Thursday, May 19, 2022
The First Book Of Samuel. Day 71, David Spares Saul's Life
In today's passage David shows mercy to a man who has not shown any mercy toward him.
"After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, 'David is in the desert of En Gedi.' So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of Wild Goats." (1 Samuel 24:1-2) In Chapter 23 we found Saul almost catching up with David, though he didn't know his prey was so close, but word suddenly came to Saul that the Philistines were invading the nation. Saul turned back from chasing David and went out with his troops to defend the country. This allowed David to escape. But now that Saul has dealt with the latest incursion of the Philistines, he falls right back into his obsessive pursuit of David.
"He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself." (1 Samuel 24:3a) Saul may be a king but he's also a human being who must attend to natural bodily functions. He needs a potty break about the time he approaches this large cave. Leaving his troops outside, he ducks into the cave for privacy to do his business.
This must be a very large cave because it's big enough that David and his six hundred men are able to hide undetected in the back portion of it. "David and his men were far back in the cave." (1 Samuel 24:3b)
We can just imagine how delighted David's men are when this opportunity presents itself. The wicked Saul, because he is attending to a private bodily function, is unprotected. He's come into the cave alone without bodyguards. His urgent need for bathroom facilities caused him to become careless; he didn't have any of his men check the cave before he quickly entered it to answer a call of nature. David's men view this scene as the perfect setup for David to take Saul's life. "The men said, 'This is the day the Lord spoke of when He said to you, 'I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'" (1 Samuel 24:4a)
We don't know when the Lord said this to David but it's clear that the men took the Lord's words in a different context than David took them. The men assume the Lord meant, "I will put Saul within your grasp and you will strike him down." But David sees this as a chance to do something that will soften Saul's heart and perhaps turn him away from his foolish course of action. When the Lord says David may do to the king what he wishes, David's wish is that Saul would repent and allow the Lord to change his heart. Instead of killing Saul with his sword, David sneaks up and cuts off a corner of his robe to prove that he had the chance to kill him but did not take it. "Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe." (1 Samuel 24:4b)
David models godly behavior for us. His heart's desire is that his enemy would make God the Lord of his life, not that his enemy would die. David is doing something the Lord Jesus commands us to do in Matthew 5:44: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." David loves his enemy. He doesn't like his enemy but we aren't commanded to like everyone---we're commanded to love everyone. This love takes the form of caring about the state of a person's soul. We might not like anything about them. We might not be able to find one single admirable thing in their character. But they are a human being, formed in the image of God like all other human beings, and they have an eternal soul. We can care about the state of their soul without liking their personality. We can pray for them to turn to the Lord and be saved even if they have wronged us. Indeed, it's to our advantage and everyone else's when the one who sinned against us gives their heart to the Lord because when they submit their lives to the Lord they will undergo a change of character. Then they will no longer be an enemy to us but will be our brother or sister in Christ.
David silently retreats to the back of the cave with the piece of cloth in his hand. His men are disappointed that he didn't run his sword through Saul or cut off his head. David, however, feels bad for doing anything at all to Saul. "Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, 'The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.'" (1 Samuel 24:5-6) Saul may be an evil man but he's the king of Israel. David can't respect Saul's character but he feels a great deal of respect for the office Saul holds. This also is a good example to us for how to respect someone in authority over us even if we don't like them personally.
Upon seeing that he had not killed Saul, David's men evidently say something like, "If you don't want to kill Saul we'll do it for you!", because the Bible tells us that David's words in verse 6 calm them down. "With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way." (1 Samuel 24:7) The men feel ashamed of their attitude when they behold David's godly attitude. David knows the Lord intends to depose Saul and put him on the throne in Saul's place but David intends to leave Saul's removal up to the Lord. If David ever had to defend himself from Saul in hand-to-hand combat, that would be a different situation altogether, but to assassinate a king while he's unarmed and unaware anyone is around is not the way David wants to become the leader of Israel. People would always question the legitimacy of his administration. People would mock the method he used to usurp his enemy. No, David wants the Lord to handle Saul's downfall and his own promotion. That way it will be clear that he is the Lord's choice for king.
To show Saul that his paranoid suspicions about David are unfounded, David shows him the proof that he could have killed him if he'd wanted to. Saul keeps claiming that David is lying in wait for him to kill him. Saul keeps asserting that a huge conspiracy, led by David, is afoot. Saul's chief officials agree with him every time he makes such a statement, plus they add their own comments to back up his beliefs in order to ingratiate themselves to him. But the events of today's passage prove that David has not been waiting for an opportunity to kill the king. "Then David went out of the cave and called to Saul, 'My lord the king!' When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, 'Why do you listen when men say, 'David is bent on harming you'? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, 'I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord's anointed. See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand!'" (1 Samuel 24:8-11a)
Saul can't deny that he's just had a very close brush with death. He also can't deny that David behaved in a godly way, whereas in David's place he would have done the opposite. In tomorrow's text we will see Saul's realization bringing him to a temporary state of sorrow over his actions.