THE BLOODLESS BATTLE

DavidSparesSaul

IT USUALLY TAKES MORE COURAGE TO REFRAIN FROM ANGER AND RETRIBUTION, THAN TO ACT ON IT

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1 Samuel #25. 1 Samuel Chapter 26:1-25

Often when I teach through the Bible, I am looking for tightly focused themes and messages in each passage. That works pretty well in the teaching portions of scripture. But often, when we get to narrative history, I feel like each passage is a box of chocolates: a lot of variety, a few surprises, but all of it is sweet.

I want to point out again David’s precarious situation. He trying to lead and support 600 men who can’t stay in one place. In fact, they can’t stay in any civilized place, because the king has declared him an outlaw, under the death sentence. He is dependent upon gifts from friends and strangers. He is also vulnerable to these same people, if they choose to betray them. We don’t know for sure how long David lived this way, but it was certainly years – maybe even as long as a decade.

One of the reasons I like to point this out is because many churches and popular preachers seem to suggest that if you have faith in God, everything will always go well for you. By implication, if things do not go well with you, it must because you don’t have enough faith, or you are not righteous enough. David was an imperfect human being, but he did live in faith. In fact he had a great deal of trust in the Lord, and always repented from his sins, and was willing to humbly learn to do better.

Even so, for many years, it did NOT go well with David. I just want to make sure that no one reading this ever falls prey to the teaching that if life is tough on you, it is because you don’t have enough faith, or you are a bad Christian or something like that. Also, I want to make sure you don’t believe that you can earn favors from God by being righteous, or saying the right words or having the right kind of faith.

I do want to say, however, that David became the great man he was because of faith. Sometimes things went very well for him and sometimes they didn’t. But how it was going on the outside was not as important to David as the quality of his relationship with the Lord. And because that relationship was more important to David than anything else, God was able to use him in amazing ways, and also to bless David without David thinking he had earned it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive all of life as blessing, whether or not it looks that way outwardly? If we could do that, it wouldn’t matter much to us whether circumstances were good or bad. We would always be experiencing life as blessing. David was getting there.

In chapter 26, David is still in a time of outward difficulty. But we will quickly see that things are very good with his heart. Once more, the Ziphites betrayed David – the same people who almost got him killed in chapter 23. They knew where David was, and they told Saul to come and get him. As far as we know, Saul had left David alone since the incident when David spared his life in the cave. But the Ziphites basically tempted Saul to sin. Having betrayed David once, this group of people probably thought that if David were not killed, he would take retribution on them if he had the chance, so they may have been quite urgent and persuasive in trying to get Saul to start hunting David again.

David can hardly believe it, so he takes a few men on a reconnaissance mission to see if Saul really has come. One of them is Abishai. Abishai is the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, which made him David’s nephew. Since David was the youngest of ten, it is quite possible that he and Abishai are basically the same age, or even that Abishai is a little older. They might have spent a lot of time together as boys. At this point, they are both probably in their early or mid-twenties, in the prime of physical power and maybe a little inclined to try something crazy.

The two of them decide to sneak into the heart of Saul’s encampment at night. This is the desert, so the soldiers probably did not have tents. The picture seems to be that Saul chose his sleeping spot, and then the whole army arranged themselves around him, with his bodyguard closest to him and the rest around them in a rough circle. David and Abishai crept through the entire circle of sleeping men and came to Saul sleeping soundly, along with Abner, the chief of Saul’s bodyguard.

All this appears somewhat similar to chapter 24, but only superficially. Almost every detail is different. Saul doesn’t come alone into the cave where David and his men were waiting. Instead David creeps with only one companion into the middle of Saul’s camp. This time it wasn’t Saul almost finding David where he was hiding, it was David finding Saul where he was camped openly. Before, David was passive. This time he initiated the action.

I think that it is not coincidence that this happened shortly after David’s interactions with Nabal. In chapter 24, we have the record of how David was tested, in the cave with Saul, and he passed that test. But with Nabal, he failed. He fully intended to take matters into his own hands regarding Nabal, and was saved from sin only by the wisdom of Abigail. Now, once more, he gets the chance to take matters into his own hands, or trust the Lord.

Verse 12 says that the Lord put a deep sleep on Saul and the army, which made this whole incident possible. It is almost as if the Lord is giving David a chance to see if he really learned his lesson with Nabal. It isn’t just a test – obviously, God knew what was in David’s heart. But David may not have been sure of himself. He may have had times where he thought about the incident with Nabal, and condemned himself, and wished he had behaved differently. The Lord is giving him a second chance, a “do-over.”

