1 Samuel 24:1-22 – How to Handle An Enemy

David and Saul in the Cave by James J. Tissot (1836-1902)

After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So, Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.

He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

“Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 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.”

When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

So, David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. (New International Version)

Sometimes reconciliation is neither possible nor wise.

King Saul was unstable. Although initially appreciative of David’s service, Saul became jealous. And that jealousy eventually grew into suspicion, then paranoia.

It became so bad that David had to flee and went on the run. Saul was convinced David wanted his kingship, so he hunted him like an animal. He wanted him out of the limelight and out of the way – permanently.

There are times in everyone’s life that another person actively and intentionally seeks to do us harm. How do we handle such a situation? How might we respond in a way that gives us peace of mind?

David continually had enemies throughout his life. And the vast number of those who opposed him, did so despite the fact that David didn’t deserve it.

“We retaliate instead of reflect, and we burn hot in the flames of revenge rather than cool our heels in the pool of patience.”

Craig D. Lounsbrough

Saul came looking for David with an army five-times the size of David’s rag-tag group of men. Yet, Saul had no idea that he had ambled into being a sitting duck.

What would you do in that kind of situation?

Picture the person who gives you the most grief. Maybe they purposely speak bad about you or try and oppose you at any opportunity. Perhaps there is a boss or someone in authority who seeks to undermine you every chance they get.

And now, the tables are turned. You have the chance to publicly put them in their place. You can put an end to the madness. What are you going to do?

In David’s situation, his men made the logical assumption that God ordained the turn of events. So, go ahead and off Saul. Become the king. After all, God already told you that you would be king. Now he’s giving you the opportunity. It’s right there. Take it, man.

“Retaliation is a dog chasing its tail.”

Libba Bray

But David didn’t take advantage of having the upper hand. He didn’t kill Saul because he was convinced it wasn’t the right thing to do. In fact, David felt terrible for even considering the idea. He wasn’t going to take matters into his own hands.

So, David left it in the hands of God. Since God anointed him as the next king, David reasoned, then God would make it happen. He didn’t need to do God’s job for him. David’s theological perspective was this: God is my defender; God will take care of me; God will judge another’s sinful behavior.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a story in the importance and necessity of non-retaliation. What’s more, it’s a lesson in treating all people with respect, even if they don’t seem to deserve it, at all.

This lesson in no way infers that we sit idly by and refuse to hold another accountable for their actions. It just means we aren’t the judge, jury, and executioner.

Once Saul realized he had been a sitting duck, he repents… or does he? He admits to his wrong, even emotionally reacts to it. But here’s the bottom line to all overtures of repentance: It must result in a change of attitude and behavior. And Saul didn’t offer that.

So, the story ends pretty much as it began. There’s no reconciliation because there’s no true repentance on the part of Saul. The disturbed and paranoid king ends up continuing his murderous pursuit of David. *Sigh*

Folks like Saul have no intention of changing. They only want to hold onto their power and control. They’re only happy if others are giving them accolades and kudos. And if they’re not getting recognition, there’s hell to pay.

Beware of false repentance. Don’t be fooled by a person who has a pervasive pattern of self-interest, then, all of a sudden, feels sorry. It’s likely they’re doing that because they don’t have the upper hand – and they desperately want it back.

More importantly, don’t play their game. Instead, live by the ethics of God’s kingdom. You’ll be glad you did.

O God: Give me strength to live another day. Let me not turn coward in the face of its difficulties. Let me not lose faith in other people. Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness. Preserve me from harm and keep me from harming others. Help me to keep my heart clean, and to not become disheartened by the evil of others. Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see the good in everything. Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness and make me a conduit of your blessing to others, in the name of the strong Deliverer, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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