"David's King-sized Avenger"
July 12, 2009 1Samuel 24:1-15
REVENGE LEADS TO RUIN
Do you have any enemies? Many people have enemies, sometimes without even trying. It's almost bound to happen sooner or later because you can't go through life and please all the people all the time; eventually you're bound to irritate someone and make them upset. GK Chesterton observed, "The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."
When someone acts like an enemy toward us, irritating us or hurting us or perhaps taking something we thought was ours, it's only 'natural' in our fallen sinful nature to treat them like an enemy, to want to 'get back at them', to take revenge. Enemies often harbour bitterness, resentment toward the foe for what they did. But resentment and longing for revenge are neither healthy nor holy. As a Jewish proverb says, "The smallest revenge will poison the soul."
Here's a true story in which buried resentment erupted one day and resulted in a deadly spree. Leonard Holt was a paragon of respectability. He was a middle-aged, hard-working lab technician who had worked at the same Pennsylvania paper mill for 19 years. Having been a Boy Scout leader, an affectionate father, a member of the local fire brigade, and a regular church attender, he was admired as a model in his community. Until that image exploded in a well-planned hour of bloodshed one brisk October morning.
A proficient marksman, Leonard Holt stuffed two pistols in his coat pockets and drove to the mill. He stalked slowly into his shop and began shooting with calculated frenzy. He filled several co-workers with two or three bullets apiece, firing more than thirty shots, killing some men he had known for more than fifteen years. When the posse found him standing defiantly in his doorway, he snarled, "Come and get me, you ----.I'm not taking any more of your ----!" Bewilderment swept the community.
Puzzled policemen and friends finally found a train of logic behind brief reign of terror. Down deep within the heart of Leonard Holt rumbled the giant of resentment. His monk-like exterior concealed the seething hatred within. The investigation yielded the following facts. Several victims had been promoted over him while he remained in the same position. More than one in Holt's car pool had quit riding with him due to his reckless driving. The man was brimming with resentment--rage that could be held no longer. Beneath his picture in Time [magazine], the caption told the story: "Responsible, Respectable, and Resentful."
King Saul in ancient Israel is an example of another man filled with bitterness who lashed out in deadly fashion to destroy those who'd irritated him. However in his case there wasn't any real reason to target young David. Today we see how David overcame the temptation to fight back, to get even with Saul's nastiness; David overcame that temptation for revenge by trusting God to settle things.
SAUL: A JEALOUS, UNSTABLE, DANGEROUS FOE
How did things degenerate to the point where Saul was actively seeking to destroy a man who had so successfully helped him against his own enemies, the Philistines? At first the relationship started out well enough. But in 1Samuel 18 when King Saul is returning with his army from their victory over the Philistines when David killed Goliath, something happened that sowed a devilish seed within Saul's soul. Women came out from the towns along the way to hail the victors with singing and dancing; they sang, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." V8 records, "Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him.""Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. 'They have credited David with tens of thousands,' he thought, 'but me with only thousands.What more can he get but the kingdom?' And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David." (1Sa 18:8-9) The comparison led to anger, then bitterness, then jealousy.
The next day, Scripture says, 'an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul.' Harbouring bitterness and jealousy opens the door to other evil impulses. David was simply providing his usual 'music therapy' on the harp to try to soothe Saul's depression; suddenly the king hurled a spear at him, trying to pin him to the wall. V11 says David eluded him twice: I don't think I would have hung around for a second try! The first time he threw the spear at me, I'd get the point!
Notice how destructive and deadly jealousy becomes. The Life Application Bible comments, "Jealousy may not seem to be a major sin, but in reality, it is one step short of murder. Jealousy starts as you resent a rival; it leads to your wishing he or she were removed; then it manifests itself in your seeking ways to harm that person in word or action. Beware of letting jealousy get a foothold in your life."