Abishai hasn’t matured in that way at any rate. He asks permission to kill Saul. It would be all over. The good times could begin. The days of wandering homeless, despised by people around, in danger all the time, could all be ended by one swift spear thrust. As before, it was a powerful temptation. Who could blame David? In Saul’s mind, anyway, they were enemies. It would be an act of war. It wouldn’t even be David who struck the blow.

But David has learned his lesson thoroughly. He says:

10“As the LORD lives, the LORD will certainly strike him down: either his day will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 However, because of the LORD, I will never lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed. Instead, take the spear and the water jug by his head, and let’s go.” (1Sam 26:10-11, HCSB)

He saw the battle with Goliath as the Lord’s fight. So he sees the struggle with Saul. It isn’t his, really – it is God’s business, and David trusts God to take care of it in His own time and in His own way.

As morning breaks, from a safe distance, David calls and awakens the camp. He shows them the spear and the water jug he has taken from Saul’s side. David is young and strong, and he has accomplished an amazing, bloodless feat of arms. So he teases Abner, Saul’s commander for a moment. I get the feeling he is rejoicing in what he and Abishai just did. But then, once again he respectfully confronts Saul with his wrongdoing. Like Abigail did with David, so David does with his king, Saul. He shows Saul he is wrong; he reminds him of true righteousness in God’s eyes – but he does it all with respect. You might say that David is submissive to the authority of Saul, but he is not subservient or a doormat.

At the end of the discussion, David shows where his trust is:

23 May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his loyalty. I wasn’t willing to lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed, even though the LORD handed you over to me today. 24 Just as I considered your life valuable today, so may the LORD consider my life valuable and rescue me from all trouble.” (1Sam 26:23-24, HCSB)

He doesn’t ask Saul to treat him the way he treated Saul. Instead, he declares that he trusts the Lord to treat him with righteousness and love.

Throughout this, Saul seemed to be full of remorse. But he was remorseful last time two, after David spared his life in the cave. David has learned something important from Saul: Remorse is not the same as repentance. Saul let his emotions rage through him uncontrolled. Sometimes he was full of murderous fury; sometimes he was full of regret and sorrow. But the regret and sorrow did not lead to true repentance for Saul – they were just feelings he had sometimes. So, even though Saul invites David to come back with him, David does not do it. Saul is in God’s hands, but David is wise enough not to trust him.

It’s another great story, and I love it just for the daring deeds and passion and trust in God. But what does it mean for us now? What does the Lord want to say to us through this passage today?

One of the things that catches my attention here is that David and Abishai accomplished a daring exploit, a great feat of war – yet without violence or bloodshed. If you are a young man, particularly, you may sometimes yearn to do something daring or great. Often it is easiest to imagine doing this in the context of some kind of violence – saving comrades during a battle, or saving your family from the bad guys. There is nothing wrong with the desire to do daring deeds, or with having a warrior-spirit. In fact, it is a good thing, used by god. By trusting the Lord, David allowed his warrior-spirit to be used and satisfied without committing violence.

Along with that, David shows that withholding violence takes more courage than doing something violent. With one violent act, his troubles could have over. It was much harder – it was a much greater deed – to leave Saul unharmed. I think we can all learn from that. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. It takes a lot more courage to do that than to take matters into our hands, and protect ourselves. It takes courage not to reply with harsh words or gossip when someone hurts us. It takes courage to not repay hurt with hurt.

As we read the Old Testament especially, I think it is helpful to ask: “Where is Jesus in this text?” Remember, David is sometimes a “type of Christ.” What this means is that God used David at times to show the world what the real Messiah (Jesus) is like – to people who would never get the chance to know Jesus in their earthly life.

This passage does show us a little bit of what Jesus is like. Like David, Jesus is a mighty warrior, forever in the prime of life, full of bravery and wisdom; ultimately and absolutely victorious over his enemies.

David held back from harming Saul, who, without a doubt, deserved to be harmed by David. In the same way Jesus holds back the punishment that we all richly deserve. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pay back evil with good. David did that very thing. Jesus forgave the people who were crucifying him, even as they did the deed.

Here’s something else that I think is very significant. David did not know at the time that the Lord was using him to show the world what Jesus was like. He didn’t realize how significant his actions were. But because he lived in trust and obedience, many people in his generation, and for a thousand years after, had some idea of what the Messiah was like.

We don’t always know when someone has a chance to see Jesus through us. We can’t always tell when the Lord is doing that. Very often the opportunity comes when we least feel like it. There was a huge temptation for David to act precisely opposite of how Jesus is. So in the same way, it may be in our toughest moments that God uses us to show Jesus to the world.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now?

TRUST AND TIMING

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?

engediwaterfall

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Samuel Part 23

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.