Timing, Temptation, and Trust (I Samuel 24:1-22)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 24:1–24:22
I. Your Calendars
How many calendars do you have? I was thinking about that question the other day in terms of how I would answer that and I decided to do some investigating. Here's what I found. I found a calendar on my phone. I found one in my checkbook. I found one on my e-mail program. I found one on the wall of my office. I found one on the wall at home, in the laundry room. I found another one upstairs. Then I found one stuck to our refrigerator. And then I thought I had one of those credit card size calendars that you can keep in your wallet, but when I looked...nope.
So, I discovered that, in the course of my everyday life, I have seven calendars. And if I counted all the old calendars that are stuffed away here and there, I'd have many, many more.
How many calendars do you have?
Calendars are helpful aren't they? They help us remember when and where we need to be. They help us plan. They help us manage our time.
But this morning, God wants to talk to us about that other calendar; it would be number eight for me. Look with me this morning at I Samuel 24.
II. The Passage: “See the Corner of Your Robe” (24:1-22)
As we come back to the book of Samuel, we find that David is still a fugitive. He is still running from Saul, who is the current but rejected king of Israel. As God's newly anointed king, the blessings of God are just oozing out of David's life. Everyone could see it, even Saul. But while others were encouraged by David, Saul was envious of David. And that envy, mixed with fear and denial, was fueling Saul's desperate attempts to find and kill David. Seek and destroy. That was Saul's agenda.
In the last chapter, we learned about two incidents in which God delivered David from Saul and his forces. In that second instance, Saul was just minutes away from trapping David, but a messenger came and told him that the Philistines were invading the land. So as Saul went to defend Israel, David narrowly escaped.
In that chapter, we also read this about Saul's devotion to David's destruction: [23:14] And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness...And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.
A. Sparing the Lord’s Anointed (24:1-7)
So let's pick up this story in chapter 24, verse 1. David has fled east from the deserts of south-central Judah and is now hiding along the western coast of the Dead Sea. Here's what we read in 24:1...
When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” 2 Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats' Rocks. 3 And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 4 And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul's robe. 5 And afterward David's heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul's robe. 6 He said to his men, “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.” 7 So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way.
So we see right away from verse 1 that Saul's spy network is still operating efficiently. After dealing with the Philistines who ruined his previous opportunity to capture David, Saul is hot on his trail again. This time we are told how many soldiers Saul took with him: 3000! And these aren't like David's ragtag band of disaffected Israelites. Saul's soldiers are the best in the land.
But given the build up in the first two verses, the first half of verse 3 seems like an absolutely bizarre piece of information. Saul needs to go to the bathroom? Do we really need to know this? Ahhh...but the second half of the verse reveals why we're being told about this royal 'potty break'.
To rework the famous Casablanca line, David might have said to himself, “Of all the caves, in all the deserts, in all the world, Saul walks into mine.” Yea, Saul chooses the one cave (and there's a lot in these hills), the one cave where David and his men are hiding.
But notice in verse 4 how David's men interpret this little turn of events. They tell David, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Now, instead of quoting something God actually said, I think the men have pieced this little saying together from a number of realities surrounding David and his anointing and his victories and his flight from Saul.
They are telling David, “Are you kidding, David? This is it, man! This is your chance! God has just delivered Saul to you with a big silver bow! Do what needs to be done!”
And look at what David does in light of their words. He sneaks over to where Saul is relieving himself and cuts off a corner of the royal robe. Now David might simply be the master of stealth, or there is enough noise outside the cave to cover David's approach. In fact, one of the possible locations at Engedi is a cave behind a waterfall, which would certainly create enough noise for David to get this close to Saul.
But the real question in this little episode is “why”. Why did David cut off a piece of Saul's robe. If you know the rest of the story, you might simply assume that he did this in order to show Saul that he could have easily killed him if he had chosen to do so. But notice again what verse 5 reveals: afterward David's heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul's robe.
David falls under conviction here. He knows he's done something wrong. But what has he done? Well, given the fact that David is acting in response to the words of his men, it seems that David cut Saul's robe in order to make a symbolic statement. Remember what happened way back in chapter 15. We read there that...
As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. (15:27, 28)
We also read this in chapter 18: Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. (18:3, 4)
So not only has God's prophet Samuel set the precedent for symbolic robe ripping, but he's done so in the context of Saul's rejection AND the promise of new chosen king. And as this new chosen king, David has even received, as a covenant symbol, the royal robe of Jonathan, the crown prince. Given all this, it's very likely that David is declaring through this act of cutting Saul's robe that he will cut off Saul and Saul's kingdom. But again, once he does this, he is convicted.
