to spin. The closer to the bottom of the whirlpool, the stronger the pull. I was also afraid of the sucking noise that whirlpools make, especially when the water has mostly drained and it’s at its loudest. When I was little, this sound terrified me.

The whole world has been in an even greater downward spiral since sin entered it, along with all its consequences (Genesis 3). The relentless turning of this whirlpool is especially noticeable in this day and age, and it seems to be growing louder and faster. Biblical values and truths are simply being drained away. More things are being twisted, and everything is tangled up. Directionless people who are ignorant of the Bible, are being swept into the current. Everything seems to be falling apart. This whole house of cards, organized by man, is unstable and on the verge of collapse. If we were to make a list of everything that’s going on in the world, it would be very long indeed. We can summarize this state of affairs by quoting the Bible: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thess 2:7a).

And when we add in our own personal problems and difficulties, the situation may become too much for some people. But God’s Word provides the key to having a steady boat with a solid, secure anchor in the midst of this world’s downward spiral. With everything that is going on and everything that is yet to come, we can remain calm in our own lives and in the face of global events. Yes, the world’s in a downward spiral—but He’s going to fix it.

Let’s examine David’s life. Its wonderful prophetic images point to the true Shepherd King of Israel, Jesus Christ, and His incarnation, as well as His second coming and the messianic kingdom that it will usher in. His story, person, and environment form an important basis for biblical prophecy. And His story, with all of its glorious prophetic shadows and images, can also personally encourage and amaze us.

Consider the events surrounding David when he was hiding in the cave of Adullam. This was a time of flight and persecution, which prophetically points to the hidden kingship of Christ today. The hardship and flight of David and his companions, is also an illustration of the distressed people of Israel at that time and in the future. After staying in the cave of Adullam, David and his 300 men were still fleeing from Saul. His journey from one desert to another was full of fear and distress.

A Flea on the Run
David was initially staying in the desert at Ziph. Then he moved on to the wilderness of Maon, but he didn’t feel safe there either. David was experiencing a downward spiral. Next, he and his closest companions fled to the area of the Dead Sea, to the wilderness of Engedi, yet another area with many rocks and caves (1 Sam 24:1). The Dead Sea … It doesn’t get any lower than that.

Are you also fleeing from one desert to the next? Have you hit rock bottom? Are you tired and drained? Afraid and in distress? Are you also feeling hounded inside, with no rest and no peace? Maybe you can’t switch off your churning thoughts at the end of the day, and you’re lying awake in bed wondering, “How can I go on like this?”

Saul was pursuing David with a whopping 3,000 men (1 Sam 24:2). David spoke to Saul twice: “After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea!” (v. 14; cf. 26:20).

The image of Jesus Christ shines so gloriously through this comparison—Christ in His lowliness on earth, a picture of His hidden kingdom. A flea is barely noticeable at around 4 mm in size. It’s a parasite with no wings, but it can jump far with the aid of powerful hind legs. Doesn’t the world think of Christ as a parasite? As a foreign object they wish would disappear? It was the same with David. Saul was following an insignificant flea.

It wasn’t easy for David to bear or endure this downward spiral, fear, and constant rushing. To the contrary: It affected him to the point that he even said that Saul would cause his death. For all his reliance on God’s goodness throughout the various situations that God had ordained in his life (Ps 23:6), David thought it was all over. The whirlpool was raging inside him and affecting the reality he perceived on the outside.

We’re familiar with that in our own lives too. At heart, we know that God will achieve His purpose for each one of us. He will judge the enemy and defeat him. We know that He is omnipotent, and that nothing is beyond Him. And yet David illustrates the reality that faith isn’t always steady. We experience fluctuations, doubts, fears. We’re good at keeping up appearances by radiating certainty, firm faith, and trust. We want to show others that we’re true men and women of God. But on the inside, haven’t we all been in a situation where we thought, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Sam 27:1)?

The beauty of David is his sincerity toward God. He reveals his weaknesses, and yet is still a man after God’s own heart. We should find that encouraging. He also receives this title because he is so honest. We don’t have to pretend for God. Imagine what it would be like if your loved ones were pretending to be something they’re not, to get you to spend time with them. You’d find it simply unbearable.

So, what did David continue to do, even in his times of greatest need? Once, he was even almost stoned by his own people. “And David was greatly distressed.” Yet Scripture then  says, “But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (1 Sam 30:6, ESV). 

Your world, your circumstances, or your personal affairs could be caught up in this downward spiral. You feel like a little flea, on the run, insignificant. You’re helpless in the face of a superior power, as well as all of the big events taking place in the world. We may be experiencing anger and resentment against political decisions, everyday injustices, or the way that people treat each other. But we should be doing one thing: strengthening ourselves in the Lord our God.

How did David do it?

