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.
Our passage begins today in 1 Samuel chapter 24, verse 1.
After Saul returned from fighting the Philistines, he was told that David had gone into the wilderness of En-gedi. 2 So Saul chose 3,000 elite troops from all Israel and went to search for David and his men near the rocks of the wild goats.
3 At the place where the road passes some sheepfolds, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. But as it happened, David and his men were hiding farther back in that very cave!
1 Samuel 24:1-3
Ever great story needs a hook – that little something right in the introduction that captures your attention and makes you want to keep reading. Well, this story has a great hook!
Saul is once again back on the hunt for David – and he’s got with him 3,000 of his best troops. It’s like 3,000 navy seals – these guys are the best of the best and they have one objective in mind… To capture and kill David.
Well, as these elite troops are tracking David through the mountains, Saul suddenly feels the call of nature and has to take a bathroom break! Well, they happen to be going by some caves, and so Saul figures that’s as good as place as any to go do his business and so he does. He goes into the cave to relive himself.
But wouldn’t you know it, it just so happens that David and his 600 men are all hiding in the back of that very cave! What a great setup for a story!
And what a great setup for David! What an opportunity to finally put Saul in his place! At least, that’s what David’s men thought. Look at verse 4…
4 “Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.’”
1 Samuel 24:4a
One could hardly deny that this would be the perfect opportunity for David to take out his #1 nemesis, King Saul. There would likely never be another opportunity like this again – where Saul was alone and vulnerable and pretty much helpless in the presence of David and all his men! It was not surprising that David’s men concluded that God had handed Saul over to David on a silver platter!
And with Saul out of the picture, wouldn’t David be glad to be able to stop running and constantly fearing for his life!? I mean, Saul had been hunting David relentlessly for months if not years by this point already. Surely David was ready to stop running and get back to normal life! And all David had to do is say the word, and his men would glad pounce upon Saul and that would be the end of it! Or at least, that would be the end of Saul. There would still be the matter of the 3,000 elite troops sitting outside the cave that David would have to deal with. But that scenario could go one of two ways….
There was certainly the possibility that if David killed Saul, Saul’s troops would try to avenger their king’s death and attack David and his men who were kinda trapped inside the cave…
But then again, once Saul was dead, his troops might just retreat or even surrender to David. It’s hard to know what they would do!
But sufficient to say, there was a lot at stake for David and his men. So what would he do? Well, the end of verse 4 tells us…
“So David crept forward and cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe.” 1 Samuel 24:4b
Now this seems like a strange thing for David to do, and two questions come immediately to mind. #1. Why did David cut off a piece of Saul’s robe? What was his purpose in doing that? #2. How in the world, did David do that without Saul noticing!?
The “why” question will get answered for us in the verses to follow, so hold onto that thought for a few moments. But the “how” question isn’t specifically answered in the Bible. Most people probably imagine David creeping up behind Saul while Saul is doing his business, with David coming just within feet or even inches of Saul to cut that piece off his robe. And that might have happened, but there’s a good chance that it may not have happened quite that way. Saul may have taken off his outer robe and placed it somewhere else before going deeper into the cave to find the ideal potty place. David may have then gone and cut a piece off the robe at that point when Saul was at least a little ways away. Of course, that’s just a possibility – we don’t know for sure. But however he did it, it was certainly a very bold and daring move to get that close to the man who was trying to kill him!
And of course, David wasn’t just being fool-hardy – he wasn’t just trying to show his men how brace he was…. But he actually had a very good reason for doing this and we going to see that in verse 11. But first, look at what happens in verse 5.
5 But then David’s conscience began bothering him because he had cut Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him.” 7 So David restrained his men and did not let them kill Saul. 1 Samuel 24:5:7a
Now this is what I find so incredible about this story – this is that defining moment that I talked about at the beginning. Remember, all David has done to Saul is cut off a piece of his robe. He didn’t run him through with his sword or lope off his head. He didn’t take him hostage or even threaten to kill him. All he did was cut a tiny bit of fabric from Saul’s robe.
And immediately, David’s conscience began to bother him because he had raised his hand against the Lord’s anointed one in this tiniest of ways.
Throughout the entire time that David has been on the run from Saul, David has never lifted a finger against Saul or even said a negative word against him – until now. This was the first thing that could even be perceived as David acting against Saul. And it was such a little thing, but David immediately felt guilty about it.
You see, David had such a soft heart towards God, that he felt that even this minor “attack” on the Lord’s anointed one, was a sin against God! God had chosen Saul as King, and so David felt, (and rightly so) that He had an obligation to respect and honor Saul because He was God’s chosen King. It didn’t matter that Saul was trying to kill David – that didn’t change David’s responsibility to honor the Lord’s decision. Until God removed Saul from his place as King, David would honor and respect him as the Lord’s anointed one. To do anything less was to sin against the Lord.
What a man of Godly character! No wonder David is called a man after God’s own heart. David wanted to make sure, even in the littlest things, that He was acting in a way that honoured and pleased the Lord.
And what a great challenge for us! Is that how seriously we take our relationship with God? Do we make sure that even in the littlest of things, that we honor and please Him?
- Do we make sure that in our comments and in our jokes at work that everything we say brings honor and glory to God?
- Do we treat every person we know with kindness and respect (even when they don’t treat us the same way)?