Why? Because of what he knows about Saul. Verse 6: “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.” 7 So David persuaded (literally, he tore to pieces) his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way.
David knows from personal experience that God is the one who raises up his anointed king. And if God raised Saul up, then it must be God who brings him down. And so it is with strong rebukes that David restrains his men as they watch their prey sneak away from the trap.
B. Confronting the Lord’s Anointed (24:8-15)
But the story is not over, is it? Look at verses 8-15!
Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. 9 And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? 10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord's anointed.’ 11 See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it.
12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! 15 May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”
David might have had his chance to finish Saul, but even though he spares his life, he will not let an opportunity pass him by. Even though he obtained it with the wrong motivation, he nevertheless is holding on to a patch of proof, literally, a shred of evidence that he is not Saul's enemy.
And so David, knowing that he and his men will die if this fails, David follows Saul out of the cave and, with the utmost respect, pleads his case before Saul. And David covers all his bases: “Don't listen to what others are saying...I could have killed you, but I didn't...here, look, in my hand, here is the proof...check your robe...I know you are the Lord's anointed...your manhunt, your sentence against me is unjustified...God knows the truth...if I was wicked, I would have acted wickedly against you...but I will not...have I not proven myself to be as harmless as a dead dog...even better...as a flea on the carcass of a dead dog...I am innocent my lord, my king, my father...I trust God to vindicate me!”
Notice here that David is not grovelling, that he is not simply pleading for his life. No, he is not afraid to condemn Saul's actions and ask for God's vengeance and God's deliverance. Even in verses 13 and 14, while David is affirming that he is NOT wicked, the flip side of the application of his quotation is that Saul IS wicked. “Wickedness COMES OUT of the wicked!” and “After whom has the king of Israel COME OUT.” (same verb). Saul is the wicked one.
But even though David has spared Saul's life, will this speech convict Saul or infuriate him?
C. Affirming the Lord’s Anointed (24:16-22)
Look with me at the final section of chapter 24, verses 16-22...
As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. 18 And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 21 Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my offspring after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father's house.” 22 And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
Notice a few things about Saul's response here: First, notice that Saul addresses David as “my son” and weeps. I don't think this is an act. I think it's clear that Saul is genuinely affected by David's mercy and David's words.
Second, notice that Saul in verse 20, for the first time, admits that David will be king. Not only that, he also admits that “the kingdom of Israel shall be established” under David's reign. David has proven that he is a man of integrity and wisdom, the very things Saul has lacked.
Third, notice that Saul pleads for further mercy from David. In verse 21 he wants David to ensure that Saul's descendants will not be wiped out when David takes the throne. Saul, of course, does not know that David has already made this promise to Jonathan, and thus David does not hesitate to grant Saul's request.
But notice in all this that Saul does not pronounce a royal pardon for David. He doesn't swear to David that he will leave him alone, or encourage him to return to his home. No, in verse 22 we read that Saul goes home and David goes right back to hiding in the hills. Maybe David stays in the wilderness because he too senses that something was missing from Saul's tearful speech. Of course, the coming chapters will confirm the fact that Saul will be back. Saul has been humbled temporarily, but he has not been broken.
III. Perspective: “May the Lord Judge”
At this point, I think we need to stop and think about why this passage is so unique in terms of what we’ve seen so far. From Saul’s first act of aggression against David, way back in chapter 18 when he tries to pin him to the wall with a spear (the first time), all the way to the opening lines of this chapter, chapter 24, when Saul is pursuing David with 3000 soldiers, the whole time, from one spear to 3000 soldiers, David has been on the defensive.
But here, David is given the opportunity to strike. Here in this cave, David is no longer the hunted; he is the hunter! This time, David has the chance to deal, once and for all, with this man who has made his life a living hell for so long.
But remember how David described this opportunity: Behold, this day your eyes [Saul] have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. David echoes the words of his men here and affirms that Saul’s choice of caves was no coincidence. No, God arranged the whole thing. But David’s response to Saul reveals how David interpreted God’s providence in this situation.
God had not delivered Saul into David’s hand so David could prove something about his own power or ambition. No, God delivered Saul into David’s hand so God could prove something about David’s faith. Remember what God had said about David to Saul through Samuel, before we even knew David’s name: The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you [Saul] have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (13:14)
So in recording I Samuel 24, the writer of Samuel wanted to demonstrate to his readers something important here about David. And what he wanted to communicate can be described with four “T” words: trapped, timing, tactics, and trust. We could it put it all together like this: When he feels trapped, a man after God’s own heart does not respond according to his own timing and tactics, but instead, with trust in God’s purposes according to God’s word. (2x)
Notice how David describes the rock underneath his feet in verses12 and 15. He is not standing on the strength and prowess of his ragtag army. He is not standing on the cleverness or elegance of his rhetoric. He is not standing on some belief that deep down Saul is really not that bad, that underneath that gruff, tempestuous, and murderous exterior there lies a real ‘teddy bear’ that will soften when he hears about David’s mercy.
