In reading 1 Samuel 26 today, I was astounded by the timing of this story. David is being pursued by Saul’s army, unjustly, and he decides to sneak into the camp at night. He gets all the way in to the middle of the army who is sleeping, and kneels beside Saul, his enemy. David’s friend Abishai, who helped him get there, wants to kill Saul, thinking the Lord has delivered him up to David. Clearly a sign of victory.
But David’s response is (v9), “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord‘s anointed and be guiltless?” and further (v10), “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.” David escapes with Saul’s spear and jar of water and runs to safety.
Finally, Saul is awakened and David tells him, “23 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. 24 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.”
Let’s be clear that Saul was clearly wrong. Saul had heard of David’s presence in the wilderness of Ziph, and had brought 3,000 soldiers to root him out and kill him. David’s sparing Saul was not because he didn’t have good reason. No one in the world would have faulted David for quickly, honorably, slaying Saul in his sleep. Imagine Abishai’s shock, when David decided to spare Saul. He probably thought, “isn’t this why we came? We’ll never get another shot like this!”
To understand David’s bewildering decision to spare Saul, we must consider David’s motives. His desire, according to v24, was to be “precious” in the sight of the Lord. David, who was once the “apple of God’s eye,” had hope for something more than just the temporary pleasure of revenge. He was under his own persecution, remember. David was seeking his own relief and absolution. He saw this situation as an opportunity to extend to Saul what he was seeking for himself. By cherishing Saul, he would be cherished. By freeing Saul, when he had the chance to kill him, he would be freed from his own tribulation.
How often do we have opportunity to take down our leaders, who are put there by God, according to Romans 13:1? David understood two things: 1. when we act against the Lord’s anointed (no matter how they lead), we are taking our own blood in our hands, not theirs, and 2. we receive from God what we are willing to extend to others. 1,000 years later, God came to earth and told us the same thing (Luke 6:37-38).
So the next time we disagree with a leader, or are plainly wronged by them, and all the stars align to give us a clean shot to “make things right,” I pray that we would be more like David than Abishai…that we would have a greater desire to be cherished by God, and rest in the hope that it is God who is really at work, not man.
David’s unusual response led to Saul’s repentence, blessing and peace. This is what Christians should be fighting for.