Many years ago I heard a joke about a California Yuppie who was enjoying a drive in his brand new BMW. He had the top down. He was hanging his arm out the window. He was letting the wind go through his hair. Suddenly another car missed a stop sign and T-boned him right on the driver’s side. When the EMT’s arrived, they found him pacing in front of his wrecked car, crying out in anguish, “My BEAMER! MY BEAMER!” The EMT said to him, “Sir, don’t worry so much about your car! Let me take care of that mangled arm. The man looked down at his left arm and after a pause cried out, “MY ROLEX! MY ROLEX!”
Obviously, this man didn’t know what was truly valuable. It is a common problem. Part of my walk with the Lord has been learning what is truly valuable and what is less so. Much of the teaching of Jesus Christ concerns trying to get people to understand what is valuable and what is less so. He recognized that too many people in this world know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. He saw too many people living for material gain while remaining spiritual and relational paupers. To try and get people to see that there are more important things that money and material gain, he said:
What is highly valued among men is detestable in God‘s sight. (Luke 16)
We all need to continually remind ourselves of that.
In our Scripture reading today, we can learn that God wants us to value something that very few people actually value.
In First Samuel 26 we find an account of how David, for a second time, refuses to take advantage of an opportunity to take Saul’s life. The first time came a few chapters back when Saul went into a cave where David and his men were hiding intending to use it as a bathroom. As Saul was doing his business, as Saul was at his most vulnerable moment, as Saul was at his greatest need to concentrate only on one thing, David could have easily killed him but he refused and only cut off a corner of his garment. This time was totally different. It is in a different place, with different circumstances and even, I believe, a somewhat different reason for being included in the Bible. In chapter 24 David is hiding in a cave when Saul just happens to drop by. In chapter 26 David initiates a night time penetration of Saul’s camp. That difference will prove to be crucial in understanding why I Samuel includes two stories of David sparing Saul’s life. Nothing in the Bible is ever wasted and nothing is included just as filler. Every story has its particular purpose and the goal of Bible study is to find that purpose and, having found it, to make a personal application.
I want to tell you right up front that I believe the story in I Samuel 26 is a lesson about loving our enemies. Let’s look a bit at the account.
I. David and Abishai: Night Patrol vv. 1-12
1 ¶ The Ziphites went to Saul at Gibeah and said, "Is not David hiding on the hill of Hakilah, which faces Jeshimon?"
Jeshimon was the name for the desolate wilderness in the far southern reaches of Judah. There was a desert in that place called the Desert of Ziph and the nomads who lived there were called Ziphites. They were loyal to Saul and had informed Saul of David’s movements on earlier occasions. And so Saul takes 3000 of his elite, handpicked troops, yells “Tally Ho!” and sets off looking for David.
Saul and his army camped beside the road on the hill called Hakilah. Verse 4 tells us that David heard that Saul had come after him and sent out scouts to find Saul’s precise location. With that background, the drama begins to unfold in verse 5:
5 Then David set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. He saw where Saul and Abner son of Ner, the commander of the army, had lain down. Saul was lying inside the camp, with the army encamped around him.
This was obviously designed to protect the King. All the appropriate security measures were in place. Thought had been put into the arrangements.
Deep into the night, David poked his head above the rocks. He was on the hill overlooking the camp. Unnumbered stars filled the desert sky. Down below David saw Saul’s army spread out before him: 3,000 men, their supplies, their donkeys, their wagons all carefully arranged. In the very middle of the sleeping bodies, he spotted a spear stuck into the ground. That would be Saul’s spear. It was like a sceptre that said “Here sleeps the king.” Nearby was a water jug in case the king got thirsty. Next to him was Abner, his number one general – Saul’s very last line of defence. Everything was quiet, peaceful and serene.
Suddenly David is inspired to enter the camp. It’s an insane idea, a suicide mission. David turned to the two men with him—Abishai and Ahimelech—and said, “Who will go with me?” I’m not sure why Ahimelech is mentioned here. Ahimelech is only mentioned here in the Bible. He is a Hittite, a foreigner and a gentile. He is obviously, however, one of David’s closest aides. Perhaps all the author intends to show us is that David was even able to inspire loyalty in people who were not Israelites. Perhaps this simply shows that God is not so much interested in a person’s heritage or ethnicity as much as he is interested in a person’s FAITH in him. I don’t know.
Ahimelech doesn’t take up the challenge here. Abishai, David’s cousin, says, “I’ll go.” And so he and David stealthily went down to the camp. They slipped from rock to rock, down one side of the ravine, up the other. Finally they reached the outer lines. Strange, it seems the whole army is asleep. There are no sentries awake. There is nobody alert to sound an alarm anywhere. We later read that the Lord himself had put everyone into a deep sleep. Saul’s army is as helpless as if every soldier had been both drugged and chained.
Eventually they came to the center where they found Saul sleeping on the ground, his spear stuck next to his head. All around him his personal bodyguard was sound asleep.
