When God sends your enemy into your cave with his pants down, unable to see you in the dark, how do you know that it isn’t God’s will for you to kill him?
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1 Samuel #23. (Chapter 23:14 – Chapter 24:20)
This is one of my favorites stories in the entire history of David. I think what David does, and what he refrains from doing in 1 Samuel 24, shows more courage, faith and heart for God than any of his amazing feats in battle. This is David at his best.
I want to briefly summarize the end of chapter 23, since we did not cover it in detail anywhere else. After David left the town of Keilah, he took his men and went into the wilderness on the other side of the Judean mountains. It may have been more green there 3,000 years ago, but these days, it is mostly desert. It was farther away from Saul, and in terrain that was significantly more rugged. Even so, Saul pursued David there, hoping to capture or kill him. During this time, Jonathan came secretly to David, and “encouraged him in his faith in God.” They renewed their friendship.
The people of the region betrayed David, as the citizens of Keilah had done. When you read the Psalms that David wrote, you will often find references to treacherous people, liars and friends who betray. This is because this sort of thing happened to David astonishingly often. In spite of his integrity and the help he brought to others, in spite of his faithfulness to God and respect for Saul as king, people were quick to believe the worst of him, and spread lies about him, and betray him to Saul.
I don’t know about you, but this encourages me. I think my natural expectation is that if I surrender my life to Jesus and have integrity in letting him live through me, people will see it, and like it, and praise God for it. I expect a positive response to God’s life shining through me. I expect good results, and favor with people. But Jesus said we ought to expect the opposite:
18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me. (John 15:18-21, HCSB)
He explains that there is blessing for us in this situation:
10 Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 11 “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12, HCSB)
Peter, in his first letter, also talks about this:
19 For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. (1Pet 2:19-20, HCSB)
13 And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, (1Pet 3:13-14, HCSB)
Seeing the life of David, and hearing what the New Testament says, gives me hope. Being a person with a heart for God is not necessarily a way to get a whole bunch of people to like you. It isn’t a road to sure success. It is often the opposite. But I cling to these promises that there is great blessing for us in those sorts of trials, sooner or later. At this point for David, he experienced the persecution, but not the blessing.
At one point, David was almost caught. He and his men were in a valley or canyon, and Saul and his men were coming down another valley on the opposite side of the mountain. They were gaining on David. But before they could close, messengers found Saul, reporting that the Philistines were attacking elsewhere in Israel. Saul had to break off the pursuit. Once again, I want to point out that David did not know what his future held. He didn’t know for sure what God was doing, and he might very well have been caught. In that particular incident, it was merely lucky timing that saved him.
And then comes the incident described in chapter 24. This is later. Saul is back to his new hobby of trying to find David and kill him. He and his men are traipsing around the rugged desert and mountain terrain where, according to rumour, David is hiding. They aren’t having any luck. David appears to be miles away. One day, Saul has to relieve himself, and he goes into a cave alone for privacy. It just happens to be the cave where David and some of his men are holed up.
I want to make sure we understand the scenario. David was anointed by Samuel to be God’s chosen instrument. It was understood along with that, that he was supposed to be Israel’s next king. Israel’s present king – Saul – who is no longer God’s instrument, has been trying for a long time to kill David. Now Saul is alone, unarmed and unaware, standing right in front of David, night-blind, back-turned with his pants down. Saul could not be more helpless.
David’s men believe that this is a gift from God. Now is the time for David to kill Saul, and become king himself. I suspect that nine people out of ten would agree with David’s men. Killing Saul at that moment would have been easily justifiable self-defense – after all, Saul was there for the express purpose of killing David. Saul was acting contrary to God’s stated will and purposes – he was trying to kill God’s chosen instrument. So killing Saul would be not only self-defense, but also protection of God’s work in the world. I don’t believe there was a person living at the time who would have blamed David.
David creeps forward, knife held low and ready. He raises his arm to strike…and then lowers it, and quietly cuts off the corner of Saul’s robe. He creeps back to his men, and a furious but quiet argument ensues. Now David’s men, seeing that he will not kill Saul, are eager to do the deed themselves. Once again, who could have blamed David if he had let one of his men do it? Not only would he have the justifications listed already, but he could always claim that it wasn’t actually him who killed Saul, and he really didn’t want it to happen. But David argues vehemently, and commands his men not to touch Saul. Finally, Saul leaves the cave and the opportunity is lost.
I imagine the cave was up on the slope of a hill or something. After Saul has gone down a little ways, David emerges, and calls to Saul. He shows him the corner of his robe and says:
11 See, my father! Look at the corner of your robe in my hand, for I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. Look and recognize that there is no evil or rebellion in me. I haven’t sinned against you even though you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you. 13 As the old proverb says, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ My hand will never be against you. (1Sam 24:11-13, HCSB)
All this wisdom from a man not yet thirty years old. But of course, it wasn’t really David’s wisdom – it was the Spirit of God at work within David. I think the key is verse 12: “May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you.” David literally refused to take matters into his own hands. Remember when Saul was about to lose the entire southern portion of Israel? His army was deserting him, Samuel wasn’t showing up, and so Saul held a worship service merely for the purpose of getting people to stick around. Saul took matters into his own hands. But David will not do that. His trust is not in what he can do, but in what God will do.
However, there is a natural question. When God sends your enemy into your cave with his pants down, unable to see in the dark, facing away from you, how do you know that it isn’t God’s will for you to kill him? I mean, we’ve already offered many reasons why no one would condemn David for doing it. So how did David know he shouldn’t do it?
I think there are two answers. The first is one that I never get tired of talking about: we need to live in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment relationship with the Lord. The ten commandments told David not to murder, but it could have justifiably been called self-defense, or war, not murder. There is no rule-book that covers this scenario. David, like us, had to rely on a connection of faith with the Lord. Through that faith, the Lord communicated to him that it would be wrong. We might say David just knew it in his heart. The reason he knew it in his heart is because God put that knowledge there through the faith-relationship.
Second, in context of this faith relationship, what God showed David was that to kill Saul at this point would be taking matters into his own hands, rather than trusting. I believe that there are times when God calls us to act speedily and courageously without hesitation. But there are also times when the Lord calls us to let opportunities pass by, and trust Him to bring about his purposes in his own way. Personally, I think the second way is harder, and in our culture we almost never think that way. We typically assume that if we see a means to meet our goals, it is God giving us that chance, and we should take it. Sometimes, that may indeed be true. But sometimes the Lord calls us to wait and trust so we can receive it from him, not get it by our own effort.
Consider this: if David had killed Saul at this point, he might always afterwards wonder if God really wanted him to be king, or if he had made himself king. And there was something that was more important to David than reaching his goal of becoming king. It was more important to him to be right with God than to achieve his ambitions. So he says, “Yes, I’d like God to judge you Saul, for what you’ve done. But my priority is not to judge you, nor to make my goals happen. My priority is to be right with the Lord.”
What’s your priority? Think of something that you really, truly want. Now imagine that the power to make it happen is in your hand. Would you do it, even if you knew in your heart that God didn’t want you to?
Now, I don’t want the message to be that we are just not as righteous as David. David wasn’t any better than us. He just learned to trust God, and he made the trust the primary and most important part of his life. The message is not “you aren’t as good as David.” The message is: Trust God. I’ll say it again: Trust God. The thing that you want so much, the thing that you are convinced is even God’s will for you – God will take care of that. David eventually did become king. It didn’t happen that day. In fact it was still years away. But God did take care of it. He worked it out the best way possible.
So trust him.