By talking with God continuously. He cried out, challenged, reminded, pleaded, thanked, and more. That’s how so many wonderful Psalms came to be. Yes, David was on the run like a small insect, full of existential fear. His world seemed to be in a downward spiral, and he felt like he was at its mercy. But he strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

The Unused Spear
When David was at Engedi, two situations arose that impressively demonstrate why he is a type of the Messiah. And from a pastoral perspective, that is of utmost importance.

Twice, Saul was completely at the mercy of David and his men. But both times, David renounced the power that those situations had handed him. David said that he didn’t want to touch the anointed king. He was convinced that final judgment upon the rejected belonged to God. It had already been determined that David would be king of Israel, but at that time, Saul still held the position.

In a way, this also applies to the present day. Saul was still in power as Satan, the prince of this world, is still in power. But Christ, as typified by David, stands firm as King. It is God who deposes and installs kings.

The first of the two situations is recorded in 1 Samuel 24:3-8. David and his men were in a cave when Saul came in to relieve himself. So, Saul was at the mercy of David, who was with his men at the back of the dark cave. But David only cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

In the second situation, Saul was asleep in an encampment (1 Sam 26:5-12). What makes this story interesting is that David (the stronger) infiltrated Saul (the weaker). And it happened at night which, again, is highly appropriate from a salvation standpoint. At the Messiah’s first coming to earth, Jesus (the stronger) also infiltrated the domain of the prince of this world, during the night of Israel and the world of nations. And the same will again be the case at the Lord’s return.

Saul was lying in the midst of his encamped people. Abishai, son of Zeruiah, wanted to accompany David on the incursion. The two found Saul asleep, with his spear and water jug beside him. Although it was an ideal opportunity to finish off Saul, the spear remained unused. Abishai would have been only too happy to use the spear, but David once again refrained from doing anything else to Saul.

What would we have said as one of David’s closest companions? After all, they were just as affected by Saul’s persecution as David was. Their wives and children were also in danger. Wouldn’t we have reacted like Abishai? Would we have grabbed that spear if we could?

Now You Must!
In both situations, David’s attitude was in complete opposition to that of his warriors. They were angry and didn’t understand what David was doing.

What if David had killed Saul? What would it have meant? David would have immediately taken over the kingship; wouldn’t everything have been fine? The downward spiral that he, his family, and the kingdom were stuck in would have ended. But couldn’t Christ have literally and immediately assumed kingship upon His arrival here on earth? Instead, He spared the enemy, renounced His power, and prolonged a life of suffering and misery. That’s why anger was spreading around David. So, the hiding in caves and behind rocks continued; the racing hearts continued; being driven out continued. As a result, when the men encountered Saul in the cave, they reacted: “And the men of David said to him, ‘Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, “Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you”’” (1 Sam 24:4).

Now you must!

But David doesn’t use these “appointments” to seize power. We could say that David’s followers were living in a beautiful, imminent expectation of David’s future kingdom. That’s an illustration of the seemingly unbearable problems faced throughout the entire world and redemptive history. “When will the day of Christ’s reign finally arrive? How much longer, Lord? What’s keeping you? Now you finally must! Lord, are you asleep?”

Remember the Sons of Thunder, who wanted to call down fire straight from heaven (cf. Luke 9:54)? “You must seize power now!” This distressing in-between time is characterized by God and Christ’s concealment, while we ask impatiently, “When will the time be fulfilled? When will the Lord finally come?”

When the time was fulfilled, God sent His Son for the first time. And when time is again fulfilled, God will send Him a second time. “Here is the day!” cried David’s men, the day of King Saul’s destruction. And yes, the day that our Lord will reign, arrange, set right, and judge is established—that day when all enemies are put under Jesus’ feet and death is finally conquered (1 Cor 15). It is definite. But … in God’s timing.

Our Lord Jesus is still sitting at the right hand of God the Father, seemingly hidden and inactive from a human perspective, and waiting for that day, as the Bible says (Heb 10:13). We are waiting with Him, and will reign with Him directly after the Rapture; the Head and body are united in awaiting the day of His return in glory. Many terrible things will happen on earth, but we remain hidden together with Him, the Head, as His body. And all on God’s timetable.

Times and dates are not concerns for either David’s companions or Jesus’ disciples (cf. Acts 1:7). In this way, David’s friends, warriors, and closest companions are a fitting and prophetic image of a waiting and suffering creature, and also a fitting image of the urging of Jesus’ disciples: “Now you finally must!”

We can absolutely pray, “Lord, come quickly,” but it must always be in the knowledge that it is God’s plan and His appointed time. Therefore, wait patiently along with Him, our Head. Whether it was the prophets who researched the exact dates of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy (1 Pet 1:10-12), or David, the motto remains the same: through suffering into glory. And so it was with Christ.

The Corner of His Garment and the Cross
What was it like when Christ was here on earth? His message was that the kingdom is at hand; it was already “chomping at the bit.” But Christ renounced His powers. Was it easy for the Lord? We know that He wept with others because of His great mercy. The miracles He performed proved to be a small sample of the greatness to come. They were signs of His kingdom, a foretaste of what is to come.