8 Abishai said to David, "Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice."
“Abishai wants to play his favourite party game here —pin the spear in Saul. He argued that God had given David this great opportunity. God WAS giving David a great opportunity, but not in the sense that Abishai had in mind. David was being given an opportunity to love his enemies. You see, God was testing David here. I believe that there are times when God places us in situations to test us. The rack of pornography in the variety store may be a test. That juicy gossip conversation that begins at coffee break could be a test. Your friend’s betrayal could be a test. The cutting remark of a co-worker could be the Lord seeing how you will react and what you will do. Keep in mind, God isn’t tempting you. Temptations are designed to encourage us to do evil. The devil tempts us in the hope we will do evil. God tests us in the hope that we will choose the right.
This is just such a test for David. David had at least five good reasons to kill Saul. First, he had the motive. Second, he had the opportunity. Third, he had the weapon. Fourth, he had the encouragement. Fifth, he had the track record—he has already killed Goliath. We all know that once we have done something difficult, it becomes easier to do it again. David had already killed someone and even though Goliath was an enemy of the Lord and David was used by God in that case, David had already crossed the line of taking someone’s life. That would make it easier to take Saul’s life or at least let someone else do it. Everything argued in favour of letting Abishai do the dirty deed and then hightailing it out of there.
But David didn’t let him. In verses 9-11, David gives two reasons why he didn’t kill Saul.
First, it wasn’t his place.
“Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?”
The answer is, no one can. Saul was still the Lord’s anointed king of Israel. Yes, he was out of God’s will. Yes he was a selfish man. Yes he had murderous thoughts. Yes he was disobedient but he was still God’s man. For David to seek personal revenge against him would simply be wrong.
Secondly, it wasn’t the right time.
“The LORD himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed.”
David had learned much from his earlier dealings with Nabal. He had learned that the Lord had his best interests at heart and would look after him. He learned that the Lord would avenge and vindicate him. The Bible forbids seeking personal revenge even though we have been greatly and repeatedly wronged because it’s not our place to seek revenge. And we can’t be sure the right time has come. God is perfectly able to take care of righting the wrongs done to us—but in his own time and in his own way.
David then took Saul’s spear – his sign of royal authority - and his water jug. He didn’t intend to keep them, however. He is just borrowing them as evidence of his faithfulness and good will toward Saul.
II. David and Abner: Who’s Got the Spear? vv. 13-16
He and Abishai crossed back to a safe distance away on top of a large hill. When he was safe, David shouted out to Abner:
"Aren’t you going to answer me, Abner?" Abner replied, "Who are you who calls to the king?" 15 David said, "You’re a man, aren’t you? And who is like you in Israel? Why didn’t you guard your lord the king? Someone came to destroy your lord the king. 16 What you have done is not good. As surely as the LORD lives, you and your men deserve to die, because you did not guard your master, the LORD’s anointed. Look around you. Where are the king’s spear and water jug that were near his head?"
I would not want to have been Abner at that moment. The embarrassment probably came close to killing him. David had proven himself more faithful to Saul than even his closest and most elite soldiers had proven to be.
III. David and Saul: The Final Meeting vv. 17-25
At this, Saul finally woke up. Somehow, even though his mind is still fogged with sleep, Saul began to see some sense:
“Is that your voice, David, my son?”
Why is my lord pursuing his servant? What have I done, and what wrong am I guilty of? Now let my lord the king listen to his servant’s words. If the LORD has incited you against me, then may he accept an offering. If, however, men have done it, may they be cursed before the LORD! They have now driven me from my share in the LORD’s inheritance and have said, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the LORD. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea—as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
Here, David told Saul that he doesn’t understand why Saul has spent all this time and energy trying to kill him.
Interestingly enough, David only presented two possible options – either God incited Saul against him – in which case it would be because David somehow sinned – or someone has been telling slanderous lies about him to Saul. I find this interesting because David doesn’t present the most obvious and indeed truthful third option – Saul is acting in an evil and sinful manner spurred on not by God or man but by his own insecurity and jealousy.
Notice that when David faced this difficulty, he honestly searched out an answer to his problem. He even entertained the thought that he himself was somewhat at fault. That can be a good thing to do. When we are facing difficulties, it is a good thing to have the humility to be able to admit that maybe we are part of the problem. Maybe we are sinning. Maybe we are being selfish or proud or arrogant or malicious or self-protective or are harbouring anger and rage. We may not be doing anything wrong but it is always good to humbly and prayerfully explore that possibility. It is hard work. It can be tearful work. It can even be humiliating work. But it is good work.
"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)
Joh 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
In counselling class we were told, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”
I knew one gentleman who could never hold down a job for very long. Whenever he lost or left a job and I asked him what happened he always blamed his boss. He could never admit responsibility. He was too proud to admit that he might be part of the problem. But David wasn’t. He was willing to admit that he might be part of the problem and he was willing to go to God in confession and with the proper sacrifice for his sins but he honestly couldn’t figure out where he was at fault here.
