I am convinced of something this morning. If you get the point of 1 Samuel 24 it will change everything about your life. Sure, you may not leave here visibly different than when you walked in, you will still have the same problems and the same difficulties and the same struggles in life. But one thing will be entirely different – you. If you get the point of this chapter, you will be different. I am convinced of this, and I not only want you to be convinced this morning, I want you to be gripped this morning. Throughout the week this chapter has worked on my soul and it has changed me. Let’s pray, and ask God to grip us through His Word.
a) Approaching the Cave (v1-3)
When we left the end of chapter 23 it looked like Saul was finally about to capture David and his men but God rescued David from Saul by sending the Philistines into Israel to begin raiding again. So Saul had to give up his pursuit to fight the Philistines. These things occurred at the end of chapter 23. Notice how chapter 24 begins? In v1 we don’t even hear of the outcome of that battle, the text immediately goes back to Saul chasing David. In v1 he learns David has moved eastward and is now hiding in the wilderness of Engedi. In v2 Saul takes 3,000 of his men and begins his pursuit once more. The author of 1 Samuel is being intentionally abrupt with us. By skipping details of Saul’s encounter with the Philistine raiders the author wants to show us how quickly Saul is on David’s trail once again. In fact, Saul is on David’s trail again so quickly we wonder if David felt that he had any kind of break at all. Then everything changes in v3. During their pursuit Saul has to take a pit stop, he has to take a bathroom break, so he enters a cave and relieves himself. But surprise of all surprises, this cave just so happens to be the very cave that David and his men were hiding deep within.
b) In the Cave (v4-7)
Well, while Saul is taking care of business David and his men are having a discussion about God’s will for David’s life. His men have already reached their decision in v4, you can almost hear them singing the song ‘This is the day, this is the Day that Lord has made, that the Lord has made…’ According to them David’s course of action is crystal clear, God has given David another pleasant providence by giving Saul into his hands. The tension in David’s heart has got to be thick, ‘Is this another pleasant providence, or is this a temptation? How do I know the difference between the two? Sure God has promised me the kingdom, but is this the way for me to bring it about?’
Quiet and secretly David sneaks off to approach Saul. Once David gets close enough to Saul he cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, and v5 tells us that David’s heart struck him (deeply wounded him) for doing it. Why did his heart strike him? Because David knows the truth of the sanctity of God’s anointed. He explains it to his men in v6 saying, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” So to attack the king God ordained is to attack God Himself and seek to gain the kingdom by violent and sinful means rather than waiting for God to give it to him in God’s own good time. Now in our English versions we get the impression that David was privately struck with heavy conviction by God for cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe and went back and explained this to his men with no problems. Wrong. Just as David had been hotly pursued by Saul and his henchman, David’s men had been too. You can be certain that they were just as eager as David to be rid of such stress and anxiety. The word ‘persuaded’ in v7 in the original Hebrew is the word ‘shasa’ which means to tear apart. So when David went back to his men and explained why he didn’t kill Saul David literally had to ‘tear apart’ his men with his words, which means the only way to keep his men from killing Saul themselves was to violently threatening them. It was clear to David that he should not lift a finger against the LORD’s anointed, but it wasn’t so clear to his men. Meanwhile Saul finishes, gets up, and goes on his way completely unaware that his enemy just saved his life.
We see something of Christ here. David knew that though it was God’s will for him to be king, God’s will must be brought about in God’s way; the end that God ordains must be brought about by means God approves. This is the same test Jesus had to face in Matthew 4. Satan came to tempt the Son of God and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world saying, “All these things I will give to you if you fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:8-9). Just as God had promised David the kingdom, so too, in a much greater manner Psalm 2:8-9 says God will give all the nations of the world to Jesus. So what the devil was offering to Jesus really was the will of God, no doubt about that. But as we’ve seen the will of God must come about in God’s way, and the way God intends to give Jesus the nations isn’t through worshiping the devil but through suffering and dying on the cross and rising from death to defeat it forever. You see Jesus and David were offered a shortcut to God’s will for their life…and rather than taking the bait, they saw the ‘temptation of the shortcut’ not only as deceptive but as displeasing and sinful to God. We should learn from them. In a day when so many people are telling you that they’ve discovered the latest secret to the Christian life, the latest secret to church growth, or the latest secret to true peace and lasting joy – we must remember there are no shortcuts to glory, there are no shortcuts to holiness, and there are not shortcuts to kingdom inheritance. David had to wait and die to his personal timetable in obedience to God. He could not lift a finger against the LORD’s anointed to bring all his dreams to pass. Jesus had to suffer and die in obedience to His Father in the apex of His humiliation before His exaltation.
