1 Samuel 26
Last Sunday in 1 Samuel 25 we saw God's Restraint of Folly: the folly of not only a worldly man like Nabal who was living for the moment, indulging himself and harming others, but also the folly of rash revenge in David, a man after God's own heart. God used the humble wisdom and faith of Abigail who ended up becoming David's wife.
The Folly of Self-Centered Indulgence (Nabal)
The Folly of Rash Revenge (David)
The Wisdom of Humble Faith (Abigail)
Today we continue David's history in 1 Samuel 26.
Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?” So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph. (If Ziphites sound familiar, it is because a couple of chapters ago we read about a similar stunt the Ziphites pulled. For some reason they did not care too much for David and they wanted to ingratiate themselves to Saul. The Middle East was not a large land region, so it should not surprise us that we hear again of the same people as we continue through 1 Samuel.) And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, David sent out spies and learned that Saul had indeed come. Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him. Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab's brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord's anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord's anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul's head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.
Then David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them. And David called to the army, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered, “Who are you who calls to the king?” And David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord. This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord's anointed. And now see where the king's spear is and the jar of water that was at his head.”
Saul recognized David's voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.” And he said, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the Lord, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” And David answered and said, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord's anointed. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.
This is a chapter of tremendous contrasts. David is rising. Saul is sinking. Shipwreck and Shining. David proves himself righteous by refusing to kill Saul, the Lord’s anointed when he has a second opportunity to do so. Saul confesses his sin and foolishness and promises to do no more harm to David. This is their last recorded encounter. This was the end of Saul’s pursuit of David, although, as the next chapter illustrates David did not know that to be the case, just as we do not know what comes next in the chronicle of our lives. In some ways we are relieved that Saul finally says he’ll stop chasing David. David may get a break from the fugitive life he’s endured so long. We may even be hopeful when we hear Saul admit his sin, confess his foolish mistake, promise to do no more harm, call David to return, and bless David like a father would a son. But there is a stark contrast even in Saul’s apparent repentance and confession. It is key to his fall. It is key to David’s rise.
The question we often ask ourselves the first time we look at a narrative is, "Where is God?" This is the question we ask now, and it is actually the question we should ask each morning as we begin our day: Where is God? This is the question we ought to be asking as we think about our life and its relationship to other people. Where is God?
The chapter actually refers to the LORD (Yahweh, His covenant name) by name 16 times and refers to Him one more time with just a pronoun. That’s more than we’ve seen so far in any of these chapters, but every reference to God comes from the mouth of David. Reference to the LORD is noticeably absent from Saul’s words—because the LORD is absent from Saul’s thinking and his life. That is the fundamental difference between the man with a sure future and the man suffering vain regret. Both are sinners. Both have played the fool. Both have experienced repentance, but only one displays a spirit of faith in God and a close relationship with Him.
All of humanity is divided along this line. As we gather here this morning, the divide is the same. This is like a mirror on all humanity. There are those who have a sure future and those who suffer or will suffer vain regret.
What is your relationship with the LORD (Yahwah, the covenant God) who has provided a way of salvation, a way of relationship with mankind -- sinners and fools who need to repent? And more than repent -- believe and trust and come into a relationship with God. That makes all the difference.
In David’s speeches recorded here, he acknowledges (affirms) several realities in light of his faith in and relationship with the LORD.
- The LORD lives. (In an oath formula, but it is foundational to everything.)
- The LORD rules. (The details of life, the kings that rise and fall, those that He anoints, the timing of their coming to power, whether they are sleeping or awake)
- The LORD judges. (He governs his universe.)
- The LORD cares. (It is easy to think that someone all-wise wouldn't care for people like us, but it is clear that the Lord cares.)
