Second Verse—Same as the First

Context: Saul’s life has been spared on one occasion in his hunt for David. He has recognized (24:19) that God will reward David for sparing his life. Now, however, he is stirred by the Ziphites to pursue David again with the intent of killing him. For some reason, this part of Judah had set themselves against David in loyalty to Saul and had been aggressive in seeking Saul’s success against one of their own tribe. Saul had already commissioned the Ziphites to seek out David and learn of the maneuvers in which he was engaged (23:19-24). Though one sally had been interrupted by an attack of the Philistines (23:26-29), and one had ended in Saul’s impassioned speech about the prophesied success of David’s future, they report to Saul that they have located the place of his cryptic wanderings. So close to the surface is Saul’s seething jealously that this slight provocation makes him push aside all the apparent repentance (24:17) and bolt into action against David again. The dog returns to his vomit and the sow to wallowing in the mire.

I. David again, by Providence, gains advantage over Saul

A. Saul’s army encamped in a place where David, who had reconnaissance troops out scouting the area, could easily detect their presence. They reported to him where Saul had camped, and David went to a place where he could see virtually the entire layout. He could see that Abner was there and that Saul was in the middle of the camp  The outcome of this encounter perhaps provided the occasion when David wrote Psalm 27. “When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.”

B. David did show extraordinary confidence in this situation with an army encamped against him. He asked two of his men if one would accompany him into the middle of the camp. Abishai responded quickly that he would accompany his king into the mouth of the lion. A miraculously induced sleep had fallen on the camp [“a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them” (12)], and David and Abishai walked through all the perimeter lines of sleeping troops, including the leader Abner, and went right up to Saul. Psalm 76:5 says, “The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil; they sank into sleep; all the men of war were unable to use their hands.” Even during their conversation, none was aroused to wake.

C. This type of advantage had happened previously when Saul went into a cave to relieve himself where David and his men were hiding. At that time, the men said, “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.” At that time it seemed good to David to spare him.

D. Abishai, knowing David’s hesitance to take Saul’s life, volunteered to take Saul’s own spear and with one blow end the threat to David’s life (26:8). Again, though by providence he had the advantage and an opportunity to end this threat, it seemed good to him to lean with even greater certainty on the immediate action of God for his deliverance.

1. This event tested David’s determination to do no harm to the Lord’s anointed but submit to hardship rather than usurp what seemed clearly to be a divine prerogative. We must live by conviction based on revelation, not by circumstance. Matthew Henry commented, “His concern respected his innocence more than his safety,” and “He looked to his conscience more than his interest.”

2. This event demonstrated that the Lord would protect David; though he was on the run, he still had the certainty of God’s gracious purpose toward him. Jesus informed Pilate that he had no power except that given him from above (John 19:10, 11). David knew that he could not be guiltless if he took personal vengeance on the Lord’s anointed.

God would strike Saul as he had struck Nabal. Or,

He would die of some “natural” cause [“his day will come to die”]

Or, he would die in battle, which is the way in which God removed Saul, as well as his sons including Jonathan.

3. David took Saul’s spear and his water jug. The one was the symbol of Saul’s supposed self-sufficiency and strength and the other the symbol of his sustenance and comfort. While he slept, both were taken. Because of the divine purpose and the particular providence of God, both of these were now in the hand of David. He took this from Saul in order to typify to Saul the things of which he had robbed David.

II. David Raises the issue of the Stewardship that all have to honor God with their position. Verses 13-20

A. A Speech to Abner – when David reached a safe distance away from the camp, he mounted a hill and shouted to the army in general and Abner in particular.

1. David set the context of Abner’s reputation for bravery and manliness in Israel. How is it that such a man could fall so far short of the first duty of his position to protect the king? David knew that the sleep had been miraculously given by God, but God’s design did not reduce the duty and responsibility of Abner. Like the others, he slept; and while he slept Saul’s “enemies” entered the camp and could have taken his life.

2. In spite of his credentials, Abner has lost his worthiness to protect the king. “The thing you have done is not good.”

3. Unworthy to watch the king, Abner was worthy of death, (“You deserve to die”) according to David’s evaluation. Perhaps this is a harangue designed to give Abner a greater sense of the importance of his task as the protector of the Lord’ anointed. Even as David would not take Saul’s life, so he looked upon those who sought to protect his life as deeply responsible to God.

4. David later shows great admiration and trust in Abner and greatly laments him when he is treacherously killed by Joab (2 Samuel 3).

B. A Speech to Saul (verses 17-20). This speech to Saul shows David’s continued perplexity at the actions of the king whom he served with humility, loyalty, skill, and bravery. At the same time it reveals the irrationality to which perversity of heart will drive a person intent on feeding his jealous spirit.

1. David had been driven away from his call to serve the king. He asked, poignantly, why Saul sought his servant. David was not his enemy who had postured himself against Saul, but served the king. He served him in his distress of soul with soothing and cleansing music. He served him against his enemies by leading in military conquest. Even now, he has given a severe reprimand to Abner for not giving greater protection to Saul.

