1 Samuel 24: Mercy and Grace

It’s been a while since I last posted. . . So I have to apologize for that. We went on vacation to the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, and then it just seems like there’s been a lot of late nights and not as much time to sit down and actually put together a blog post.

With that said, let’s jump back into our 1 Samuel narrative. We left off with Saul and David playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse: with Saul being the cat and David being the mouse. David is forced to flee here and there, running from stronghold to stronghold, wilderness to wilderness, never quite feeling secure from the grasp of the jealous King Saul. At one point Saul and his men were encircling David and his band, and it looked like the cat may have finally caught the mouse. But before that could happen, Saul received news that Israel was under attack, and the king realized he had more important things to worry about. So he hurried back to his job of taking care of the country, and David escaped to the strongholds in En Gedi.

And that is where chapter 24 picks up.

As soon as Saul finishes getting rid of the Philistines (for now), he’s back on track with his previous task. Someone snitches on David’s hiding place, and so Saul chooses 3000 of his best men and goes searching for David and his small band.

“En Gedi” literally means “Spring of the Kid,” and it was well-known for its abundance of wild goats. This craggy wilderness offered many places to hide amongst its rocky precipices, but Saul was not discouraged in his task. With 3000 men at his side, surely David’s hiding place could be uncovered.

And that is the first irony to be found in this story.

In spite of there being so many places one could hide in En Gedi, Saul happens to walk right into the cave where David and his men are hiding!

And in spite of Saul’s confidence that his large army could uncover David, he doesn’t even know David is in the cave!

“So [Saul] came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.)

“Then the men of David said to him, ‘This is the day of which the LORD said to you, “Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.”‘ (1 Sam. 24:3-4a).

I can understand where David’s men were coming from. After all, David had already been anointed as king by the prophet Samuel. And now his enemy had walked right into his hands! I think that had something like this happened to us, most of us would have agreed that it was a sign that the LORD had opened the door and given our enemy into our hands.

But coincidences like this don’t always mean open doors. Sometimes I think God uses these situations to test us.

After hearing his men’s suggestion that now is the time to claim the kingdom, David rises from the shadows of the cave and creeps up behind the king, sword drawn. His men watch in breathless silence.

I picture David standing behind Saul in hesitation, a million thoughts racing through his mind. Are his men right? Is this his opportunity to take on the role that God has prepared for him? He cannot delay – he must make a decision quick before he is discovered.

Slash! He cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe and discreetly returns to the recesses of the cave. Disappointment shows on his men’s faces. Why didn’t he strike down Saul? Doesn’t he realize that Saul isn’t going to show that kind of mercy to David if they meet up again?

David’s response must have shocked them into silence. He does not regret sparing Saul’s life – but he does regret cutting Saul’s robe. You could say that’s Irony #2.

“‘The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.’ So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way (24:6-7).”

Would we have showed the mercy that David showed? Would we still have referred to Saul as our “master” even as we fled for our lives from him? Or would we have joined the voices of his army, urging him to take revenge and justifying ourselves with the claim that it was God’s will?

After Saul had gone on his way, David followed after him. Boldly he called out to his enemy, “My lord the king!” And he bowed down with his face to the earth – a position that not only honored Saul, but put David into a vulnerable spot. But as always, David knew that God was the One in ultimate control, and his life could not be taken from him unless God willed it.

So David pled his case before Saul, “Why do you listen to everyone who says I’m out to harm you? Listen, I was in that cave with you, and had the perfect opportunity to kill you – but I didn’t! No, I would not dare to lift my hand against the one whom God anointed. And look, my father – look and see the corner of your robe in my hand! I could have killed you in an instant, but I didn’t – and this is proof that I am not out to harm you. And yet you hunt me down for no reason! May the LORD be the judge between you and me; He may avenge me, but I will not avenge myself. Who am I but a dead dog or a flea compared to you, so why do you pursue me? Let God judge between you and me and plead my case and deliver me from you.” (paraphrasing 24:9-15).

Notice how David confronts the king. He shows an attitude of mercy, humility, vulnerability, and respect toward his greatest enemy (Irony #3). But at the same time, he does not gloss over the fact that Saul has done him a great injustice in seeking his life. He almost seems to be saying, “Listen, this isn’t just a conflict between you and me. God’s in this, too – and I’m pretty sure He’s on my side.”

How does Saul respond to this extraordinary confrontation?

His first reaction as he recognizes David is to weep, and in remorse he proclaims David as more righteous than himself – for David has rewarded evil with good, while Saul has rewarded good with evil. Saul isn’t stupid – he knows that a normal person would have taken the opportunity to kill him, and yet David has shown mercy and grace.

The conversation closes with Saul actually proclaiming a blessing over David and, like Jonathan, asking for continued mercy once the kingdom falls on David’s shoulders. Of course, David agrees.

So the two parted ways. Saul went home, while David and his men went back to the stronghold.

On the surface there seems to have been reconciliation. But it would probably be a better description to say there is a truce. Obviously the relationship wasn’t mended entirely, because David didn’t go back home with Saul. And as we’ll see only a couple chapters from now, it seems that Saul’s remorse doesn’t last long.

So here’s a question for us: how do we handle conflict?

Can we approach confrontation with the spirit of grace and humility that David did? Or do we want to revenge ourselves?

Do we admit our faults, like Saul did? Or do we make excuses and try to cover them up?

And do we actively seek to restore the relationship, or are we content to restore it only on a surface level? Because here’s the problem: if it’s only “restored” on a surface level, the root issues are going to re-surface, just as we’ll see played out in this narrative.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

If he is thirsty, give him a drink;

for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21

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