Lesson 12: David, a heart that loves its enemies

After he spared Saul’s life for the second time (1Samuel 26), David once again fled to the Philistines (1Samuel 27). Shortly afterwards the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Saul and the armies of Israel. Even though Achish, king of Gath, would have taken David with him into battle, the Philistine commanders did not trust him so he was left behind. Rather than go to battle against Saul, David took his men and defeated Amalekite raiders who had invaded southern Judah (1Samuel 30).

GilboaThe battle against the Philistines did not go well for Saul. Israel was routed and Saul’s sons, including Jonathan, were killed (1Samuel 31.1-2). Saul was wounded and ultimately took his own life (vss. 3-6). The Philistines cut the head off of Saul’s body, sending it back to Philistia. They then took his body along with the bodies of his sons and fastened them to the wall at Bethshan (vss. 8-10). Their bodies would have remained in that dishonored condition had the men of Jabesh-gilead not acted valiantly (vss. 11-13).

Coming to the book of 2Samuel, we see how the fortunes of David  changed. He was first proclaimed king over the tribe of Judah (2.4), then over all the tribes of Israel (5.1-5). God had anointed David as the next king of Israel in 1Samuel 16, and now what God had promised had come to pass. David was in a position to pay back his enemies, but what we see from the new king only confirms that he was truly a man after God’s own heart. David did not hate his enemies, rather he loved them!

David’s love for his enemies:

  1. Saul: as we’ve already noted, Saul was wounded in battle and took his own life (1Samuel 31.4-6). However, a soldier from Saul’s army mistakenly believed that David would honor him if he took credit for killing Saul. He was wrong (2Samuel 1.1-16). It is understandable that David would lament the death of his friend Jonathan, but he equally mourned the death of Saul, saying of the one who relentlessly persecuted him, “your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How have the mighty fallen!” (vs. 19). David took no joy in the downfall of his enemy.
  2. Abner: Abner was the commander of Saul’s army (see 1Samuel 14.50), and thus led the king’s forces as he hunted David (1Samuel 26.14ff). After Saul’s death it was Abner who made Ish-bosheth king over the northern tribes, resulting in a bloody civil war in Israel (2Samuel 2.8ff). However, Abner was politically savvy and could see that David was winning over the hearts of the people (2Samuel 3.1), thus he sought to make an alliance with David, uniting the tribes of Israel. In spite of how Abner had harmed him in the past, David was willing to make peace (2Samuel 3.17-21). But Joab, the commander of David’s forces, was unwilling to have peace with Abner. Abner had killed Joab’s brother in battle (2Samuel 2.18-23), and Joab was not willing to forgive. Thus, even though Abner was seeking to make peace, Joab killed him in cold blood (2Samuel 2.26-27). Another of David’s enemies had died, but David found no joy in his demise. Rather, the king mourned and lamented that “a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel” (2Samuel 3.35-38). 
  3. Ish-bosheth: 2Samuel 4 tells how two commanders of Ish-bosheth’s army murdered the king while he slept. Like Abner, they knew that David was gaining power, and they foolishly believed that David would reward them for killing his rival. They were mistaken! (2Samuel 4.9-12). Note how David referred to Ish-bosheth as a “righteous” man, even though this son of Saul had never helped David in all of his plight. David chose to speak well of his rival.

“But I say to you, love your enemies…”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighborand hate your enemy.’“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43–44)

The Pharisees and teachers of Jesus’ day taught that love was reserved for your neighbor (fellow Israelite in their view), but that enemies were to be hated (Matthew 5.43). The Law certainly commanded the Jews to love their neighbors (Leviticus 19.18), but no where did it command them to hate their enemies. It may be that the Pharisees derived their teaching from God’s instruction to Israel that they must utterly destroy the Canaanites (Deut. 20.16-18) or from the language in the imprecatory Psalms (see Psalm 139.21-22; 109). But they had ignored the Lord’s plain teachings that they love foreigners in their midst (Leviticus 19.33-34) and treat their enemies with kindness (Exodus 23.4-5). Tragically, the Jews’ notion of loving others had become so warped that by Jesus’ day they were debating who qualified as a “neighbor” (see Luke 10.29ff). 

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said that His people would be “persecuted for the sake of righteousness…” (vss. 10-12). These are the enemies Jesus says we are to love (vs. 44), ungodly men who hate us simply because we long for Jesus and seek to be righteous like Him. Not only must we refrain from returning hostilities, we must love them! But why? “…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” We read in Matthew 5.12 that we are like the prophets when we suffer for righteousness, but we are only like God if we turn around and love those who hate us! Our Father showers all men with His blessings… our Father gave His Son so that His enemies might be saved (John 3.16; Romans 5.8). And while on the cross our Lord prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34).

David exemplified the attitude Jesus demands; rather than hate those who persecuted him, David loved them. He was a man after God’s own heart.

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