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.

Matthew 5:5 – Blessed Are the Meek

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth. (NIV)

To give us a flavor of Christ’s counter-cultural Beatitudes, when was the last time, or has anyone ever, described themselves to you as meek?

Whenever I have interviewed people for positions, both paid and voluntary, and asked them to tell me their strengths, I have never had anyone say to me, “I’m a meek person.”

Why would I want to be meek?

Far too often, we equate meek with weak. If someone is meek, we may wrongly reason they must be a washrag, or overly introverted, and maybe not taking proper initiative in life. Of all the character qualities we might aspire to, I doubt that meekness is on anyone’s top ten list of desired qualities.

Yet, of the few words in the Gospels which Jesus uses to describe himself, one of those words is meek. And even then, many English translations steer clear of the word. For example, the New International Version of the Bible says in translating the words of Jesus, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Only the King James Version translates the word as “meek,” instead of “gentle.”)

What does it mean to be meek?

Meek and gentle are the same words. The original Greek word is πραεῖς (pronounced “prah-ace”). “Meek” is the word used in other ancient Greek literature for breaking a horse. It is to be changed from being a wild stallion who wants to go his own way, to a broken horse who is gentle before the Master and allows others on his back without bucking.

Consider, for example, the scene around Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus was naked, exposed, and vulnerable to the idle curiosity of the crowd and the vulgar frivolity of the soldiers who were having a party around his suffering. “If you are the king of the Jews,” they taunted, “save yourself.”

And yet the extraordinary thing is there was no spirit of revenge with our Lord. Jesus did not curse his tormentors. Instead, he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:24)

It is important to notice the meekness that Jesus is speaking about in this Beatitude is not being a pushover. Meekness is not to be confused with being nice and easy-going. Meek and lowly as he was, Jesus could also take a whip to greedy money-changers in the Temple. We must not confuse meekness with weakness.

What characterizes a meek person?

Whereas poverty of spirit is more a humility before God, meekness is a humility toward other people. It is to be flat on our backs with only one way to look: up to God; and because we are in that position, there is no opportunity to look down on others. 

Meekness is a foundational Beatitude. Jesus considers it a necessary part of righteousness. I believe the word “meek” needs a renaissance. Even if we use the word “gentle” this will be a great advancement in how people interact with one another. So, what characterizes a meek person?

  • The meek have a desire to put other’s interests ahead of their own, because they know it is not all about them. They practice healthy rhythms of giving and receiving with others, without prejudice or favoritism.
  • The meek are more concerned with edifying and building up their brothers and sisters than justifying themselves. They don’t care who gets the credit. And they receive criticism well.
  • The meek are truly egalitarian and do all things with equity and inclusion. They make no distinctions between rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, intelligent and cognitive deficits, black and white, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican, or insider and outsider. In the meek person’s mind, every person is created in the image of God and therefore deserves respect, attention, and justice.

It is the meek who will inherit the earth – not aggressive people who believe in survival of the fittest, stepping on people to get where they want to go, or badgering others in order to get their way. 

Someone might protest, “But if I live this way, I’ll be pushed around.”  Meekness is not living without boundaries but is power under control. Maybe you will get stepped on – but you will inherit the earth.

How do I live as a meek person?

The three Beatitudes of being poor in spirit, mourning over sin, and meekness toward others are foundational to all that Jesus says and does. They are central to being Christ’s follower. Without them, there is only a contrived legalistic righteousness of our own without any real need of God. That is the way of pride, which is the straight and broad road to hell. 

Perhaps repentance is in order. It could be that too many people have made much more of themselves than what they truly are. Maybe we have adopted a soft attitude toward shame and shaming others, believing that some people need a bit of guilt from us to change their obnoxious ways. Perhaps we have paid scant attention to those who are in physical or spiritual poverty. And just maybe we have ignored and gossiped about others simply because we believe we are better than them.

A genuine follower of Christ lives a repentant lifestyle. The Apostle James said, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).  The way of Christ is the way of community. We are not to live ingenuine lives, hiding behind a mask of outward conformity. Now is the time for authenticity, living life as God intended it to be lived, as a disciple of Jesus in the way of spiritual poverty, mourning, and meekness – the narrow path that leads to salvation.

Non-retaliation happens when we realize our poverty of spirit and practice grief and lament. When we are flat on our backs before God, there is no place to look but up. And it means there is no ability to look down on others. It is to be broken and moldable before God. 

If you and I were part of the original crowd that listened to Jesus, there is hope. I have no ability to practice retaliation, even if I wanted to, because I have no earthly power. But that’s okay because, in this spirit of meekness, I take personal responsibility for my attitudes and my actions. I am neither worse nor better than any other person. I do not need to retaliate, even when egregiously wronged, because I can fully entrust myself to God alone who judges the living and the dead. 

Conclusion

It turns out that brokenness is the path to genuine righteousness. Jesus promised that the meek will inherit the earth. Christ didn’t just make that up. He was quoting Holy Scripture:

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
    and enjoy peace and prosperity. (Psalm 37:1-11, NIV)

Jesus was saying that only the truly meek will learn contentment, joy, and satisfaction. Their ego is not so inflated that they insist they deserve more. Indeed, because as God’s people they are learning from him, the meek understand they are co-heirs with Christ in an inheritance of God’s kingdom.

May your meekness and gentleness be known to all.

*Above painting by Hyatt Moore