No David declares in verses 12 and 15: May the Lord[may YHWH] judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you…May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”
This is the kind of king Israel needs. Remember, when Saul felt ‘trapped’ by Samuel’s absence and the people’s demands in chapter 13, he trusted in his own timing and tactics and offered the sacrifice himself, right? When Saul felt ‘trapped’ by the allure of plunder and the people’s demands in chapter 15, he trusted in his own timing and tactics and spared Agag and the best of the spoils.
But not David. David is that man after God’s own heart. David is a man of faith. David is the kind of king God’s people need.
IV. Practice: My Hand vs. God’s Hand
Do you feel trapped this morning? In what kind of cave do you find yourself? To one degree or another, at some point, all of us find ourselves in this cave. We are tired of running, we are scared, maybe we are angry, and we feel like our back is up against the wall. And then…then…in walks ‘opportunity’.
All of a sudden, it seems as if God has placed the ‘opportunity’ right in our hand. And it might even be that those around us are affirming the very same conclusion: “Look what God has done! God has opened that door! Wow, look at how God works! This has to be God.’
Maybe that’s how the young Christian woman felt when she met the charming and affectionate man down the street…but he wasn’t a Christian.
Maybe that’s how the financially failing homeowner felt when the consultant introduced a brand new program…but it involved filling out the form with a few “white lies” here and there.
Maybe that’s how the emotionally injured woman felt when the lawyer explained how much money she could get from HIM because of his mistake…but it all seemed driven by bitterness and unforgiveness.
Maybe that’s how the alienated and lonely teenager felt when a group of kids welcomed him into their circle…but once inside, the circle only seemed concern about getting high.
Maybe that’s how the struggling church felt when the growth guru laid out his seven point plan for doubling attendance and giving…but it meant dropping words like “sin”, “death”, and “judgment”.
In what kind of cave do you find yourself this morning? When we’re tired, when we’re scared, when we’re frustrated or angry, when our back is up against the wall, all of us are tempted by what appears to be ‘opportunity’.
You see all of us have a calendar. It’s number eight for me. It’s a calendar constructed by the temptation to trust in our own timing according to our own tactics. “Things SHOULD be like this, right NOW. Things SHOULD have been different by this point. I can’t wait any longer. God said he would take care of me. God wants me to succeed, doesn’t He? God wants me to be happy right? I’m just going to give this whole thing a few more days…a few more weeks…a few more months.”
But…when we feel trapped, a man or woman after God’s own heart does not respond according to his or her own timing and tactics, but instead, with trust in God’s purposes according to God’s word.
Listen to how Paul describes this principle in Romans 12: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God [we could say “wait” for the wrath of God], for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21)
Listen to how Peter described this principle in I Peter 2: For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (I Peter 2:21-23) Isn’t that precisely what David did?
And remember what David’s son did when HE was in the wilderness (Matthew 4):
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” [hasn’t God promised to take care of you?]…But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the top of the Temple], [hasn’t God promised you worshippers who will hail you as the Messiah?]. Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“All these [all these kingdoms of the world] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” [hasn’t God promised you the Crown of crowns?] Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
Like his earthly forefather, Jesus did not respond to these temptations according to his own timing and tactics, but instead, with trust in God’s purposes according to God’s word…EVEN WHEN…God’s purposes involved a cross…when God’s purposes involved suffering.
But here’s the best news ever announced: because Jesus entrusted himself to God, because of the cross, we can trust God, even in the darkness of our cave…
…we can overcome when that ‘opportunity’ seems so appealing…we can know that God will deliver us, that God will heal us, that God will relieve us or release us or move us or according to HIS timing, according to HIS tactics.
You see the cave of David was always intended to point us toward the garden of Jesus. Engedi was ultimately about Gethsemane. It was there that Jesus resisted the temptation to flee…to reject the cup of God’s wrath. And because he overcame, we can overcome.
This morning, the question for us is this: “Will I move into this day trusting in my hand or God’s hand? (in my power of God’s power)” My “hand” is about interpreting events according to my calendar, utilizing my tactics. God’s hand is about interpreting events according to the firm, fixed, and perfect word of God.
This morning, we need to pray that God would illuminate our cave with the light of His word. We need to pray that God would fill our darkness and desperation with the gospel, with those promises made certain by Jesus. Only by trusting in God’s word will any of us be able to walk out of that cave…no matter what army is waiting for us. God will be with us.
Amen? Let’s pray.