In Saul’s speeches you see confession and repentance, but his focus is self-centered and earthbound, with no mention of the LORD. So you have the vain regret of focus on self. But someone can be self-centered and still give confession: I have sinned, I have acted foolishly, I have made a great mistake. They can actually show a degree of repentance, of turn-around. We see this when Saul says, "I will no more do you harm. Return my son David. Blessed be you, my son David, you will do many things and succeed in them." This is not the same Saul who was treating David in such a despicable way, but his is a worldly repentance that remains without God and without hope in the world.
I. The Sure Future of Faith in God (David)
And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord's anointed.
The first thing we see David affirm is that the LORD lives. You are familiar with the term. You see David say it in verse 10 and later in verse 16 as he rebukes Abner for not being a good bodyguard for King Saul. Granted, this is an oath formula, a way of saying "this is so," but it is also in David's mind and life a fundamental reality. He serves the living God. This is a great contrast between the idols of the pagans and the living God. He actually takes action in the history of mankind. He is not a creation of man, not just an icon on a wall, not imprisoned in some temple, or particularly impressed with the ceremonies of religion. He is a living God. He is awake, aware, and active.
Natural man does not think that way. God is far from his thoughts—as if God does not exist at all except as the subject matter of Sunday sermons and hymns of worship, but the true believer knows God is there. God is there in the wilderness in the middle of the night amidst a sleeping army. His presence and His power are the determining realities of any situation. So David knows that while Saul and his 3,000 men sleep in the dead of night, and Abishai and David stand over him capable of slaying him, they are not alone. God is with them, beholding the evil and the good. Whatever they do in the cover of night is brightness to God. It is completely known. The believer doesn't talk about what he is getting away with because always God knows. He sees. And He is the main one with whom I have to deal. He controls everything about my life and has everything at His disposal to deal with me.
Think about the worldview David has here: the worldview of a sure future because of his faith in God. Consider your thoughts, words, and actions of the last week. What of them would you change if you had been keenly aware of the presence of the living God with you through every moment of that time? The reality is that maintaining consciousness of the living God is one of the most life-changing mindsets we can possess. It will change how husbands treat their wives. It will change how wives talk to their husbands. It will change how parents rear their children. It will change how children submit to their parents. It will change the discussions you have about the boss during coffeebreaks. It will change the way you treat those you supervise. It will change what you do on your day off. It will change what you choose to meditate on and where you put your focus -- IF you are thinking, "I have faith in and I serve the living God." As the Lord lives! Because He does, how should you live?
The second thing that David affirms is the LORD rules. He rules in appointing the authorities that are in power (compare Romans 13). He sets them up and takes them down at will. We ought to obey our authorities because God sets them in place. If we resist authorities, we are resisting God.
Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.”
Note that David is not afraid of killing people. He is perfectly capable of doing this. It is not that he doesn't have opportunity or that he doesn't have a friend who is loyal to him and would encourage him to do it.
But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord's anointed and be guiltless?”
It was not that David even thought that Saul was a great guy. It was that he understood that Saul had his position because God put him there. It wasn't just acts of men who put him there, it was God!
And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord's anointed. (1 Samuel 26:8-11)
16 . . . you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord's anointed.
23 the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord's anointed.
It was David's reverence for God that gave him reverence for Saul.
History often seems off-course. The Sauls of the world hold the scepter while the Davids run for their lives. But God is ruling nonetheless. He sets up kings and puts them down. He determines the times and seasons of whole nations. And those that are aware of His kingship seek to honor His sovereign choices with humble, persevering faith that stays within the bounds of his authority by giving honor to whom honor is due.
When you get on your knees and humbly acknowledge that God is the Lord of History, including your own personal history, what situations can you leave to Him to resolve? What anxieties can you release from your fretful thoughts? What joys can you anticipate, knowing He works all things together for the good of them that love God?
The third thing David affirms is the LORD judges. We might sometimes look at the atrocities of King Saul and of Doeg the Edomite and the kinds of things that other men have done over history. We might say, "Wait a minute. God is not judging. He is not dealing with these people." One thing to remember is that if God is showing grace to them and patience, remember that we, too, have need of grace and patience. What if God nailed you the moment you sinned any time you sinned? If God has shown mercy to you, why should He not also show it to anybody else? But the Lord does judge. David declares...
Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the Lord. (1 Samuel 26:19-20)
It is easy to resent the suffering we endure from those we know to be sinning against us, but consider this reality. God often uses sinners to bring judgment against our sin, even as He used the Babylonians to judge Judah (Habakkuk choked at this — God, you are too holy to use evil men to judge your people.) You know how easy it is to get your back up when someone you know isn't right with God gets in your face or does something to make your life hard? Have you ever noticed how God will use someone like that to address something that is wrong in your own life? In fact, that is what makes it sting so bad -- because they brought up something that you know isn't what it ought to be. God often uses sinners to judge other sinners. If you think about it, who else on the planet is He going to use if He is going to use people? It is going to be a sinner of some sort. God used the Babylonians to judge Judah despite the prophet Habakkuk's protest that God is too holy to look on evil, and therefore, He couldn't use the Babylonians. But God said, "Watch me," and He did. Then He judged the Babylonians, too.
David shows that he knows himself a sinner, and that sometimes God chooses to use greater sinners to chasten His children. David just came off of practically wiping out all the males of Nabal's household. So he knows that he can fly off the handle. At the same time, he knows that God will hold people accountable who stir up evil against others. It is very possible, based on his words, there was someone like that in Saul’s court that kept him ginned up against David. There are people like that. Wherever they go they stir up conflict and trouble. They are divisive. They're slanderers. They're heartless and cruel. In fact, there is one group that the Scriptures say to identify and after two warnings to have nothing more to do with them.
What pains David most about his exile is his being cut off from the public worship of the Lord in the tabernacle. You know that a guy who wrote so many of the Psalms loved to go to corporate worship. Missing it made him feel like he was living the life of a pagan. God’s people love worshiping alongside God’s people.
Another truth that David underscores is that the LORD cares.
The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation." (I Samuel 26:23-24)
God is not unjust to forget our labors of love. Even a cup of cold water given in His name will not lose its reward. That is not just in the future. Sometimes we sing, "It will be worth it all when we see Jesus." That's true, but God doesn't wait until eternity to reward His people. You know that. The reward is going to be great -- beyond our imagination, but God knows our frame. He knows that we need some encouragement along the way, and He often rewards now. That's because He regards our lives as precious (great, important). Our lives are important to God. He delivers His people out of all tribulation (distress). The New Testament says, "Cast all your anxiety on Him because it matters to Him concerning you." Peter was talking to exiles, a lot of them were refugees, a lot of them living in strange places and dealing with difficult circumstances. Peter said to them, "Don't be anxious about it. Don't fret because God will fret for you."
It may be hard for you to convince yourself that the LORD considers your life of great importance and that He really cares about you, especially when you are deep down in the trials of life. How can you be sure? The reason we are sure is that is what the Bible is all about. The big story of the Bible is redemption, that God is doing everything necessary to rescue a sinful, fallen, foolish, human race and restore them back to Him. God cares for a human race that has believed Satan’s lies and rebelled against God. Is the notion that God cares about you just typical religious feel-goodism? Absolutely not! Consider this. What makes David so significant is that he is the ancestor of the coming Anoined One, the promised God-man Savior, Jesus Christ. His safety had to do with his connection with the Messiah King. So does yours:
Romans 5:8: God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah) died for us.
Romans 8:32: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:35: What shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Nothing—not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword . . . neither life nor death, nor angels nor rules, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing has the power to separate us from the love of God. The Lord cares. That's His nature.
II. The Vain Regret of Focus on Self
Saul makes confession. “I have sinned.” “I have acted foolishly.” “I have made a great mistake.” It is great to hear words like these from Saul. I believe he means them, but we have heard similar words before:
1 Samuel 24:17: You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.
1 Samuel 15:24-25, 30: I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return to me that I may bow before the LORD. . . . I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the LORD your God.”
