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David Spares Saul’s Life Once Again

Three weeks ago, we read in 1 Samuel chapter 24 about how David spared the life of King Saul after Saul inadvertently stumbled into the very cave where David and his men were hiding. It was the perfect opportunity for David to kill the man that had been relentlessly hunting him, but David refused to harm the Lord’s anointed King and made a point of proving to Saul (by cutting off a corner of his robe) that even though he could have killed him, he didn’t. When Saul realized how merciful David had been to him, he humbly admitted that David was a better man than he and would one day be a great king over Israel. Saul then stopped his pursuit of David and went home very much humbled. 

That was all in chapter 24. Today, we find ourselves in chapter 26, although we might mistakenly think we’re re-reading chapter 24 because these two stories are strikingly similar. The details are different, but the storyline is almost identical.

In today’s chapter, Saul again resumes his pursuit of David, and again David has a perfect opportunity to kill Saul. But like in chapter 24, David refuses to kill Saul and makes a point of proving to Saul that he has no intentions of harming him in anyway. 

We begin this morning in 1 Samuel chapter 26, starting at verse 1. It reads like this:

Now some men from Ziph came to Saul at Gibeah to tell him, “David is hiding on the hill of Hakilah, which overlooks Jeshimon.”

2 So Saul took 3,000 of Israel’s elite troops and went to hunt him down in the wilderness of Ziph. 1 Samuel 26:1-2

Now if all of that sounds just a little bit familiar to you, that’s great – that means you’ve been paying attention! This is now the second time that the men of Ziph have come to Saul and have ratted out David’s hiding place. You might remember the first time they did that back in chapter 23. In that chapter we read:

19 But now the men of Ziph went to Saul in Gibeah and betrayed David to him. “We know where David is hiding,” they said. “He is in the strongholds of Horesh on the hill of Hakilah, which is in the southern part of Jeshimon. 20 Come down whenever you’re ready, O king, and we will catch him and hand him over to you!” 1 Samuel 23:19-20

That was the first time the men of Ziph betrayed David – and at that time, David narrowly avoided being captured by Saul at the Rock of Escape as Saul had to go home to fight off the Philistines. But now, here again in chapter 26, David has returned to his old stronghold on the hill of Hakilah and again, the men of Ziph have ratted out his location to King Saul. I don’t know what these guys had against David, but they sure seemed determined to sell him out.

As for Saul, when he hears where David is hiding, he gets right back into his old routine and he gathers 3000 of his best troops and heads out to hunt David down in the wilderness of Ziph.

But hold on a second. 

Hadn’t Saul learned his lesson and repented of his evil ways after David had spared his life back at that cave? Remember how Saul had humbly admitted that he was in the wrong to hunt down David and that David was surely God’s choice to be king? Do you remember that? Let me re-read those verses for you… This is back in chapter 24 again…

16 When David had finished speaking, Saul called back, “Is that really you, my son David?” Then he began to cry. 17 And he said to David, “You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil. 18 Yes, you have been amazingly kind to me today, for when the Lord put me in a place where you could have killed me, you didn’t do it. 19 Who else would let his enemy get away when he had him in his power? May the Lord reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today. 20 And now I realize that you are surely going to be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will flourish under your rule.

1 Samuel 24:16-20

From what we read in these verses, Saul certainly seemed to be very sincere in what he said, right? He was in tears, acknowledging that David was a better man than he. He humbly stated that David would surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel would flourish under his rule.

But now, just a short time later, we see Saul right back on the hunt – trying to capture and kill David once again! So what do we make of this?

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David & Abigail

Last week we looked at just the first half of a story in 1 Samuel chapter 25.

It’s the story of David as he interacted with a sheep farmer named Nabal. Now Nabal, who was known for being crude and mean in all his dealings, was quite a contrast to his wife, Abigail, who was known for being sensible and beautiful! These two characters couldn’t be more different!

And we haven’t seen much of Abigail in this story so far, but we’ve had a quite an introduction to Nabal!

