Consider the Possibilities (I Samuel 26:1-25)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 26:1–26:25
As we return to our study in I Samuel this morning, our prayer should be the very same prayer David offered up to God in Psalm 119:18. He wrote: Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Let’s consider God’s word this morning with an expectation that He has “wondrous things” to show us. Amen? Amen!
II. The Passage: “The Lord Forbid that I Should Put Out My Hand” (25:1-25)
Now, bBefore we dive into our passage this morning, let me remind you of what’s happening with David here. David has been anointed as the new king of Israel, but the old king, the rejected king, Saul, will not give up the throne, even though he knows God has rejected him AND he knows David is the new king. He says as much in I Samuel 24:20: And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.
So even though David spares his life in chapter 24, and even though God will establish the kingdom of Israel in his hand, all the evidence points to the fact that Saul is still consumed with and driven by the jealous anger described so clearly in chapter 18:
As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments.  And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?”  And Saul eyed David from that day on.  The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand.  And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.
So now David is on the run. He has a group of six hundred men who are following him, and he now has two wives, one being Abigail, the wife of Nabal, the man whom God struck down because of his treatment of David in the last chapter, chapter 25.
A. Saul’s Heart of Rage (26:1-5)
So let’s look together at chapter 26, starting with the first five verses. Verses 1…
Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?”  So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph.  And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness,  David sent out spies and learned that Saul had indeed come.  Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.
Now you may remember that this is not the first time we meet the Ziphites, and this is not the first time they’ve ratted David out. They did the same exact thing back in 23:19, but by God’s grace, David was able to escape when Saul came out to capture him.
Here, just like in chapter 24, Saul leads three thousand of his best men into the desert in order to find David. But David has his own spy network! He first hears through the grapevine about Saul coming and then, according to verse 4, sounds out a small reconnaissance team to confirm the information and pinpoint Saul’s exact location.
And after the final report came across his desk, David took his own small group of men out to take a look at Saul’s camp.
From the description of the camp at the end of verse 5, it sure seems like Saul is not wanting to take any chances, right? He’s sleeping right in the middle of three thousand men. So some would say that “Saul is no fool. He’s got his security plan in place.” But from everything we know so far about Saul and about God, we know that Saul IS a fool. Only a fool would think that he, as a rejected and raging king, is going to be safe from God in the middle of three thousand, or even three million soldiers.
B. David’s Heart of Restraint (26:6-12)
So as David and some of his men are spying on Saul’s camp, listen to the idea that David comes up with. Verse 6…
Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab's brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.”  So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him.  Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.”  But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD's anointed and be guiltless?”  And David said, “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.  The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD's anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.”  So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul's head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen upon them.
So instead of seeing three thousand men and getting the heck out of there, David goes into his “Strategies for the Certifiably Insane” file and pulls out this plan: “let’s go down INTO Saul’s camp”. Maybe being out in the desert all this time, David’s brain has been sun burned.
But notice he does get a volunteer: Abishai the son of Zeruiah. According to I Chronicles 2:16, Zeruiah is David's sister. That would make the three brothers, Joab, Asahel, and Abishai, David's nephews.
But once we read the entire section, we recognize that David is no fool. In fact, what David is demonstrating here is the ‘foolishness of faith’. Many times, what the world considers foolish, God’s people see as a call to faith.
David doesn’t care that there are three thousand men. He knows God has promised him the crown and he has seen, time and time again, how God preserves him in light of that promise…even saving David from himself as we saw in the last chapter.
Now notice how in verses 8 and 9, both Abishai and David are thinking theologically, that is, they are interpreting events based on what they know of God. So once they make it through all those dozing defenders, right up to the royal sleeping bag, Abishai is convinced that God has given them an open door to finish Saul off. And Abihai is ready to kill Saul for David, since David has already told his men in the caves of Engedi that he will not take Saul's life.
But just like he did in chapter 24, David again reminds Abishai that Saul is God’s anointed king, and as God’s anointed king, Saul can only be brought low by the very One who raised him up. David knows what Hannah, Samuel’s mother, declared way back in chapter 2: The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. (I Samuel 2:6, 7) God must bring low the one he has exalted to the throne of Israel.
If David allows Abishai to kill Saul, not only will Abishai be guilty, but David as well.
So if David and Abishai have not accomplished the impossible in order to assassinate Saul, why are they there? Well, notice that David’s plan includes borrowing the royal canteen and the king’s spear. Now, David knows all about this spear, doesn’t he? Of course, he’s more used to seeing it stuck in wall next to his head, rather than stuck in the ground next to Saul's head.
But verse 12 is a great confirmation of everything we’ve been talking about, isn’t it? David’s faith in God’s promises is well grounded in reality. And that reality is one in which God intervenes with his power for the sake of His servant. It wasn’t that David and Abishai were Israelites ninjas who had mastered the power of stealth. No, God was watching over them; it was God who kept Saul and his men asleep while David and Abishai walked and whispered among them.
