Week of June 18, 2017
The Point: Respect the authorities God has placed in your life.
David Spares Saul’s Life: 1 Samuel 24:1-15.
 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.  Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage.  And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’?  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.’  See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it.  May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.  As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you.  After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea!  May the LORD therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.” [ESV]
“A Corner of the Robe [24:1-22]. Saul had bitter experience with the Lord’s chastisement, especially during his long pursuit of David. The previous chapter saw the king bearing down on his fugitive son-in-law, only to have the Philistine army unexpectedly launch an invasion that called him away. We are not told how long it took Saul to subdue the Philistines, only that when he returned from the campaign he immediately turned his efforts back to chasing David. This shows that not all human success is a sign of God’s favor. Moreover, Saul failed to reflect on these experiences, not realizing that the God who gave him victory over Israel’s enemies was the same God who preserved David from his attacks. Just as Pharaoh persisted in opposition to God after ten successive plagues on Egypt, Saul persisted in his murderous efforts against David. So it is in general with unbelievers, whose sinful and selfish plans may be checked by setbacks, sickness, or other restraints, each of which provides an opportunity to reflect on the state of their souls. Like Saul, as soon as God providentially restores him, the unbeliever plows ahead, digging his eternal grave with a renewed commitment to sin and self. So it was that when Saul returned from battle with the Philistines, he picked three thousand elite troops and set off to finish David once and for all . Those who trust and serve the Lord have the blessing of knowing that God’s saving help is sure to appear in time. Exactly the opposite is true of those who turn their backs on God: they can be certain that the day of God’s judgment will arrive, often in a sudden and surprising way. Engedi is a region of shale cliffs, with numerous caverns and a perpetual spring of fresh water, which made it a favorite place of refreshment for shepherds with their flocks. David and some of his men had fled into one of these extensive caverns, and before long Saul also entered alone. There David and his men were huddled with Saul’s elite army down below. How secure Saul must have felt in his strength! What a sight for David and his men when into their hideout strode the unsuspecting king. The men could hardly contain their delight, saying to David: 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’ . Yet the Bible does not record any such prophecy, and given what would transpire here, it is likely that the men simply engaged in some creative theology. Having exposed Saul to humiliation and assault, the text turns its attention to David’s side of the cave. Spurred on by the excited urging of his men, David began quietly sneaking up behind his unsuspecting enemy. Finally, he drew near, his band of followers collectively holding their breath. But David hesitated, before finally reaching forward to act. But it was not Saul himself for which he reached, it was only his royal robe lying on the ground. This dramatic scene unfolds in the brief understatement of verse 4: Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. We can imagine the outraged disappointment of David’s followers as they watched David quietly return with Saul’s blood unshed. The opportunity would be lost! David returned to wage a battle of wills with his men, who could only have been frustrated by his apparent loss of nerve. But it was not a lack of nerve that stayed David’s hand; indeed, as he returned to his hiding place David was grief-stricken for even the small gesture of vindictiveness he had displayed. He said to the 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 . Why was David conscience-stricken? Verse 5 says: Afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. David knew that the royal robe was a symbol of Saul’s authority as Israel’s king. We saw this in 1 Samuel 15:28, when Samuel took the tearing of Saul’s robe as a symbol that the kingdom would be torn from him and given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. David assailed himself with the fact that in striking out at Saul’s robe, he was in effect rebelling against God. David knew that Saul did not remain on the throne by accident, but by God’s sovereign will. However little respect David now had for Saul, he had a deep reverence for the office Saul held, seeing it as a manifestation of God’s reign. Looking on the situation from the Godward direction, David remembered that Saul was still the Lord’s anointed , so to strike against the king was to strike out at God. Assured of this conviction, David not only explained himself to the men but strove with them so as to prevent them from harming Saul . Reflecting on this dramatic episode, we first ask how David reasoned through this providence. He would have agreed with the men that it was God who had placed Saul at their mercy. Yet the mere fact that God has provided an opportunity does not guarantee that He intends us to exercise it. Often, as is the case here, God tests His servants to reveal the true state of their hearts. When Jonah arrived in Joppa to find a ship bound for Tarshish already in port, God was not facilitating the prophet’s rebellion but rather testing his faithfulness. God likewise tests us in the presence of opportunity to sin in order to make known to us the true condition of our hearts and to cause us to draw near to Him for strength and protection. It would not have been hard to justify slaying Saul. The king was guilty and deserved to die for the murder of the priests at Nob, if not for the rest of his many crimes. Moreover, removing Saul might lead to a national restoration of Israel to the Lord. Finally, since David was anointed by God for the kingship, he might be acting within his rights. How many Christians today would give in to such arguments, justifying sinful or unbiblical means with the godly ends that they are pursuing, reasoning that results are all that really matter. David, however, realized that he stood at a critical turning point in his life. God had promised him the throne. Would he take it in merciless blood, slaying with his own hand the anointed of the Lord and with that same bloody hand placing the crown of God’s people on his own head? Whether David would reign was never in doubt, God’s having promised it. But how David would reign and what kind of kingdom his leadership would produce was at stake in the darkness of the cave at Engedi. He realized that it was vitally important for his relationship to God and for his future as God’s servant that he restrain himself from convenient and self-serving