You see, this story all begins at sheep-shearing time – a time of feasting and celebration – very much like our own Thanksgiving celebrations this weekend! David has recently been camped near Nabal’s shepherds around the town of Carmel. And David had been very good to Nabal’s shepherds as they camped near each other. David’s men had kept them safe from the Philistine raiders and nothing was ever stolen from them during their time together… 

And so, when David hears that Nabal is sheering his sheep and is having a great celebration, he sends messengers to Nabal asking if Nabal could kindly share whatever provisions he could with his friend David and his men!

Nabal, however – true to his reputation, would do nothing of the sort and responded by heaping insults upon David and sent David’s messengers home empty-handed. 

As you might imagine, this did not sit well with David who’s only recorded response was to tell his men “Grab your swords” as he strapped on his own! In a classic case of wild over-reaction, David sets out to murder Nabal in retaliation for his insults! Of course, this is quite out of character for David – a guy who is called “a man after God’s own heart” – a guy who has repeatedly had compassion and mercy on King Saul even while Saul was trying to kill him.

So it seems kinda odd that David would foolishly rush to murder Nabal simply for being rude and selfish! And we talked a little bit last week about why he might have done so, but one thing is for sure: Even the best of us are aways susceptible to sin! We ought not think we’ve matured beyond the point of being able to mess up big time – cuz that’s just what David is about to do.

And that’s about where we left off last week – David and 400 of his men are armed and headed towards Nabal’s house with the intent to murder every man in Nabal’s household.

So this morning, we’re going to see how this all turns out.

We pick up the story now as the scene shifts back to Nabal’s home. It says in 1 Samuel chapter 25, verse 14…

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David & Nabal

For the last couple of months as we’ve been going through the book of 1 Samuel, our Sunday morning messages have revolved primarily around the conflict between King Saul and his son-in-law David. This conflict started off as merely a little bit of jealousy, but it grew to become fear and paranoia, as Saul become convinced that David was conspiring against him to take his throne and to overthrow his kingdom. Eventually, David had to flee from Saul, running for his life as Saul relentlessly tried to capture and kill him. Now of course, David had no desire to undermine or overthrow Saul – even though God had promised David that he would one day be king. In fact, in just the last chapter, we saw that David had the perfect opportunity to kill Saul if he had wanted to, but he refused to do it.

1 Samuel chapter 24 tells us that as Saul was hunting for David, he went into a certain cave for a bathroom break, and would’t you know it – David and his men were hiding in the back of that very cave! Now if David truly were trying to kill Saul, he could very easily have done so in that moment – but he refused to harm Saul – and instead, he merely crept up and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Well, when Saul left the cave, David hollered after him from a safe distance and showed him the the fabric that he had cut off – proving to Saul that David could have killed him, but didn’t. This deeply convicted Saul who finally admitted that David was a better man than he and that David would indeed be a great king over Israel.

Now at that point, Saul humbly returned home, but David remained out in the wilderness with his men – which leads us to today’s story. It seems that Saul isn’t the only source of trouble for David. Even with Saul temporarily out of the picture, we’re going to see today, that David still has to deal with difficult people. And for anyone who’s had to deal with difficult people, (which I’m pretty sure is all of us) I think there might just be some valuable lessons for us all in today’s story.

Our study of 1 Samuel now brings us to chapter 25 and it begins like this:

Now Samuel died, and all Israel gathered for his funeral. They buried him at his house in Ramah. Then David moved down to the wilderness of Maon. 2 There was a wealthy man from Maon who owned property near the town of Carmel. He had 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats, and it was sheep-shearing time. 3 This man’s name was Nabal, and his wife, Abigail, was a sensible and beautiful woman. But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings.

1 Samuel 25:1b-3

The chapter begins with a brief mention of Samuel’s death and burial. We haven’t heard much about the prophet Samuel recently, but it was Samuel who had anointed both Saul and then later David as kings of Israel. We also know that Samuel had been a key supporter of David… In fact, according to chapter 19, David even went to live with Samuel for a while when he first fled from Saul. So no doubt, Samuel’s death would have a been a difficult loss for David. And while the Bible doesn’t specifically say so, this sense of loss and grief could end up being a factor in some of David’s decisions later on in the story. So maybe just log that bit of information away in your mind for the time being and we’ll touch on that again in a little while.