Religion was useful to Saul. Samuel was useful to Saul. Yahweh was useful to Saul, but He is Samuel's God, not Saul's God. All of his feeling sorry about his sin isn't really enough. Beside confession we also see Saul's turn-around (repentance). He says, "I will no more do you harm." "Return, my son David."
“I will no more do you harm.” And he makes good on those words to David. He says, "Return, my son David.” This is in contrast to driving him away, cursing him, and “Blessed be you, my son David, you will do many things and succeed in them.” This is in contrast to cursing David and slandering him and seeking to kill him. Saul’s repentance, however, is incomplete. He still is not really seeking the LORD with the submission of humble faith. You can realize you are a sinner, that you have been foolish and that you have done wrong, but if all you get to is that "I feel bad about it. I confess it, and I am not going to do it anymore," you need more than that! I need more than that. Who is going to wipe my record clean? Who is going to change me from the inside out? Who is going to walk with me? My problem is not just my sinfulness, it is my godlessness, my broken relationship with God that creates my unrighteousness. Just becoming more moral, more sympathetic and more apologetic isn't enough. I need to be rescued by God Himself. I need that relationship with God. This is the Gospel. When you repent, God calls you to trust in the Savior He has provided, to yield to Him.
This illustration may help. Suppose you are in a flood and the waters are steadily rising. You are standing at the top of a hill, but the waters continue to rise. Then someone sends you a boat. You say, "I know I ought to get in the boat. I wish I weren't stuck in the flood. I know if I got in the boat, it would hold me up, but I'm staying on this hill." You have to get into the boat if you are to be rescued. We need more than an apologetic attitude. We need more than confession. We have to have faith to trust in God and enter into a relationship with Him. This is Yahweh, the covenant God. This is a God who has ratified that covenant with the blood of His Son. I can be religious to the hilt. I can make my apologies. I can say my prayers, but until I actually have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, I am still a worldly, godless man.
So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place. There was no real trust possible because too much damage had been done. Off-and-on commitment to the LORD and to men characterized Saul. He was unstable in all his ways. David’s way is directed by the LORD. Saul turned to his own way. He was a sinking ship.
Next time we see Saul, he is desperate to get word from the prophet Samuel, who has already died. Saul would not listen to Samuel when the prophet was alive. Now he seeks him through the help of a witch, a necromancer, who supposedly talks to the dead in violation of God’s explicit commands. He seeks Samuel, not because he’s seeking the LORD but because he wants to know the future. Who will win the upcoming battle with the Philistines? Saul suffers the plague natural to all human beings. It started in the Garden of Eden.
C. S. Lewis put what our problem is so well in The Case for Christianity, p. 43:
“What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. . . . Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. . . . God can’t give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it isn’t there. There’s no such thing.”
The prophet cries out, "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near." (Isaiah 55:6)
The only way to find Him is through Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man. "No man comes to the Father except through me. I am the way, the Truth and the life." (John 14:6)
The Sure Future of Faith in God (David) or The Vain Regret of Focus on Self (Saul) -- which one describes you?
1. One way to measure how much you’re thinking about the Lord during the day is how much you talk about Him. What times do you find it most natural to bring God into the conversation with others?
2. What behaviors reflect your personal awareness that God is alive and active and what behaviors contradict that reality?
3. How does really believing that God rules history, including your own, affect your attitudes toward life in general and toward others in their relation to you?
4. How does knowing that God judges sin affect your thinking about your own sin and the sin of others against you?
5. What makes believing God really cares for you personally hard to accept, and what truths or experiences help you overcome that difficulty?
6. Why is sincere confession and repentance not enough to rescue people from the vain regret of self-focus?
7. How can you help people like Saul who have come only part way from their sin to the Savior?
Pastor Drew Conley
Hampton Park Baptist Church
April 6, 2014