sins. David shows, in contrast to Saul, the power of God’s Word to govern one’s passions and restrain them from exploding into violence and sin. Saul is a man who knows but suppresses the truth of God. His reign, therefore, is one of violence and unrestrained tyranny. So powerful is his inner turmoil that he literally walks around carrying a spear, with which he may impulsively strike at any time. David, by contrast, not only knows God, but makes God’s Word a lamp to his feet and a light to his path [Ps. 119:105]. The result is a self-control that is practically impossible for any other kind of man. David is beset with overwhelming pressures to act violently, urged by men who had sacrificed everything for him, and with frustration pent up over years of injustice and cruel pursuit by this tyrant who had seemingly ruined his life. Moreover, David’s act would take place in the dark, giving him full opportunity to shape the record of it as he saw fit. So what force restrained David’s hand? The answer is that the weight of God’s Word upon his conscience gave David self-control so that he did not fall victim to sinful passion. David reflected that Saul was the Lord’s anointed . To govern the will by a reverence for God is sure proof of a heart trained by frequent consultation of God’s Word. Thus David escaped a sin that would have stained his entire future, despite the approval of his supporters. What kind of kingdom could David have ruled if he had gained the throne by cold-bloodedly slaying his predecessor? Christians can likewise avoid the calamities that are so commonplace among the ungodly by submitting our conduct to the rule of Scripture. On the positive side, we also see how David was enabled to provide spiritual leadership even in the face of Saul’s wicked authority. The contrast between David and Saul, so clear inside the cave, is equally clear outside the cave. Starting with David, we see how faithful submission to God and His Word empowers us to exert spiritual blessing in any situation. First, God’s power enabled David to be a peacemaker, in the face of the most wicked hostility . How could David bow to such a despot as Saul, who had done everything to ruin him? The answer is that David had committed himself into the hands of God, leaving his own care to God’s sovereign will. Moreover, instructed by the Scriptures, he left vengeance to the Lord. Imagine the astonished look on Saul’s face, first to realize his narrow escape and then to see his sworn enemy bowing in obeisance. Despite his grievances against the king, David had a faith that empowered him to approach Saul not as an outlaw or enemy but as the faithful subject he had desired to be. David then spoke to Saul: Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? . This was a generous way of interpreting Saul’s policy against David. It is possible that David was aware of some truth in this claim, since Saul surrounded himself with many who would consider David a rival. David’s speech, however, was designed to subdue rather than inflame Saul’s hostility. How many disputes that have escalated to sever friendships and family bonds might have been dissolved by this generous spirit of reconciliation! That even Saul responded favorably to David’s peaceful entreaty proves the teaching of Proverbs 15:1, A soft answer turns away wrath. Second, men and women who live in subjection to God’s Word are able to show their goodwill toward all others. We live in a society increasingly torn into tribes and factions, with each isolated by the hostility of others. Living in accordance with God’s Word, Christians should be like David, who demonstrated to Saul that his motives and intentions were friendly [10-11]. There can be no doubt that Saul, hearing David’s words, reflexively gazed down to the hem of his robe. Seeing the torn corner, Saul would experience the reality striking home with telling force. David’s knife had come within easy striking distance of Saul’s flesh; the man of faith had declined to do to Saul what Saul had spent years trying to do to him. David was proved to be a man of godly principles, and thus virtually the only kind of person who can be trusted not to do harm but only good. So it should be with all believers: our demonstrated record of faithfulness, self-control, and love should commend us as those few who can be trusted when integrity matters most. Holding the corner of Saul’s robe, David had tangible proof that testified to his goodwill and fidelity. Each Christian should ask what proof of goodwill we could display before our neighbors, coworkers, and even enemies. Third, David shows how believers may respectfully deliver God’s rebuke to sin. He declared to Saul: May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. after whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! [12-14]. David was wise to offer this reproof after he had first proved his peace and goodwill. Having previously spoken with humility to soften Saul’s heart, he had earned Saul’s consideration as he now expressed a godly reproof. Finally, David concluded his remarkable embassy by appealing to the Lord for his safety and success: May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand . This appeal to God gave force to David’s prior assurance, I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed . In this way, David advanced his appeal for Saul to rethink his violent pursuit, for those who appeal to God’s justice may be counted on to obey God’s Word in living peaceably with all men. When believers today find ourselves in disputes or disagreements, we should remember that our appeal to God’s justice obliges us to act carefully in obedience to the Lord’s Word. Paul advised, In your anger do not sin [Eph. 4:26 (NIV)]. This is a principle that Christians should apply to every situation, so that our integrity may both glorify God and promote reconciliation with our opponents.” [Phillips, pp. 409-418].
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe the inner battle that took place with David as Saul entered the cave. Why didn’t David listen to his men? Why didn’t David see this event as the work of God presenting him with the opportunity to become king? Why did David refuse to kill Saul? Why was David so guilty about cutting a piece from Saul’s robe?
- What do you learn about God’s providence in this story? How did David reason through this providence? Just because God presents us with an opportunity does not mean that He intends for us to exercise it (e.g. Jonah and the ship going to Tarshish). What are some reasons why God may not want us to exercise an opportunity that He gives us? How can we determine if we are to exercise an opportunity or not?
- What do we learn from David’s actions in this story concerning how we can honor God by the way we respond to those in authority over us? How does God’s Word instruct us in our behavior towards those in authority [see Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-15]?
1 Samuel, Dale Davis, Christian Focus.
The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Inter Varsity.
1 Samuel, Richard Phillips, REC, P & R Publishing.