You and I are called to the exact same things. God offers no shortcuts in the Christian life. Because of this anyone who tries to offer you a kind of shortcut is really trying to remove your focus on Christ and Him crucified and place it on whatever they’re trying to sell you. God’s will for you is to be happy, God’s will is for us to be triumphant in our struggle with sin, God’s will for us is to be full and abundant, but the way God brings this about isn’t through a kind of magical formula or shortcut around suffering, instead He leads us right through difficulty and suffering in order to produce in us what is pleasing to Him. And so when we find our life take a detour into a season of suffering or confusion or difficulty, we don’t have to wonder at God’s purposes. He’s taking us, in His grace, where we’d never go on our own, to make us into the people He has planned for us to be.
c) David’s Humility (v8-15)
As soon as the words ‘My lord the king!’ rang in Saul’s ears you can imagine the fear that rose in Saul’s heart, especially when he turned around and saw his enemy bowing before him. David didn’t give Saul any time to speak but quickly went into his own plea. ‘Why do you believe those who tell you that I am seeking your harm?’ ‘Do you not see how God gave you into my hand just now? My men told me to kill you, but I spared you because I will not lift a finger against the LORD’s anointed.’ If Saul was not already shocked enough, the words in v11 would’ve shuddered down his spine. ‘Look at your robe, look at my hand, do you see I’ve cut off the corner? If I wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead. There is truly no treason in my hands to kill you, even though you seek my life to kill me.’ The tears that burst out of Saul in v16 are probably beginning to well up in Saul’s eyes after hearing these things from David. To what had to be a stunned face in Saul David was unswayed and continued speaking, casting his lot to God who is the ultimate Judge between he and Saul.
See here in David, a true humility. Rather than pridefully presuming to take the place of God by taking vengeance into his own hands David submits to God, casts all his care on Him, truly expresses his grief for being unjustly pursued, and rightly commits his trust to God to right such wrongs. We find other prayers like this throughout the Psalms. Psalm 54:5, “In His faithfulness God will put an end to my enemies.” Psalm 58:6, “O God break the teeth in their mouths.” Psalm 69:28, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living.” Psalm 137:9, “Let their children be dashed against the rocks.” These are the painful prayers of those who have felt unjust experience. None of these verses would ever make there way into a Hallmark card, but they’re in the Bible, inspired by God nonetheless, to teach us how to respond to God when we’ve been unjustly abused or wronged. David does this in v12 by saying, “May the Lord judge, and avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.” Then David quotes an old proverb in v13 to point out to Saul the reality of his evil, “Out of the wicked comes wickedness.” Such a proverb condemns Saul and calls out his own vile deeds. Not only so, but David continues in v14 to call out Saul by saying he is only a dead dog, and a flea – why would anyone chase down something so overwhelmingly small in relation to everything else? Indeed to do so is folly. David then gives his final statement in v15 stating again what he had declared in the start – that God will judge between them, plead his case, and deliver him from Saul’s unjust, cruel, and wicked pursuit.
