Back when Vince Lombardi was coaching the Green Bay Packers, he was known for beginning pre-season training in unusual but lasting ways. One such season the packers arrived on the first day of practice nervous of what coach Lombardi had in store for them. All the players arrived and were waiting for the coach. After a short wait he walked into the training room and even though he was half their size and twice their age, the team was dreading that first day. Lombardi walked to the front of the room, looked out over all his team, held a football up and told them, “Gentlemen, this is a football, am I going too fast for you?” It was brief but everyone knew immediately what he had just said: we’re going to start with basics and make sure we know the fundamentals. Each time I walk up here to preach I feel something of a similarity between that moment and this moment. “Church, this is a Bible, am I going too fast for you?” In other words, we have come here today not to be entertained, or to hear funny jokes, but to hear from God through His Word. Let’s ask Him to speak to us now.
As we come into 1 Samuel 26 this morning we find more of the same. David, even though he is the anointed king, finds himself again in the role of a fugitive on the run from king Saul. In fact, chapters 24 and 26 are so similar some scholars believe them to be duplicates rather than two separate situations, some even claim that this is evidence of error within the text of Scripture. We deny such conclusions and believe chapters 24 and 26 to be two separate instances. They’re similar for sure, but similarity does not mean duplication and it certainly does not mean error.
There are 4 sections of this chapter, first we get the setting in v1-7, we then overhear three sections of dialogue: David with Abishai in v8-12, David with Abner in v13-16, and David with Saul in v17-25, where they will exchange words for the last time.
Just as in chapter 23:19 here in v1 we see the Ziphites again informing Saul of David’s location. We don’t know if some kind of prior agreement had been made between Saul and the Ziphites stating they would keep Saul aware of David’s movements, but we do get the impression that if the Ziphites had not told Saul of David’s location, Saul would have remained away and would not had pursued David, but they did tell him and Saul shows the same eagerness as before. David is on the hill of Hachilah, east of Jeshimon, and as before he got his 3,000 choice warriors with him and set out to capture David. He got to the hill of Hachilah and was apparently weary from the march so he set up camp with his 3,000 men on the one side of the hill. David heard that Saul had come out to capture him again and he sent spies to see if the rumors were true. They were, so David left his camp and snuck over to Saul’s, saw him in the middle, with Abner who was Saul’s chief commander, and the 3,000 choice warriors Saul brought with him circled around him. David had a wild idea and said to Ahimelech and Abishai “Who will go down with me into the camp?” On one hand Ahimelech heard this and probably thought, “What did he just say? He wants to go into the camp? Why? We’ll die doing such a thing, 2 men against 3,000?” On the other hand Abishai heard this and thought, “Wait, what did he just say? He wants to go into the camp? I’m in!” So Abishai in v6 says, “I’ll go with you.” So when it was night they set off, surely full of excitement and nervousness about what’s going to happen. When they got there, to their surprise everyone was asleep, and they found Saul lying in the middle of his army. They walked over to him and found him next to: his spear, his water jug, and Abner – his chief commander.
We have our setting, let’s now look to the first of the three sections of dialogue in this chapter, v8-12, between David and Abishai.
David and Abishai (v8-12)
Abishai doesn’t know David’s true intentions for wanting come on such a sneaky and dangerous mission but when the two of them are there above the sleeping king Saul Abishai concludes, as David’s men did before in the cave, that God had given David’s enemy into his hand. Abishai was so sure of this, and so eager to see Saul killed that he asked David if he could be the one to kill him saying in v8, “Let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” Or in other words, “Let me kill him, I won’t miss.” Do you see the irony at work here, that Abishai asks to kill Saul with own spear? A king’s spear was the symbol of his authority and more so Saul’s spear is the very weapon Saul hurled at David many times in the past to kill him. Now, in a twist of events, David has the opportunity to give the order to have Saul killed with this very spear. How’s David going to respond? In v9-11 he forbids Abishai from killing Saul and in his response we learn two things about David:
a) His response shows maturity in the Lord – in v9 David says “no one can put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless.” David knows that opportunity doesn’t imply permission. Just because God in His providence has opened up the second possibility to kill Saul still doesn’t make killing Saul the right thing to do. This shows David’s maturity because thinking that opportunity does give you permission is a sign of immaturity. Proverbs 21:29 says, “A wicked man puts on a bold face, but the upright gives thought to his ways.” An immature man will take most opportunities you put in from of him, a mature man or woman won’t, they’ll give thought to their ways. What do you do? Are you more of a rash and quick to act kind of person? If so, it may indicate immaturity in the Lord. Or are you more of a prudent and quick to listen kind of person? If so, that may mean you’re maturing in the Lord. Either way, we all would do well to remember this: opportunity does not imply permission. David knows this, Abishai doesn’t.
b) His response shows trust in the Lord – in v10 David says, “As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish.” David trusts in the sovereign plan of God over his life, which causes him to conclude that the Lord will deal with Saul in His own time and in His own way. Whether God kills him, whether God allows Saul to grow old and die, whether God ends Saul’s life in battle or whatever God does, it is God who will handle the destiny of Saul and it is God who will open the way for David to be king by removing Saul from the equation. Derek Thomas comments on this passage saying, “David knew that some things are best left to the sovereignty of God.” Where do you think David learned this? The most obvious answer is in the previous chapter when he had the chance to kill Nabal. Remember if it weren’t for God interrupting his plans through Abigail he would have killed Nabal. Yet God stopped him and he saw how trust in the Lord and waiting for Him to act is always best. So just as God struck Nabal in 25:38, David says in 26:10 (using the same Hebrew word) that God will eventually strike Saul as well.