And so, the corner of Saul’s garment in David’s hand was also a foretaste of victory as a whole. Since the Crucifixion, the corner of Satan’s garment has been in Christ’s hand. There was certainly an immense temptation for David to use the spear quickly—not just for the corner of Saul’s garment, but for something else entirely. Imagine what the parallel circumstance must have been like for Christ. In Hebrews 4:15 we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Or in Hebrews 5:8, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”

What was Jesus’ temptation? Wasn’t it the same as David’s? To seize power quickly, changing everything in one fell swoop before the appointed time. If David had two opportunities, Christ had dozens more. He would have been spared the Cross. That is what His temptation in the desert was all about (and coincidentally, David was also in the desert): “And [the devil] said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours’” (Luke 4:6-7).

Christ had been promised all of this by His Father. But the devil said, “I’ll give it to you sooner!” The Lord was challenged to prove Himself over and over. Just think of the mockers: “Come down from the cross. Help yourself. He can save others, but not Himself. He could have summoned twelve legions of angels…”

It must have been so difficult for the Lord. He could easily have demonstrated His power, but would not. It would have been a small step to go from being the Lamb to being the Lion of Judah. His own brothers also challenged Him: “So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here’ … But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private” (John 7:3-6, 10).

Christ didn’t grasp at His riches in order to be like God. He emptied Himself and became human, under the Law. The Cross—the corner of the garment—displays the supreme proof of His abdication. If Christ had yielded at any point, the Cross would never have happened. But He kept to the appointed time. Not even His great anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane could dissuade Him. He considered His Father’s will to be the primary thing. Separated from His power, silent, dependent, limited in His agency, impotent and weak … This is how He—the Anointed One of God—presented Himself to His bitterly disappointed disciples.

When David approached Saul in the encampment, he was accompanied by someone who was absolutely enthusiastic for the task and had immediately responded to David’s request: Abishai, son of Zeruiah. Fittingly, “Abishai” means “father of will and willpower.” Zeruiah, Abishai’s mother, was one of David’s sisters. Remarkably, her name means “enemy of the Lord.” When we center this story on Jesus, it reminds us of Peter, who was the first and only one of the disciples who was willing to boldly approach Jesus by walking on the water.

Abishai wanted to kill Saul. “Now you must! Not just the corner of his robe, but the power! Take up the spear!” It’s humanly understandable, but in this situation Abishai proved to be a son of Zeruiah in the truest sense of the word: an enemy of God. And figuratively, an enemy of the Cross. Peter also said to the Lord when He announced His imminent death on the Cross: “This shall never happen to you.” Here too, the reaction was understandable from a purely human perspective. In his imminent expectation of the kingdom, Peter was demanding: “Not the Cross, but power!”

In response, Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” meaning, “Depart from me, adversary!” (that’s what the word “Satan” means). Peter was being an adversary of God’s plan. I don’t think Jesus was really referring to the devil himself; he didn’t even want to stop the Crucifixion, but went to Judas to tempt him to betray the Lord. Peter, on the other hand, wanted to prevent it from happening. So, in this situation, he was called an adversary of God’s plans.

Let’s consider what it means to affirm renunciation of power, both for David’s friends and for Jesus’ disciples. Of course, accepting the Cross has consequences. The disciples wanted to stab, hit, and fight. Just think of Peter severing Malchus’ ear. But instant seizure of power and impatient enforcement of that power are earthly principles. What characterizes a faithful and mature believer, by contrast, is the ability to wait for the points in redemptive history that God has ordained. For if we were to anticipate them, it would mean that we don’t trust God, nor do we believe that His timing is good and ideally chosen.

And yes, that means we have to trust, letting Him do what He must and be at His mercy. In order to affirm traveling the narrow way with Christ, the Lord promised His disciples that they could co-rule in the millennial kingdom: “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30).

What does this mean for our life? First of all, we need to realize that we aren’t the Lord’s disciples; we’re His body. And, as members of the body of Christ, if He is our Head and is waiting patiently at the right hand of God for the day of His return, then we need to wait with Him and endure all things. Even after the Rapture, we’ll continue waiting with Him: waiting for the times that God has ordained.

We can be assured that one day He will judge! He will fix things, put His plans in order, and judge justly. And when we bow to this will of God, when we choose to wait with Christ, then this attitude can put many things in our lives in order now. Peace and quiet set in, and even serenity despite the maelstrom.

David did eventually become king, and a modest kingdom of peace arose under him. When Christ returns in glory with His saints, He will stop the downward spiral. He’ll calm the waters of the raging sea of peoples. This outlook can help us to be still, to live out our faith, and to grow in the Word and in the knowledge of Him.

So when this biblical prophecy is fulfilled, the world will recover from its tailspin. The same has happened before in the story of David and will metaphorically apply to us. With that, I’d like to conclude: “Then Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold” (1 Sam 24:22).

Midnight Call - 08/2023

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety