1Samuel 24 & 26 tell two similar stories that happened on different occasions. The setting of 1Samuel 24 is in the wilderness of Engedi, on the western shore of the Dead Sea. In a cave in that region, David was given the opportunity to slay his enemy, Saul. The setting of 1Samuel 26 is in the wilderness of Ziph. There, for the second time, David had the opportunity to kill Saul, to put an end to his mad pursuit. On both occasions David spared the life of his adversary. He did so out of conviction that this was the will of his God.
David’s desire to do the will of God
On both occasions David’s men wanted to take advantage of the opportunity; they wanted to take the life of king Saul (24.4; 26.8). They believed the Lord had given them this opportunity! (Note: there is no record of the Lord saying to David, “I am about to give your enemy into your hand” as his men relayed in 24.4. It may be that they equated God’s promise to deliver the Philistines into David’s hands in 23.4 with God promising to deliver any enemy into David’s hand.) David’s men had been on the run with him. No doubt they were weary and ready to go home. Surely these opportunities to defeat their enemy had come from God!
But David would not strike; he would not kill the king. Even cutting off the edge of Saul’s robe pained David (see 24.5. Such an act would have been seen as an act of disloyalty or even rebellion in the ancient near east) David was convinced that to kill Saul would have been against the will of God, because Saul was the Lord’s anointed (24.6,10; 26.9, 11, 23-24). The Lord had promised that He would choose Israel’s king (Deuteronomy 17.14) and He had specifically chosen Saul (see 1Samuel 10.20-24). Who was David to go against the choice of God?
“Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.” (1Samuel 24.6)
Yielding to God doesn’t make life easier
Chances are if David had killed Saul, much of Israel would have accepted David as their new king. They had witnessed the triumphs of David (see 18.7) and seen Saul descend into madness. In choosing to follow the Lord’s will, David chose a more difficult path. On both occasions, even though Saul gave him assurances, David continued to flee from the king. After sparing Saul the first time, David “went up to the stronghold” (24.22), i.e. one of the caves of Engedi. The second time, David fled to the Philistines because he was convinced that he would “perish one day by the hand of Saul” (27.1).
Yielding to God can make a powerful impression on others
We cannot know how profound of an effect David’s actions had on his men, but we do read that “David persuaded his men… and did not allow them to rise up against Saul” (24.7). Significantly, David’s actions did have an effect on his enemy. On the first occasion Saul declared that David was more righteous than he (24.17), on the second occasion Saul confessed that he had sinned by pursuing David (26.21). Tragically, Saul would not allow David’s mercy to have a lasting effect on him, but in these lucid moments the actions of David deeply moved the king.
We yield to God because we trust Him
How could David spare the life of his enemy? How could he show mercy to a man who had shown him none? Simply put, he trusted in God! He believed that the Lord would avenge him (24.12; 26.10), that the Lord would deliver him from Saul (24.15), that the Lord would repay him for his righteousness (26.23) and that the Lord would hold his life in high value (26.24). David would not strike the Lord’s anointed, but he was assured that God would set right all wrongs.
“Bless and do not curse”
While many applications can be made of David’s commitment to doing the Lord’s will, let’s apply what we’ve seen to Romans 12.14-21.
- Blessing those who persecute us is not what we want to do. But we must do it because it is God’s will.
- Following God’s instructions will not necessarily make our lives easier. God says that we should do our best to be at peace with others, but we cannot control their dispositions and attitudes toward us.
- Consider the effect we can have on others when we don’t retaliate, when we bless instead of curse. In our hyper-politicized world where everyone attacks their opponents, what impression can we make on others?
- We bless rather than curse because we trust in God. Vengeance belongs to Him. He will set right all wrongs!
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