David did not know how or when God would deal with Saul but he did know what to do in the meantime: obey. Some of you may be in the midst of parenting difficulties, others of you may be in the midst of marital difficulties or difficulties with not being married yet, some of you may be in the midst of job difficulties, while others of you may be in the midst difficulties brought about by your own sinful actions. Let me ask you: do you trust in the sovereignty of God to work in all these difficulties? The Bible doesn’t tell us how God will perfect these things, but it does say that God will perfect the things that concern us. In the meantime while we wait for God to act, we must do what David did – obey. David expresses this to Abishai in v11 he repeats the same truth he told his men in the cave of chapter 24, that no one should put out their hand against the LORD’s anointed. David then gives Abishai some direction saying “Take the spear and the water jug from Saul’s head.” They took these things and snuck out as quietly as they had snuck in. It’s here that we learn how they were able to have such a discussion over the sleeping bodies of Saul and his 3,000 men without waking anyone up. In v12 it says a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen on them. Walter Bruggemann points out in his commentary on 1 Samuel that this verse shows “not only the daring courage of David and Abishai, but the work of God’s Spirit as well.” Just as the Spirit had frustrated Saul’s plans by causing he and his men to prophesy earlier in 1 Samuel, so now the Spirit frustrates their plans again by putting them in a deep sleep.
The second section of dialogue then begins in v13-16 when David calls out for Abner.
David and Abner (v13-16)
David and Abishai leave the camp and go up on top of a nearby hill. As soon as David leaves the camp it’s as if God removes the deep sleep from them because as soon as David raises his voice from a distance, they all wake up and hear what he has to say. David calls out for Saul’s commander, Abner, and his words to Abner are meant to point out two things. His first comment, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel?” is meant to show the quality of Abner as a warrior. Abner is unlike all other men, there is no one in Israel like him, no one in the whole nation as able a warrior than him, and its for this reason that he’s commanding Saul’s troops. But as David continues he points out secondly, even though Abner is a specimen like no other…he deserves to die because someone snuck into the camp and could’ve killed Saul and rather than protecting the king, he was fast asleep. It would have been an easy and manly response to think David is lying or just trying to provoke them during the night, but when they saw David lift up the spear and jug of water to prove it Abner gives no response, because he knows David is right.
Now the last and final section of dialogue begins in v17-25 where Saul and David speak to each other for the last time.
David and Saul (v17-25)
As Saul did just outside of the cave in chapter 24 he asks, “Is that your voice David my son?” And as David did before he does again now on the hilltop across from Saul. He shows his identity and asks the question: “What have I ever done to you, that you should continue to hunt me, a flea who never bites back.” David adds something he didn’t in chapter 24 here in chapter 26. Specifically in v19 he adds two things. First he shows a stunning humility by admitting this whole mess between he and Saul could really be his own sin and if that’s the case – David asks “may God accept my offering.” Aren’t we provoked by this? When we’re wronged, the last thing we think of doing is admitting the fault may lie with us. No, we’re too proud for that. This should provoke you, because when the gospel truly changes your heart, you know one of the things that changes? Rather than pointing the finger at others all days long and condemning them for being the root of your issues, you think of yourself as the biggest sinner in any problem you come across. Knowing all that Saul has done to David, and to hear David say it may be his fault is not foolishness, its humility.
But second David says that there’s another option – it may not be any sin in David at all, it may just be Saul’s madness and the madness in his men that has driven him out of the land, such that he dwells in the midst those who worship other gods. We know this second option is the right one and so does Saul. David has been driven around and out of the nation by Saul, and the most devastating thing for David about that is that he cannot worship God, with God’s people, in the temple. How much does David differ from us today? At times we may be hindered from coming to worship, and at other times we don’t come to worship simply because we don’t want to. And in both those cases it doesn’t really matter to us that we missed worship. But for David, to be cut off from the worship of God with God’s people, was to be cut off from God Himself! We need to repent, and remember not to neglect meeting together. You know this is why we have Sunday morning and evening worship? Not just to hear more teaching, or to spend more time with me, heavens no! We do it to begin and end the day worshipping God with His people. If missing these moments doesn’t bother you, learn from David here, you need to be bothered more.
As the chapter finishes we see the last words these two men ever give to one another in v17-25. Saul confesses his error again, David proclaims God’s care over his life, and Saul assures David once again that not only will he be king, but that he’ll succeed in being king.
There is a lot to glean here in this chapter:
1) David had learned that opportunity doesn’t imply permission, have we?
2) David had learned to trust in the sovereign plan of God over his life, have we?
3) That God is able to put a deep sleep on Saul’s entire camp teaches us how easily God can weaken the strongest, make foolish the wisest, and baffle the most watchful. Matthew Henry comments on this saying, “Let all the Church trust God and let all God’s enemies fear Him.”
4) Abner was called out for sleeping while he should’ve been actively guarding the king, are we not challenged here in our laziness to be more active and zealous and watchful over our souls?
5) When David admits that the mess between he and Saul could really be his fault, we’re reminded that every one of us should lay claim to the title “the chief of sinners.”
6) David was deeply grieved that he could not worship God with God’s people in the temple. Does this not concern us and challenge us to be more devoted to and committed to gathering with God’s people for worship?
7) That David once again showed grace to his enemy even though his enemy deserved death, reminds us of the gospel grace we have received while we were God’s enemies, and reminds us that we must extend this grace to our enemies as well.
8) Those 7 items are grand and great to see, but the 8th is the best. In this chapter we find an anointed king going into the enemy’s camp to disarm him and plunder his spoil. Does that sound familiar? Mark 3:27 says, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” What David did to Saul here in our text, Jesus did to Satan in His incarnation. Jesus bound Satan by defeating him and plundered Satan’s house by stealing you and I away from him. We used to belong to the darkness, but now we are light in the Lord.
Praise God, for Jesus’s work!