He asks for a specific designation of what he has done. What evil thing has come from him to warrant these aggressive attempts on his life? Three thousand men camped against him! Really.

If he has done evil, and Saul is the Lord’s instrument to bring David to repentance [as Nathan did later through the simple medium of a story], then they could be reconciled through David’s bringing an offering before the Lord (19a).

If, however, men have been the source of this, if they have conspired to bring down David by lies, making false accusations and weaving stories of conspiracy against Saul, then may God curse them. David shows the two options set before all persons from fallen Adam to the last person to be born of woman—reconciliation through sacrifice or the falling of the just curse on the head of the unrepentant.

2. David had been driven away from the Lord’s heritage. David had a high sense of the blessings that were peculiarly given to Israel.

God had claimed for himself this people descended from Abraham, through Isaac, and from him through Jacob. They were his heritage and he had given them this land for their good on earth and to fit them for their reception of the Messiah from heaven, the nation through whom that peculiar seed of the woman would come.

David knew of the covenantal standing of Israel; he could not simply roam the earth to settle wherever he might find fertile soil and safe residence, but must be among those that were the Lord’s heritage. Here is the basis of his desire expressed in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”

Soon he would go to seek asylum among the Philistines, for he knew that he would never find safety in Israel and would not be allowed to join in worship of Jehovah with the people. Their actions toward him show their own lack of perception. In essence they say to him “Go serve other gods.” Perhaps a person who had less clarity on the covenantal standing of Israel in the Lord’s eternal purpose would have been content to live out his days among uncovenanted people simply for the sake of personal comfort and acceptance.

He adds another note of urgency and earnestness to this plea in 20a. He cannot fathom the thought that he would be pushed out of Israel and would come upon enemies that would slay him and his death would occur in flight from the land given to his people by Yahweh. Chapter 27, verse 1, gives us the process of David’s thought at this time. Perhaps Psalm 27:7-9 gives a picture of the mental musings of David at this time.

3. The king expends his royal energy on one who is insignificant and has no propensity to fight back (Verse 20b). Why should a man who has been called and anointed as king of the Lord’s heritage [Saul] waste his time in seeking the death of a single man who has never sought to harm him. This is like looking for a flea or hunting, in a vengeful way, for a partridge in the mountains. The “King of Israel” now gives his time, occupies his mind and emotions, and musters his army for such a task. Each of us will give an account for our stewardship of gifts, calling, and opportunity for 24 hours a day; we must make sure we are not merely hunting for fleas or indulging hostility against a partridge.

C. An Interchange between Saul and David 

1. We see again the operation of a natural conscience under extraordinary circumstances.

David’s reasoning brought Saul to see again that his hostility  has no source of provocation in David. It is all arising from his own desperate sense of jealousy. His conscience had to face the truth and was brought to a point of embarrassment by the goodness, deference, and sensibleness of David. He says, “I have sinned.” He had said these same words in a panic of embarrassment before Samuel (1 Samuel 15:24, 30), but his concern was only to save face.

Saul asked David to return that he might resume his place as his servant. This was a particular point made by David in his argument. The appearance of repentance must be supported by consent to correct an element of the wrongdoing. From the subsequent acts of Saul, it does not appear that his heart was changed and that he was now reconciled in spirit to Yahweh. He is after self-preservation.

David’s speech also had shown the foolishness of Saul to which he now consents. “I have acted foolishly.” He seems most moved, however, by the reality that his life was precious in the eyes of David. Already he had admitted his irrational actions and immoral foolishness (1 Samuel 24:17-19). He had not, however, given evidence of real repentance, for he was stirred so easily to do the same thing.

2. David responded to Saul, but did not consent to trust him. –Verses 22-25

He returned Saul’s spear. Again David’s respect for Saul as the anointed one is evident, for the king cannot be without his emblem of strength. It would now always remind Saul, for the short time he had to live, of his foolishness, David’s generosity, and that his only strength was in his spear and not in the Lord. David could say, “Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation.” Psalm 27:9. He knew that all the things that he prays will not happen to him, had happened to Saul.

He professed that he acted righteously in sparing Saul’s life; God had put him to the test again, to see if he would do what was right, and David chose the best part.

For the preservation of his own life, and for the ascent to the throne he looks to God and not to Saul. His words to Saul, “So may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord,” were sung by Israel: “Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; . . .Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:12, 14)

He trusted, though he now was an exile and would not stay in Judah, that the Lord would deliver him “out of all tribulation.” Again in Psalm 27:13, David testified, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!”

Saul had prophesied (1 Samuel 19:23, 24) as the Spirit of the Lord overwhelmed him in his protection of David and Samuel. Now, apparently, Saul becomes deeply aware that he cannot stop the will of God for David and all will happen as Samuel had said (1 Samuel 15:26-28). Already Saul had recognized that David would have the kingship (1 Samuel 24:20). Now again, in a moment of clarity, he said truly, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them” (25)

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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