David – Lessons From His Wilderness Years – Psalm 63

Question: What are some of the characters in the Bible who did a lot of walking?

Possible answers: Abraham, Jesus, David, Elijah, Paul, Moses.

Question: Which one of these characters spent a lot of time in the wilderness?

Answer: Almost all of them!

Many of the great men of faith in the Bible spent a lot of time in the wilderness and had very important experiences there. Moses spent 80 years of his life in the wilderness. It was where he met God. God used his first forty years in the wilderness to prepare him for the Exodus. Before Jesus started His public ministry, He spent 40 days in the wilderness. John the Baptist spent much of his life in the wilderness.

There is something about the wilderness that makes it a fertile ground for a person to focus on God. There are few distractions. Few worldly pleasures. Few comforts. Few people. A person can be alone with God. Time in the wilderness can cause a person to draw close to and rely on God free from any distractions. It is a testing ground. It is a foundation and character building ground.

Today we are going to look at a character from Hebrews 11 who spent a lot of his life in the wilderness. David.

David spent about 13 years in the wilderness as a fugitive.

Key Text 

Hebrews 11:32-34 – And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

Hebrews 11:38 – Of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Today we are going to focus on David’s wilderness years. First, Let’s have a bio of David’s life up to that point and how he ended up in the wilderness.

I. The Pre-wilderness Years

Meaning of name: Beloved

Ancestry and family life: Great-grandchild of Boaz and Ruth. Descended from Rahab and Salmon, who was one of the spies sent by Joshua to Jericho. David had seven older brothers.

Historical – David was born sometime 1040 BC. He lived in the city of Bethlehem, which was later called the city of David.

Bible trivia question: Whose name is mentioned in the Bible more than any other?

Answer: Jesus (990)

However, David is not far behind. He comes in second at 983 times!

David was a shepherd so he was used to being out in nature.

A. David anointed as a young man –

1 Samuel 16:12-13 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

David was probably already a believer before this, but this is the point where his walk with the Lord is first recorded in the Bible. And it starts with a bang.

He was a simple shepherd in the fields and then he was anointed king. His journey was starting with a bang. Everything would go smoothly after this, right? After all, God had chosen Him.

B. Things went smoothly for a while

  • David started serving Saul in the palace. He worked in the king’s court.
  • David defeated Goliath.
  • David became close friends with Prince Jonathan.
  • All the people sang David’s praises.

1 Samuel 18:7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”

Everything seemed to be going well. However, it was these very things that stoked Saul’s jealousy.

II. David’s Wilderness Years

He might have expected that his journey would be easy. God chose him. God anointed him. He was going to be king. But the final destination was a long way off.

Saul turned against David and wanted to kill him. David had to run for his life. He would spend about 13 years as a fugitive of Saul. These journeys would take him through the wilderness. He hid in caves. He escaped around mountains. He experienced the elements. He often lacked food. He was under constant threat of spies finding him out and reporting him. During all this time, he had to provide for himself and for the men that followed him. Eventually, he had to flee the very Promised Land and pretend to be a mad man in front of a foreign king.

As a fugitive, these are some of the things David faced.

  • Loneliness. Isolation from his best friend. (Jonathan).
  • Physical hardships
  • Mental stress and fear for his life
  • Enemies and spies.
  • An unclear destination. Doubt.

God had anointed David as king. He was chosen by God. He was the recipient of a promise and blessings from God. But his life sure didn’t look like it. Did God make a mistake? Had David gotten it wrong? Why did God allow David to go through these wilderness years? He could have deposed Saul at any time. It is clear that in God’s divine providence, He allowed for David to spend these years in the wilderness to teach him important lessons that he needed to learn in order to be a faithful follower of the Lord and a wise king.

To see those lessons, we will look at two passages. One is a Psalm that David wrote himself while he was fleeing as a fugitive. The other is a narrative account of an encounter he had with Saul.

Psalms 63 A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
​ O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

1. Growing with God

A. The wilderness developed in David a thirst for God. He alone satisfied David’s soul. (Verses 1-2, 5)

Psalms 63:1-2 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.