We again see something of Christ here. As David was by Saul, wasn’t Jesus wronged? Wasn’t He unjustly treated, scorned, mocked, beaten, and pursued by wicked men? Of all people, He is the One Person who could do anything He wanted to do to His accusers. Yet how did He respond? Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth.” The sin of everyone who would ever believe in Him was laid on Him, and He took it all without lifting a finger in retaliation. Both David and Jesus were tempted with giving in to what they wanted to do, what they felt deeply on the inside. But rather than giving into their feelings they believed God’s will for them was better than then their will for them. Think back to David as He is right there before Saul. Here is the one who has caused him so much pain, fright, turmoil, stress, and heartache. There he was, within the reach of his sword. Sure He didn’t kill him in the cave but he still could’ve done it here outside of it. Perhaps David (and Jesus to as well) were tempted with this thought: if I give in to this and act on what I feel to be right and retaliate, maybe all my problems will go away? Perhaps that’s how some of you are tempted with sin? This moment for David and all these moments for Jesus are difficult moments for sure, but aren’t they moments that are present in every temptation with sin? Being tempted to believe what we feel is truer than what God says is always at play within us before every sin. And too often what we feel seems overwhelmingly true while what God says seems dreadfully distant. O’ for God’s grace to be given in such moments, that we would remember Him who is true. Church: our feelings, our thinking, our thoughts, are not our firm foundation…His Word is our firm foundation.
d) Saul Humbled (v16-22)
After hearing what David had to say, one could probably guess the two ways Saul could have responded to David in that moment. Humbled and sorrowful or proud and wrathfully. Surprisingly Saul responds humbly.
It is the pinnacle moment of the chapter when Saul burst out in tears in v16, and from those seemingly repentant tears comes words of sorrow and apology in v17-21. He concludes that David is indeed more righteous than he is (v17), that God did indeed give him into David’s hand, (v18) and that for not killing him God would surely reward him greatly (v19). Then it comes, the statement that David already knows to be true from Samuel, from Jonathan, and now from the mouth of Saul himself – v20, David will be king, and God will establish the kingdom of Israel through him. After confessing these things to David Saul was probably aware of the vanity of his throne and utter lack of power, so he begs David to not kill the rest of his family when the kingdom becomes his. David agrees, and the two part ways.
2 things to end:
1) After seeing such a chapter there is something that naturally rises up in our hearts. It’s something that you may not be able to name, but you can feel it, and it likely bothers you a great deal. The rub about this whole chapter is that Saul deserves to die and David doesn’t kill him…do you feel that? Saul is not worthy of being treated the way David treats him here. Saul deserves to be killed. Yet, David gives Saul what he least deserves. We are bothered so deeply by things like this because we have all had people, who at one time or another, have seriously wronged us. Whoever it was and whatever they did, (if we’re honest) what’s the one thing we don’t ever want them to receive? Grace. Everyone thinks grace is a wonderful idea, something worthy of praise when we see it in others…but when we’re actually faced with someone who has wronged us, our hearts do a kind of blitz against grace and we only yearn for one thing: justice. And once justice comes into view, we long to take matters into our own hands and in the case of this person who has wronged us we want to become the judge, jury, and executioner. You know what we forgot in these moments? That we’re just as deserving of judgment as the one who wronged us. That we too stink of sin and vileness. Here we see a glimpse of our sin, our just penalty for that sin, and the stunning gospel grace we see in Christ. Saul was David’s enemy and he didn’t kill him. We by nature are God’s enemy and rather than killing us He sent His Son for us: to live the perfect life to make us righteous, to die on the cross to cleanse us, to rise from death to justify us, and to ascend to ever intercede for us. Does this not stun you as much as the moment when David let Saul live? You know what this means? Contrary to popular opinion we’re not David in this story! We’re not the ones who have been wronged, we’re the ones who do the wronging. We’re not the hero of the story, we’re the villain, we’re Saul – the foolish sinner who receives grace he doesn’t deserve.
Can such grace be true? In Christ the answer is yes and amen!
2) Remember how I began today? I said I am convinced that if you understand this, it will grip you and leave you forever changed. Do you now see why that is so? Seeing the grace God has given us in Christ is so surprising, so bewildering, so stunning that it transforms us, it grips us, and changes who we are, so much so that when we’re wronged we don’t retaliate, we give grace. So the grand lesson for us today is simple yet profound: awareness of undeserved grace received leads to the willingness to extend grace to those who deserve our displeasure.
Gospel grace received is gospel grace given.