- Are we careful to honor the Lord with what we say on facebook or other social media?
- Does it bother our conscience when we act in any way outside of God’s will for our lives?
That’s what it means to be a man or woman after God’s own heart! I would pray that all of us would have that kind of softness of heart towards God – that we would have that kind of desire to please and honor Him even in the little things.
As for David, he determined that he would not lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed one, and he managed to convince his men to do the same.
Well, eventually Saul finished his business, gathered up his robe, and headed back outside. We continue reading in verse 7.
After Saul had left the cave and gone on his way, 8 David came out and shouted after him, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked around, David bowed low before him.
9 Then he shouted to Saul, “Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you? 10 This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’ 11 Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me.
1 Samuel 24:7b-11
And now we know the answer to the question of “Why did David cut a piece off of Saul’s robe?” David had cut off the corner of Saul’s robe to prove to Saul that he has never had any intentions of harming him. If David wanted to harm Saul, he certainly could have done a lot more than just cut off a piece of Saul’s robe in the cave. David could very easily have killed him. But he didn’t. He just cut that piece of robe to prove that he was within striking distance of Saul, but still chose to spare his life.
David then continued in verse 12:
12 “May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you. 13 As that old proverb says, ‘From evil people come evil deeds.’ So you can be sure I will never harm you. 14 Who is the king of Israel trying to catch anyway? Should he spend his time chasing one who is as worthless as a dead dog or a single flea? 15 May the Lord therefore judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one. He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power!”
1 Samuel 24:12-15
I love how David has complete faith in God for everything. He trusts God to judge between he and Saul, He trusts God to punish whoever is guilty, and he trusts God to rescue him from Saul’s power.
Unlike most of us who tend to take matters into our own hands, David just leaves everything in God’s hands – and just trusts God to sort everything out! It’s pretty amazing!
After all that Saul had done to him, David vowed that he would never harm King Saul. If Saul was going to be punished for what he had done to David, it wouldn’t be from David’s hands – it would be from the Lord. David had no thought of getting even – no thought of revenge. David would leave all that stuff up to God.
And actually, the Apostle Paul tells us to do likewise in the book of Romans. It’s actually kinda interesting, as you read through Romans 12:17-21, you’d think that Paul was thinking of this exact story from the life of David – using David as the example for us to follow…. Have a look – Paul writes:
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”
21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
Isn’t that exactly what David did? He refused to pay back evil for evil. He left any possible revenge or punishment in the hands of the Lord. And instead, he did things in such a way that every could see that he was honorable. He did everything he could to live at peace with Saul. He refused to be conquered by evil, but instead he conquered evil by doing good.
You’d think that Paul had used David’s actions as a template for us to follow as he wrote this in the book of Romans. Now I guess in this incident, David literally didn’t give his enemy food or water to drink, but in sparing Saul’s life, David certainly heaped burning coals of shame on Saul’s head.
Take a look at how Saul responds:
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. 21 Now swear to me by the Lord that when that happens you will not kill my family and destroy my line of descendants!”
22 So David promised this to Saul with an oath. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went back to their stronghold.
1 Samuel 24:16-22
Saul is amazed and overwhelmed at David’s kindness. Saul knows that he should have been killed in that cave. He deserved it and any other man would have given it to him! But David spared his life – he repaid and overcame Saul’s evil with good.
As a result, Saul finally acknowledged for the first time that David will indeed be king and the kingdom of Israel would flourish under the rule of such a good and Godly man. Saul then asked David not to kill off his family when he became king – and of course, that’s something that David had already sworn to Jonathan, so David happily made that same promise to Saul.
But really, even that was an undeserved favour that David granted to Saul. After all that time that Saul spent hunting David, you might expect David to be bitter and angry towards him – but all we see is compassion and forgiveness and goodwill.
Well, the chapter ends with Saul returning home and David and his men going back to their stronghold. Sadly, this won’t be the last time that Saul goes hunting for David, and it seems that David suspects that already. He knows the fickle nature of Saul – so for the time begin, Saul goes home and David remains in the wilderness – just waiting for Saul to change his mind once again.
And you know, this whole story is just a vivid picture of our relationship with God. Like Saul, we too have been shown amazing kindness by someone who overcame our evil with His good. Romans 5:8 says…
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
The Bible says that each of us does evil in the sight of God. We selfishly rebel against God almost constantly. We are sinners. And as a result, we all deserve to die. We deserve to be separated from God for eternity. In fact, God has every right and would be completely justified to wipe us off the face of the earth.
But God didn’t do that. He didn’t repay our evil deeds with the punishment we deserved. But instead, He repaid our evil deeds with good. John 3:16 says…
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV
God sent his son, Jesus, to be born into the world, to live a sinless life, and to die on a cross in our place. He did this so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life.
Jesus overcame our evil with good.
And this morning we want to celebrate communion – which of course is symbolic meal that reminds us of that very fact.
It reminds us that even while we were enemies of God, selfish and rebellious – God loved us so much that he willingly died for us. He paid the price for our sin, so that we could be forgiven and have life with him forever.
And so before we move into our time of communion this morning, I just want to ask you, “Have you accepted God’s gift of forgiveness and life? Have you put your trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin? Have you acknowledged that Jesus Christ is your King?
If you’ve never done that, I’d encourage you to do that today.