David had a nice life before. He was a general in the army. People looked up to him and sang his praises. He had a good position in the king’s court. He could enjoy the delicacies of the king’s table. Then he lost all of that. His life became hard.

But note David’s attitude in these verses. He is not pleading for God to restore his position. He is not day-dreaming about the food that he used to eat or the position that he used to have. He wasn’t seeking after those things. He “earnestly” sought the Lord. He thirsted for Him. The Lord’s presence was like living water to his very soul. He desired the Lord as a person who has wandered for days in the desert without water.

Perhaps it is this deep desire of David for God that was the reason he was called a “man after God’s own heart.”

David’s faith was not theoretical. He had a rich, personal walk with God. His desire to be with the Lord caused him to spend great amounts of time praying. He wrote hymns of praise. He meditated on God and His goodness.

Losing all of the extraneous things in his life, showed David what was really important. Even in the desert with little food, no comfort, and no roof over his head, he could be happy because God was there with him. David realized that God alone satisfies. Joy is not dependent on circumstances, but on your relationship with the Lord.

Example: Looking back at my life, I can remember the times when I thirsted for God the most. Two times I experienced serious pain issues. One time was when I had apendicitis. But it wasn’t the worst. The worst was an infection that caused such pain, I couldn’t do anything besides lay in bed and cry. It was a constant 24/7 raging pain that almost prevented me from thinking of anything elese. During those moments, I could do nothing but cry out to God.

Sometimes God takes us through times of great trial to remind us that we need Him, to remind us that we should seek Him alone to satisfy our souls, and not this world.

Application – What are you thirsting for? Can you say that you are earnestly seeking Him? That you thirst for Him?

Too often, the world satisfies us. We seek after materials and things. We seek after pleasure and entertainment. We set our mind on food and sports and games and movies and leisure and shopping and gadgets and investments and bank accounts and clothing.

It could be that if we keep doing that, God will take it all away and lead us through the wilderness to train us to thirst for Him. We need to make sure that we are thirsting for God Himself and not just the things that He blesses us with.

Let us pray that the Lord will give us new hearts and new desires. Let us stop being easily satisfied with trivial things in this world and look to our heavenly Father to satisfy us with His presence and His Spirit.

B. The wilderness taught David that God’s love is “better than life.” (3)

Psalms 63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

David’s life had been upended. He lost his position. He lost his job. He lost his livlihood. He lost his friend, Jonathan. He was separated from his wife. And he was constantly in danger of losing his life.

Going through these trials had taught David that God’s love in his life was more valuable than all of these things.

We can contrast David’s attitude with Saul’s. Saul had all of the things that David didn’t have. He had power, position, and riches. He was a king, while David was a fugitive. But none of this was enough for Saul. His heart was empty. All of the things he had left him unsatisfied and unfulfilled. The women of the land sang his praises and ascribed victories to him, but David also got praise. Saul compared himself to David and was jealous. The jealousy drove him to blind rage. Saul had everything, but was empty. David had nothing, but was full.

The reason is that Saul did not value having a relationship with God. Because of Saul’s rebellion, God abandoned him.

1 Samuel 16:14 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.

Saul never would have said God’s love was better than life to him. Saul cared not for it at all.

David had learned the secret of contentment like Paul later also did.

Philippians 4:12-13 – I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The secret is to value God’s love, a relationship with Him, more than the things of the world. The secret is to set your mind on things above and not on things on the earth. The wilderness helped David do that.

Spurgeon – “There was no desert in his heart, though there was a desert around him. We too may expect to be cast into rough places…In such seasons, may the Eternal Comforter abide with us, and cause us to bless the Lord at all times, making even the solitary place to become a temple for Jehovah.”

Application – It may be that God is taking you through a wilderness of hard times. Perhaps you are facing financial struggles. Perhaps you are facing health challenges. Perhaps Covid has caused you to get stuck when you were hoping to move on to further studies or a better job. Don’t get angry or bitter or upset. God may be using this to teach you to appreciate His love. He may be stripping away other things so that you will value Him more than anything else. I hope that each one of us can come to the point where we can truthfully say, His love “is better to us than life.”