What happens next is one of Saul’s rare moments of lucidity. For a brief time Saul regains his sanity in regards to David. In verse 21 he says,
“I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly."
David doesn’t come back. It would take much more than this brief moment of sanity on Saul’s part to convince him to come back. David was willing to forgive, but not willing to reconcile until he had seen fruit in keeping with repentance. But he was willing to send the spear back. After all, the spear was the symbol of the throne and David would not keep it out of respect for Saul’s position.
22 "Here is the king’s spear," David answered. "Let one of your young men come over and get it. 23 The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness. The LORD delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed. 24 As surely as I valued your life today, so may the LORD value my life and deliver me from all trouble."
“The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness.”
In the moment of crisis, it all comes down to this: Either you believe in God or you don’t. If you believe in God, you’ll do one thing. If you don’t believe in God, you’ll do something else. It’s as simple and profound as that. That’s why revenge is fundamentally for those who don’t believe in God. For if you don’t believe there is a God who rewards righteousness and faithfulness, what motive is there for being righteous and faithful? Why be good if being good is never rewarded? Nothing is more fundamental than this. If God is God, we can step back and let him handle revenge and getting even and paying back our enemies. If we refuse to believe that, we are on our own, which means you’ve got to seek revenge because you can’t trust God to take up your cause. David believed in God and that made all the difference. If a man believes in God, it changes the whole picture. He doesn’t have to take matters in his own hands; he can wait for God to work out his situation.
Here are the final words of Saul, strangely prophetic and stranger still coming from Saul’s lips.
“May you be blessed, my son David; you will do great things and surely triumph” (I Samuel 26:25). He virtually says, “You are a better man than I, and you are going to win in the end.”
With that they parted and went their separate ways. It was the last time David would see Saul alive.
The major lesson in this account is somewhat different than the time David spared Saul’s life in the cave at En Gedi. In chapter 24, David is hiding in a cave when Saul just happens to come in. It was an unplanned encounter. David was learning a negative lesson—don’t return evil for evil (Romans 12:17). That’s a crucial lesson of the spiritual life and one we all need to learn. But that will hardly suffice to explain why David, at great personal risk, slips into Saul’s camp, takes the spear, slips back out, calls out to Saul, and eventually returns the spear. It doesn’t make sense to do all that just to make the same point he made in the cave—that he won’t kill Saul. You see, the very last thing David says to Saul in verse 24: “I valued your life today.” In other words, he was showing Saul that, despite everything, he was going to show Saul love and he was willing to risk his life to prove it.
Very few of us ever have enemies who hate us as much as Saul hated David. Very few of us here have even been involved in a war where there was a clearly defined person or group of people called “the enemy.” Our enemies are more likely to be people close to us. Most of our enemies will come from our own families, from our circle of friends, our co-workers or even our fellow church members.
This account applies to all of us because it is about loving our enemies. Even though Saul tried to kill him, David loved Saul and in this final encounter still values his life. In New Testament terms, David was learning the positive lesson of Romans 12:21,
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Of all the teaching of Jesus, his teaching about loving our enemies is one of the hardest things he tells us to do. Keep in mind that love is more than just an emotional feeling – it is an act of the will. Sometimes, doing something in love involves doing something against our personal feelings. Loving our enemies can even mean seeing a good opportunity and putting ourselves at personal risk to help someone who doesn’t like us. This is more than just not returning evil for evil. It involves overcoming evil with good. It might even involve going into the camp at midnight, and lay it on the line for the sake of those who are trying to hurt us.
Some of you sitting here are thinking, “I can’t do that.” You are probably right. On your own, you probably can’t value the life of an enemy. That’s why you need to tap into the Spirit of Christ. Christ himself is the embodiment of the principles of this account. Saul, that bitter, angry man, represents all of us apart from God. He lives to get even, hatred guides his every step, and envy has rotted his bones. When confronted with his evil deeds, he can only say, “I have sinned.” David is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. When he said, “I valued your life today,” he was really saying, “I risked my life for you.” That sounds a lot like what Jesus did. Romans 5:10 says, “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”
This is the Gospel: Through the death of Jesus Christ, God takes his enemies and makes them his friends.
Through His Spirit, God gives us the power to do what He himself did.
13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Php. 4)
What do I want you to take home from this message? First of all, I want you to admit that it’s possible through Christ to love your enemies. If you’re not even open to it, you will never get there. I once presented this idea to one fellow who was going through a divorce. In this case, his enemy was his wife. He told me that I didn’t know anything about reality. All I can say is that handling it his way with hatred and revenge didn’t work very well either. I know the whole concept is difficult. I have to admit that valuing my enemies isn’t my default mode either. Secondly, the next step is prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to work in your life and produce his fruit of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. We are going to need these things if we are ever going to put them into practice. Third, it is my prayer that you will remember this message when you are faced with this kind of situation because you will be. In fact, you might be facing it right now.
C. 2010 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.