David had run into Saul back in Chapter 24, and left off on a semi-good note. David had had the opportunity to revenge himself, but had instead shown mercy to his greatest enemy, and Saul had responded with gratitude and humility.
Now here we are in Chapter 26, and it sounds strangely familiar.
The Ziphites, who had tattled on David’s hiding spot back in Chapter 23, now tattle to Saul again. And just like he did in Chapter 24, Saul decides to gather 3000 of his best men and go after David.
You have to wonder: why? David had already demonstrated that he wasn’t out to wrench the kingdom from Saul’s hands. So what convinced Saul (again) that David was an enemy that needed to be hunted down?
Whatever the case, it’s not Saul who finds David. Just as in the Chapter 24, it’s David who finds Saul.
When David finds out that the king is back on the hunt, he takes his nephew Abishai down to Saul’s camp by night. I imagine that David was probably feeling some frustration at this point. I’m sure he was asking himself, “Why? Why am I in this situation again?” Maybe he contemplated stomping into camp, shaking Saul awake, and giving him a good tongue-lashing.
You could say that’s kind of what he did!
David and Abishai tiptoe into the camp without being noticed by a single soul, for as verse 12 informs us, God had put a deep sleep upon them all. They find Saul fast asleep, with his spear stuck in the ground by his head. The king never seems to be found anywhere without that spear close by, whether he’s in bed or at a feast or on a David-hunt.
Now David’s nephew Abishai, along with his brother Joab, would later become known for constantly wanting revenge. So it’s no surprise that here in this situation, Abishai has some ready advice for Uncle David: “God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day. Now therefore, please, let me strike him at once with the spear, right to the earth; and I will not have to strike him a second time!” (vs. 8).
Abishai just wants to follow the eye-for-an-eye mentality that would have predominated in that culture at that time, and it looks like the perfect opportunity. God has put a deep sleep on everyone – so isn’t He giving David the chance to get rid of Saul?
But this is not the first time that someone has made this suggestion to David. And David’s response remains unchanged. No, whoever kills the Lord’s anointed will not be held guiltless. (Modern-day sidenote: it was our sin that brought about the death of the Messiah – the “Anointed One”. So we are all guilty of the sin David condemned. But praise God that Jesus’ death is accepted as an offering and we can be forgiven!)
Instead of listening to his zealous nephew, David takes Saul’s spear and water jug, and the pair slip away into the darkness and to the top of a hill that’s a safe distance away. Then David calls out to the camp, waking up Saul’s commander Abner. “Why haven’t you guarded your king?” David accuses, “You deserve to die! Look, where is the king’s spear and his water jug that were by his head?” (paraphrase of vs. 15-16).
When Saul recognizes his voice, David turns his accusations that way, “Why do you pursue me? What have I done to you? Listen: if God has stirred you up against me because I have sinned, then let Him accept an offering from me. But if this is men’s idea, then let them be accursed for driving me away from worshipping the LORD in my own country and my own inheritance” (paraphrase of vs. 18-20).
It’s like déjà vu for Saul. Just as in chapter 24, it is David who has found him, David who has spared him, David who has accused him. And once again, Saul acknowledges that it’s David who is right. “I have sinned,” he laments, “I have played the fool and erred exceedingly, and I won’t pursue you anymore” (vs. 21).
He tells David to return this time, but I don’t think David trusted the king enough to do that. He returns Saul’s spear and water jug, and the two part ways once more, with Saul pronouncing one final blessing over David, “May you be blessed, my son David! You shall both do great things and also still prevail” (vs. 25).
The main takeaway that I got from this passage is that if we don’t learn from our past, then history will repeat itself.
We look at Abishai and how he and his brother continually wanted to avenge David. They never learned from David’s example early on, and never learned from his rebukes. So they repeated their mistake over and over. They were responsible for the death of Saul’s commander Abner (after Abner had defected to David’s side) and for the death of David’s son Absalom (even though David had commanded for mercy to be shown). Basically whenever anyone showed any hostility toward David, Abishai and Joab were either suggesting or orchestrating punishment on that person. By the end of his reign, David was pretty frustrated with them.
And of course there’s the obvious example of Saul. How many times did he pursue David, even though he knew he was innocent? How many times did someone have to rebuke him and prove to him that David was not an enemy? He learned his from his mistakes only for a short time before he repeated them.
But before we jump up to start accusing Saul and Abishai, let’s stop and examine ourselves. How often do we do the same thing? How often do we say, “Yes, you’re right. I shouldn’t have done that” – and then repeat the same mistake a day later?
We realize we shouldn’t have spoken unkindly, but the next time our patience is tested, we lose our temper again.
We realize we shouldn’t have judged that other person, but the next time they mess up, we’re judging them again.
We realize we should have reached out in love to someone, but the next time an opportunity arises, we miss out on it again.
Lord, help us to have true sorrow over our sin, the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance. Help us to realize our own shortcomings and our dependency on You alone for righteousness. Help us to learn from our mistakes so that we don’t keep repeating them. And thank You, Lord, that when we do fail, You offer forgiveness. Thank You, that even when we are faithless, You remain faithful (2 Tim. 2:13).