C. The wilderness helped David learn to meditate on God without distraction (6)

Psalms 63:6 – When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.

Cities are loud, filled with hustle and bustle. There is noise everywhere. And there is stuff to do. Errands. People to see. There are lots of people and lots of distractions.

Modern day cities are even louder than ancient ones. Last week, I was doing a recording and about 3-4 times during the recording a security guard on a motorcycle came around with a loudspeaker reminding us to take our Covid test.

Horns. Music. Shouts. And we have even more distractions with smart phones in hand.

There is a reason that Jesus often went out to the wilderness to pray.

Luke 5:16 – But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

It was a place where He could escape distraction and have a real quiet time of fellowship with His father.

David didn’t pine away in the “boring” or “quiet” desert complaining that he was far away from civilization. Instead, he used that time to develop a deep and personal walk with God. That helped prepare him for his future reign as king.

David spent a lot of his time in prayer, in journaling, and in writing all types of hymns. In the middle of night, when he was assigned guard duty, he spent his time meditating on the Lord. He came to know God and His character much deeper.

Application – It is hard for us in the city with full schedules and annoying smart phones to get that time free of distraction. We need to prioritize it and make a way. Jesus found a way. He snuck away from the crowds. You need to find a way to have that quality, quiet time with the Lord as well. We need that each day. And we also should have occassional times of intentional retreat where we can spend more extended time with Him.

Perhaps today, your application is simple. Give your spouse or a roommate your phone and tell them, “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU TO GIVE THIS BACK TO ME FOR THE NEXT 30 MINUTES” and then have your quiet time with the Lord free of distraction.

D. The wilderness caused David to cling to the Lord rather than people (8)

Psalms 63:8 – My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

One obvious fact about wildernesses, is there aren’t many people there. David was separated from his wife, Michal. He had said, “good-bye” to his best friend. The people that gathered around him were rough and tough. Many of them were fugitives as well. David was on the run. He couldn’t have regular interaction or fellowship. In some ways, it was a very lonely life for David. However, this loneliness drove the young warrior to the Lord.

The people that he may have clung to and drawn strength from were far away. People that should have been his friends and supporters betrayed him, spied him, and pursued him.

So what did David do? He clung to the Lord. The Lord was His constant. No wonder David often referred to God as His “rock,” “shield,” and “refuge.” The people around him would disappoint David throughout his entire life, but God never did.

Application – Do you cling to people or do you cling to the Lord? People come and go. It is likely that many of your friends have left China in the past couple of years and moved on. God hasn’t. Most of you are far away from your families and the support that they give. I believe God wants to use this time to teach us to cling to Him. While people come and go and sometimes disappoint, God never does. Fellowship with people should not replace our fellowship with God.

2. Waiting for God

1 Samuel 24:1-7 When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 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.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way.

1 Samuel 24:10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’

1 Samuel 24:12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.

A. David had served God with faith, but couldn’t see the promise (Heb 11:6)

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

David was anointed as king. Samuel told him that God chose him to be the ruler of His people. However, it wasn’t long before things went downhill. David was a fugitive. The promise seemd farther than ever from being fulfilled. It wasn’t as if David was serving at court as the designated heir to the throne.

In the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye said, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

God’s choosing of someone does not mean that their life is easy or comfortable. Normally it is the opposite! The disciples were chosen by Jesus. None of them had an easy life. They were all martyred, except for John, who was exiled.

This is where faith comes in. If David just looked at the circumstances, he would have doubted. To an objective viewer, it certainly did not appear he was on path to the throne. But David had faith. He believed in God and he believed in God’s promise, though it was intangible and seemed impossible.

God was training the future king to learn to wait for the Lord’s perfect timing. There were surely many other things that God wanted to teach David in these wilderness years:

  • A good king should understand his people, all of his people. By experiencing what it was like to live at the very bottom of the economy, David would have a deeper understanding of the struggles and needs of the common man. It would help him develop a heart of compassion for the poor and outcast as well as a sense of justice since he hadn’t received it.
  • Most of all, as we have discussed, God taught David to depend on and trust in Him alone. David had to depend on God for everything, food, water, and just surviving. Total dependence on God is a very difficult and scary lesson to learn. Waiting on God’s timing is one aspect of total dependence on Him.