So began a long series of attempts to harm David that turned Saul into a jealous, unstable, dangerous foe. For most of the rest of his life Saul was against David, attacking him when he had the opportunity. You may remember from chapter 17 the king had promised his daughter in marriage to the man who killed the giant Goliath, but Saul forgets his promise (17:25). In 18:17 Saul promises his older daughter Merab to David in marriage, but later reneges and gives her in marriage to another. His daughter Michal falls in love with David; this time Saul says he'll allow it on condition David kills 100 Philistines, hoping they'll kill David in the process. But David and his troops succeed - which only leads Saul to fear David more (18:5,12,15,29).
On another occasion when David is attempting to provide therapeutic music, Saul makes a third attempt to kill him with a spear, but David eludes him (19:10). Then he sent men to watch David's house and kill him in the morning; David's wife Michal, Saul's daughter, helps David escape by letting him down through a window (19:12). When Saul hears David's found refuge with the prophet Samuel, he sends troops 3 times, then finally goes himself, but the Spirit of God comes upon him and prevents him from carrying out his plan (19:23).
Saul's intent to eliminate David is so strong that when his own son Jonathan tries to stand up for David in chapter 20, Saul curses Jonathan cruelly, and insists David must die. Jonathan protests, and Saul then hurls his spear at his own son to kill him (but thankfully misses; 20:30ff). By now we would say David's name is on the 'wanted' posters! In chapter 22, sensing even his family is in danger, he takes the precautionary step of arranging for his parents to stay with the king of Moab for their own protection (22:3). When Saul hears a report that David has been discovered in a certain area, he's so paranoid that he accuses his own officials of plotting against him because Saul supposes David has promised them posts in a rival regime (22:6ff).
The sheer gruesomeness and deadliness of Saul's jealousy and resentment is seen in his ordering the slaughter of 85 priests and their families because David had asked them for provisions and was given Goliath's sword (22:18). In chapter 23 Saul calls up his forces to besiege David when he hears he's saved that walled city - but David inquires of God for guidance and escapes. Saul and his troops search 'day after day' for David when he hides in the desert strongholds and the hills of the Desert of Ziph (23:14). When the Ziphites offer to hand David over to the king, David flees to the Desert of Maon and Saul pursues him there. Just as Saul and his forces are closing in on David's company, news of a Philistine attack makes Saul break off the pursuit (23:25).
At the beginning of chapter 24, Saul hears David has shifted to the Desert of En Gedi, so takes 3000 chosen men from all Israel and sets out to look for David with his mere 600. Talk about outnumbered - that's a ratio of 5 of Saul's men to one of David's! That's an indication of how determined Saul is to kill this man he perceives to be an 'enemy'. His jealousy and resentment have truly poisoned his soul, and perverted his thinking.
TRUSTING GOD TO DEAL WITH OUR ENEMIES
But maybe Saul wasn't quite as invincible as he supposed. Governments can be very powerful, but they can make goofs too, leaving themselves open to breaches of security. In the news recently, in England, an MI-6 chief's wife posted details about their family on Facebook that have been criticized in the media as a glaring lapse of security, considering he's the head of the spy agency! In the United States, people tasked with testing the security at government buildings succeeded in smuggling explosive devices into 10 facilities that were supposed to be 'secure'.
Similarly, in 1Samuel 24:3, the cave King Saul chose to relieve himself just happened to be the one in which David and his men were hiding in, further back. Was this a triumph for David, or a test? What would YOU do if the man who'd been pursuing you relentlessly to kill you was suddenly 10 feet away, unarmed, an totally vulnerable to whatever you might do? Wouldn't it be 'only natural' to 'take advantage of the opportunity' and put an end to your wilderness wanderings? V4, his men interpret this huge 'security lapse' as a signal from God that David may deal with his pursuer as he wishes.