But after Samuel’s death, David and his men returned to the wilderness of Maon – they had been there previously – back when Saul almost caught David at the place now called the Rock of escape (you’ll remember we talked about that a few weeks ago.)

But now in Maon, we are introduced to two other characters in this story. We have Nabal – who was a wealthy sheep farmer and was known for being crude and mean in all his dealings. And then we have his wife, Abigail, who was known for being sensible and beautiful! 

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Overcome Evil with Good

As we’ve been going through the book of 1 Samuel, reading the stories of Saul, David, & Jonathan, we’ve come across several defining moments for these characters – critical moments where they have to make a certain choice and that choice then becomes the foundation of their character for the rest of their lives – for good or for bad.

Well, today we are going to read about one of those key, defining moments in the life of David. In fact, I would argue that this defining moment is probably even more significant even than his famous battle with Goliath. David’s battle with Goliath defined him as a man of bravery, boldness, and trust in God, but it’s today’s story that really begins to define David as a man after God’s own heart.

Now if you haven’t been with us recently, let me just quickly give you the run down on where we are in our story today.

King Saul is the current king of Israel, but because of his disobedience to the Lord, the Lord has declared that He will take the kingdom away from him and give it to another – a man who will obey God and do all that God desires. Saul’s son-in-law, David, has been chosen by God to be that man. God has told David that he will one day be king. This has created an interesting dynamic between David and Saul. 

Of course, David has been completely loyal to Saul and has served him faithfully – commanding Saul’s armies and being very successful at that. But Saul has grown increasingly jealous of David and has repeatedly tried to kill him.

In fact, for the last several chapters of 1 Samuel, Saul has been chasing David around the countryside – trying to capture and kill him, but David so far, has escaped – sometimes just by the skin of his teeth.

Just last week we read how Saul was only moments away from capturing David, when an urgent message arrived – telling King Saul that the Philistines were attacking – so Saul left to fight the Philistines, and David escaped. Of course, this wasn’t by chance or by luck, but by the hand of God. Throughout these stories we’ve seen God at work, keeping David safely out of the grasp of King Saul.

But in today’s story, we’re going to see things flip around, and it’s not going to be David in the hands of Saul, but Saul in the hands of David.

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The Rock of Escape

For the past several weeks, it feels as if I’ve introduced my messages in the exact same way every Sunday. It seems that every week I tell you, ‘When we last left David, he was hiding out from Saul who was determined to kill him.”

That’s been the running theme for about the last six chapters as we’ve been reading through the book of 1 Samuel.The details of the story change from chapter to chapter, but the basic premise remains the same. “Good and faithful David is running for his life from jealous, selfish King Saul.”

 And this morning, nothing has changed. Today we are going to read through the second half of 1 Samuel chapter 23, and that’s the exact plot line again. “Good and faithful David is running for his life from jealous, selfish King Saul.”

And just before we get into today’s message, maybe that’s a question that we should ponder: Why does the author of 1 Samuel put so much emphasis on this time of David’s life? Why is it important that we see this same story play out time and time again? Is it showing us David’s faithful and loyal character? Is it reminding us of God’s goodness and protection? Is it warning us through the life of Saul of the consequences of turning away from God? Or on a grander scale, is this all somehow foreshadowing the life and person of Jesus Christ?

God’s chosen to include all these stories in his divinely inspired Word for a reason, so what do you suppose that reason is?

Well, I’m actually not going to answer that question for you today, but I’d challenge you to think about it and maybe even do a little research on your own. The point of these Sunday morning sermons isn’t just for me to dispense all the answers to you, but for me to challenge and encourage you to get into the Word of God yourself. At the end of the day, you’re the one who is responsible for your relationship with God, and so I’d encourage you to make it your habit to study the Word of God for yourself.