B. Opportunity does not equal permission

David had the opportunity to kill Saul. Saul was separated from his guards and easily within David’s grasp. Many of his followers even encouraged him to do it. Saul was trying to kill him for years. Few people would have blamed him for it. But he did not have permission to do it. 

In today’s world, technology has given us the opportunity to do many things never even dreamed about before. The internet makes almost any manner of sin easily accessible, anonymous, and at our fingertips. But this doesn’t mean we have permission to do those things.

Few people would have blamed David for killing Saul. Saul was trying to kill him. David had already shown great patience and self-restraint. Most would argue he was fully justified in killing Saul. It would have practically been self-defense. But God would not have been pleased. And His opinion is worth more than everyone else’s combined.

C. David chose to patiently wait for God

Throughout his thirteen years as a fugitive, David repeatedly made the following commitment.

1 Samuel 24:10 – ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’

God had anointed Saul as king. And David would not take matters into his own hands. He would not be the means by which God judged Saul. David realized that God did not need any help. He was fully capable of deposing Saul without David’s help and exactly at the right time and manner. David realized that vengeance is the Lord’s and He would repay.

None of this was an act. When Saul died years later, David wrote a memorial for him (2 Samuel 1) and declared a day of mourning and fasting. David put to death the man who claimed to have murdered Saul.

We can see that David was legitimately willing to wait as long as it took for God to bring about his promise to him, even though he didn’t know how the journey would end. Because David waited, everyone could see his pure heart. And when he became king, it was clear that this was of God and not of man. No one could argue against it or claim that David had usurped the throne.

Not everyone in Scripture waited for God. Some took matters into their own hands. Abraham and Sarah tried to help God with the promise of a son and it ended in disaster.

Application – What are you waiting for?

  • Marriage
  • Child
  • Financial break through
  • Career change
  • Improved health

If you take matters into your hands, it will not end well. Will you choose today to patiently wait God in faith?


When you look at the whole life of David, one can wonder how David made the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11. David committed adultery and murder. David was a sinner, like we are. His are just more visible because he was a very public figure. This list in Hebrews 11 reminds us that God is in the business of forgiving sinners. Not one of these characters deserves to be on the list by his own merit. Each one is there because of God’s grace.

And that is good news for us. From their lives, we get hope that the Lord will forgive and use us as He did for them. David had a long journey in his walk with the Lord. There were bumps on the road. At times, he stumbled and fell. But God was always beside him. And David hungered for His presence.

We also have a journey. Where do you see yourself in this journey? Are you on the “everything is smooth” part (like David’s early life)? Or are you in the “everything is a disaster part” (walking in the wilderness)?

Sometimes the road is easier.

Psalms 23:2-3 – He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Sometimes the road is harder:

Psalms 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Today we are considering the hard road. Think back over your own life for the past couple of years. Perhaps you have faced some hard challenges. Maybe you have walked or are walking in the wilderness in some ways. And if not, you will!

You probably would not choose to go the wilderness. But if God sends you there, don’t waste it! It is certain that He wants to teach you a lesson. He wants to shape your character. He wants to teach you to have total dependence on Him, to thirst for Him. He wants you to desire His love and presence more than life itself. He wants you to mediate on Him and not be distracted by the world. He wants you to cling to Him more than anything or anyone else. He wants you to learn to have total trust in Him and to wait for His timing.

Jesus said that He is the “bread of life” and the “living water.” Let us not hunger and thirst for things in the world, things which are temporary and don’t satisfy. Oh, that we would have the heart of David and say, “My soul thirsts for you…because your steadfast love is better than life.”

Let us pray. I would like to invite each one to come before the Lord and pray on your own. Ask God to give you this heart. A heart that thirsts for Him. The desire to fellowship with Him more than anything else.

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