But killing Saul is not what David wants to do. Whether or not he still had much respect for his unstable liege, he shows a great respect for the office behind the man - Saul's appointment by the prophet Samuel as God directed. David rebukes his men in 24:6, "The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD's anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD." By the chrism, the official anointing oil, a Holy Spirit-led prophet had designated this man to be king of God's people; David respected that with his whole being, even if it killed him. He's even conscience-stricken for such a small thing as cutting off a corner of Saul's robe! (V5)
After Saul leaves the cave and is a safe distance away, David does confront him with the absurdity of the situation. He asks why Saul listens to those who suggest David would harm him, when obviously David would have done so just minutes earlier when Saul was at his mercy. David appeals to God to judge between them; v12, "May the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you." V15, "May the LORD be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand." Hear how repeatedly David refers to God as the subject in the whole business? David trusts the Lord to deal with his enemy. In 26:10, when David and his army commander sneak into Saul's camp at night and again spare the king's life, David acknowledges that God s very capable of removing Saul by natural death or in battle.
It's not just between him and Saul; God is the biggest part of the equation as far as David is concerned. God watches how we treat others, and rewards us accordingly. 26:24, "As surely as I valued your life today, so may the LORD value my life and deliver me from all trouble."
LOVE YOUR ENEMY, BLESS THOSE WHO CURSE YOU
In many ways David's behaviour back just before 1000 BC reflects some New Testament principles. Jesus in Matthew 7:2 taught that God will treat us as we treat others: "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Jesus taught that we should love not just our neighbours, but our enemies as well - "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Mt 5:45) The apostle Paul likewise urged Christians to leave room for God to settle the score when others mistreat us: Romans 12:19f, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'" In both instances when David spared his life, King Saul perceived David's kindness and responded by ceasing to pursue him (24:17ff; 26:21).
Another principle David hints at is that good trees bear good fruit. David refused to be pressured into committing evil by another's evil influence. 24:13, "As the old saying goes, 'From evildoers come evil deeds,' so my hand will not touch you." Jesus said, "every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit...by their fruit you will recognize them." (Mt 7:17ff) Paul wrote, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." (Rom 12:17)
Another thing we can emulate from David is the way he humbles himself. Note in v14 the word-pictures he uses to describe this 'trophy' Saul is hunting down: "Against whom has the king of Israel come out?...A dead dog? A flea?" And in chapter 26(20), "The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea - as one hunts a partridge in the mountains." So Paul urges the Romans, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought...Honour one another above yourselves...Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.Do not be conceited." (Rom 12:3,10,16)
In chapter 13(1-7) of Romans, Paul writes quite a bit about the need to submit to the governing authorities. David is an excellent example of that - refusing to attack one in a high government office, even when they were acting ridiculous. Unfortunately much journalism today revolves around catching politicians' goofs and blunders, catering to our subliminal disrespect for authority. Our leaders from the municipal level right on up to the UN need our prayers, not our pettiness.
DON'T THROW IN THE TROWEL
So the next time we're attacked by someone and tempted to retaliate and escalate the conflict, perhaps hitting back - let's with God's help remember David's mercy to his foe, an respond with kindness and grace rather than evil-for-evil.
A preacher tells this story: "I once lived in the country next to a very excellent man who, nevertheless, had his weaknesses. I recollect an occasion on which he became angry and manifested his displeasure in a striking manner. Wanting a place to hang up a trowel in my yard, I drove a nail into the fence between his yard and mine. It went through on the other side. One day I heard a racket in my yard and looking to see what was the reason, I found my trowel ringing over the pavement. My neighbour with his hammer had hit the nail and sent the trowel and everything else flying. My first feeling was to fire the trowel over at him and give him a piece of my mind, but my second thought was, 'Well, that's the way he is, but he is a very good fellow, a quiet neighbour so I won't say any thing about it.' I was going to be satisfied; but then I decided I had better say something to him. I stepped in and said, 'I ask your pardon, sir. It was thoughtless my driving that nail through the fence, and I am glad you reminded me of it.' He shook hands with me and said, 'Well, well, let us not say any thing more about that.' The result showed the wisdom of treating the matter in a spirit of simple kind ness. It was evidently the course of conduct that was best for him." Let's pray.