But on that note, we do want to take some time to look at God’s Word together this morning, so let’s jump right into our passage.

So as I mentioned before, “When we last left David, he was hiding out from Saul who was determined to kill him.” Or more specifically, according to verse 14…

14 David now stayed in the strongholds of the wilderness and in the hill country of Ziph. Saul hunted him day after day, but God didn’t let Saul find him.

15 One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. 

1 Samuel 23:14-15

And we’ll pause here just for a moment. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but it sure seems like David has a good communication network in place. David never seems to get caught by surprise, because he’s always hearing of Saul’s plans before Saul gets a chance to carry them out. That was the case earlier in this chapter when Saul was planning to come and capture David at Keilah. Somehow David got wind that Saul was coming for him, and God confirmed that, and so David took off before Saul had chance to besiege the city and capture him.

Now again, while David is near Horesh, David heard the news that Saul was on his way to search for him and kill him. Now I don’t know if maybe there is someone among Saul’s men that is tipping off David – sending out secret messages to warn David of Saul’s plans. The Bible doesn’t say so specifically, but that certainly wouldn’t be impossible. Jonathan, for example, had previously warned David though a secret code that Saul was determined to kill him. We read about that back in chapter 20. So its quite possible that Jonathan or some other person close with Saul was sneaking out information to David.

 Or it could be that David just had lots of loyal supporters throughout the country. Remember, the people of Israel, generally speaking, loved David. He was a national hero! The women sang “Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands!”  So perhaps it was the people of Israel who kept David informed of Saul’s movements.

But however David got his information, we can be sure that God had a hand in it somehow. We see from verse 14 that although Saul hunted for David day after day, God did not allow Saul to find him. God was at work, watching over David, protecting him, and keeping him safely out of the hands of Saul.

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David Rescues Keilah

Today we continue on in our journey through the book of 1 Samuel. For the past several weeks, we’ve been following David as he attempts to escape the grasp of King Saul. Even though David has been nothing but loyal to Saul, Saul has become insane with jealousy towards David and is convinced that David is trying to conspire against him. Saul has become so fearful of David that it seems there is nothing he won’t do to try to capture and kill David.

In fact, Saul has just executed 85 priests and their families because the priest Ahimelech had earlier given David some supplies for his journey! Of course, Ahimelech didn’t even know that David was fleeing from Saul, but Saul accused him of conspiring with David and ordered that he be put to death. Ahimelech and all of his relatives were then murdered by Saul’s henchman, Doeg. Only one member of Ahimelech’s family escaped – his son Abithar who fled for his life and found refuge with David.

Of course, Abithar wasn’t the only person who found refuge with David. You’ll remember that when David was hiding from Saul at the cave of Adullam, a whole group of people came to David and joined him there. These men were described as being in trouble or in debt or bitter of soul. But they all found compassion and refuge with David until David was the captain of about 400 men.

About that time, the prophet Gad told David that the Lord wanted him to return to Judah. And so, being obedient to the Lord, David and his men left the safety of their stronghold in the cave of Adullam and returned to Judah. And that’s about where we left David last time.

Saul is still on the hunt for David and David is now hiding out with his 400 men in the forrest of Hereth. 

Now I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but as soon as I read about David hiding out with his men in the forest of Hereth, I immediate thought about the story of Robin Hood. I mean, just change a few names and the plot is strangely similar. Instead of Robin Hood and his band of merry men hiding out in the Sherwood Forest – you have David and his ragtag group of 400 men hiding out in the forest of Hereth. And instead of Prince John and the sheriff of Nottingham trying to hunt down Robin Hood, you have King Saul and his evil herdsman, Doeg trying to hunt down David. You could even find similarities between Robin Hood’s loyal friend, little John, and David’s loyal friend Jonathan.

The only thing we haven’t seen yet is David stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Then again, in today’s passage, we’re going to see David coming to the rescue of those in need – even while being on the run himself – so maybe there are some more similarities after all.

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