I Samuel 24 reveals a unique test in David’s life. We read that David and his men were hiding in yet another cave near Ein Gedi when King Saul entered the very same cave to relieve himself. What a golden opportunity for David to put this cat-and-mouse saga to an end. He could easily have killed Saul then and there. Even his men whispered to him, ‘Now is your opportunity!’
But he didn’t.
The text tells us that he crept up silently and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe and the king never heard him. After all the grief and pain Saul had inflicted on David, the shepherd-king refused to take revenge. Admirable, indeed.
Yet, David’s tender conscience regretted that he had even cut a piece of the king’s garment. He said to his men: 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. I Sam. 24:6
This is an amazing declaration. Consider: 1) The Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul and fallen upon David. How easy would it have been for David to consider that Saul was no longer the ‘anointed of the Lord’? But David knew his God Whose character and nature is such that He does not withdraw His giftings even when His leaders fall into sin. Their individual character has failed but God’s faithfulness does not. What we sometimes forget is that no individual ever deserved God’s giftings; therefore a man or woman’s failures are no reason for God to withdraw them. Rather, God works in various ways in that person’s life – in this case, Saul – to draw him to repentance so that he can be restored to function in the gifts which reside within him but may at present be stifled because of his sin. This is why it is so important to guard our tongues and our attitudes about leaders who experience a moral or spiritual failure. God does not stop loving them; neither should we. Our responsibility is to pray for their restoration, keep our tongues from gossip and guard our own hearts against transgression. 2) All David did was slice off a small corner of Saul’s robe when he could have killed him! Yet his conscience rebuked him for even that ‘small’ action. Why? Again, because David had an intimate relationship with his LORD and recognized that small though it may be, it was an act of disrespect to his king. He repented openly to his men, thereby demonstrating his humility.
His men could well have thought he was crazy! Especially in light of what he did next!
After Saul had left the cave and gone his way, David came out and shouted after him, ‘My lord, the King!’ And when Saul looked around, David bowed low before him. Then he shouted to Saul, ‘Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you?’ 24:9
He then went on to demonstrate to the king that while he had the chance to kill him easily, he didn’t do it but snipped off only a piece of his robe in order to prove his loyalty to the king. In his words to the king, he even calls Saul ‘my father’.
When David finished speaking, Saul began to cry and confessed, ‘You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil.’ 24:17 Saul acknowledges David’s kindness, declares that he knows David will be king after him and that Israel will flourish under David’s rule. He further asks that David not harm his family once he becomes king. David promised with an oath to care for Saul’s descendants. Then Saul went home and David and his men returned to their stronghold.
Look closely at what happened here.
Saul cried out: You have repaid me good for evil. Can you imagine how many interpersonal conflicts would be avoided if we did this one thing that David did? If we returned good towards those who may have done evil towards us?
David’s conscience pricked him and his response was to change his behavior. The Spirit of God does the same with us. He will nudge us in one way or another when we are not doing right. We know it; we recognize it but do we do as David did? Or do we push aside the prompting of the LORD and continue doing what we want? Our choice to respond to or to ignore our conscience gives evidence of our inner character.
By his behavior, David teaches us that he feared God more than he feared men. Remember his words: The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing…’ He did not allow himself to kill Saul out of respect for God, not Saul.
The Book of Proverbs tells us: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Prov. 9:10
It also tells us: The fear of the LORD prolongs one’s days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened. Prov. 10:27
The fear of the LORD is not a matter of being scared; rightly understood, the fear of the LORD is an attitude of profound respect and honor towards the Holy One, coupled with an inner reluctance to offend Him.
What is our attitude towards people who have offended or hurt us in any way? What does David’s example tell us about how to respond?
How much do we let the ‘fear of what other people think’ influence our behavior, rather than being concerned, as David was, with what God thinks?