C. Saul’s Heart of Remorse (26:13-25)
But let’s keep going. So David now has Saul’s spear and water jar. What will he do next? Look at verse 13:
Then David went over to the other side and stood far off on the top of the hill, with a great space between them.  And David called to the army, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered, “Who are you who calls to the king?”  And David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord.  This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the LORD's anointed. And now see where the king's spear is and the jar of water that was at his head.”  Saul recognized David's voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.”  And he said, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands?  Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the LORD who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the LORD, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the LORD, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’  Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth away from the presence of the LORD, for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.”  Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.”  And David answered and said, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and take it.  The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the LORD gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the LORD's anointed.  Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the LORD, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.”  Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.
So when David and Abishai get a safe distance from the royal camp, he first addresses Abner, Saul's general. And he does this so that he can reveal what he and Abishai have done. But in doing this, he also wants to establish that that all of them are guilty and he is innocent. The great space in between them is more than just literal, isn't it? How are these men guilty? Well, Abner and his men have failed to protect the king (vs. 15, 16). And David, of course, has the royal spear and royal canteen to prove it.
And when Saul speaks up, David wants to carefully establish Saul's guilt as well. Notice that he conjectures that it maybe Saul's counselors have given the king bad advice, maybe they are the ones who are responsible for David being driven from Israel and being driven from worship at the Tent of Meeting. David knows that is not true. The spear in his hand is a perfect reminder of Saul's rage. But David is trying to be diplomatic.
And Saul, recognizing that David has spared his life once again, recognizing that he has made a “great mistake”, Saul goes beyond his words of remorse in chapter 24. Here in verse 21, he asks David to “return” with him, promising David that he will not harm him.
But David knows better. So instead of going over there, David calls for one of Saul's servants to come over to him, to retrieve the spear and the water jar.
Again, the great chasm between them is more than just a spatial reference. It is a reminder of David's “righteousness and faithfulness”. It is a reminder that David has entrusted himself to God. But on the other side, Saul and his men stand condemned. Unlike David, any reference to God is absent from the words of Saul. In the end, David and Saul go separate ways. They will never meet again.
III. Perspective: Trust, Not Treachery
So when we think back over chapter 26, we are reminded of the very thing the first readers of Samuel would have been struck by: unlike Saul, David is a man of great faith. This fact was clear from outset of David's story, wasn't it? When no Israelite, including Saul, would face the Philistine giant Goliath, David ran to the battle, not with some kind of false bravado, but with faith.
And as we see here, David's faith is clear, not only from his willingness to sneak through the midst of three thousand sleeping soldiers, but even more so, from his willingness to trust God's timing and God's tactics in regard to his escape from Saul and his establishment as king over Israel.
David moved forward with trust, not treachery. And the royal spear and water jar were proof of that. Can you imagine? Can you imagine holding that spear in your hands, in light of all the pain it represented for David? Can you imagine holding it in your hands and choosing trust over treachery, choosing God's will over your own will?
This is the kind of leader Israel need when they cried out for a king. Saul would not trust God's timing. Remember how he failed to wait for Samuel in chapter 14 Saul would not trust God's tactics. Remember how he failed to do all that God had told him to do against the Amalekites in chapter 16? No, David is the king Israel needs, and the author wants to make that clear.
This is the kind of king we need, isn't it? As people marked by treachery against God, we need a king who marked by trust, trust in God's timing and God's tactics. Well here is where our perspective must be shaped, not by David, by the son of David, Jesus Christ. Jesus is this kind of king, even more so than David. David will go on to fail. In fact, his faith is beginning to waver in the first verse of chapter 27.
But the New Testament tells us that Jesus' trust in God's timing and God's tactics was regular and resolute, consistent and confirmed. Let me give you one example of this. In Luke 4 we read about how, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, the devil came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. If we were to look at Luke 4, we would find the same three temptations that are mentioned by Matthew in chapter 4 of his Gospel. But there is a slight difference.
While Matthew's account concludes with Satan offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he will worship him, Luke's account concludes with Satan challenging Jesus to throw himself off the temple in Jerusalem.
So how do we explain the difference here? Well, listen to this simple, almost forgettable sentence from Luke chapter 9:
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (9:51) While it sounds like a basic travel log entry, this sentence actually marks the clear point in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus steps on that path that will lead him directly to the cross; that will lead him to death.
So the order of the temptations in chapter 4 is significant because Luke wants us to understand that Jesus has chosen to reveal His glory in Jerusalem through suffering and shame, not through a miraculous landing after taking a swan dive off the Temple. That is not God's path to Jerusalem. That is Satan's path.
God's timing and God's tactics are summed up in the cross. Jesus knows this. In Luke 22, as He prays in the garden, He will ask His Father about His timing and tactics. But in the end, He will obey. He will trust. “...not my will, but yours be done” (22:42).
If your faith is in this faithful King this morning, if your perspective is filled up with the reality of Jesus, you should be greatly encouraged. He is trustworthy. You can trust Him. You can trust His word, His promises. God's deliverance has been accomplished through God's king, and we can walk in that deliverance this very day.
IV. Practice: The Possibilities of Providence
Now, in light of God's reminder for us through David, AND in light of God's example for us through David, this morning I want to leave you with a practical encouragement…an encouragement in light of the perspective God has already given us in regard to our “righteous and faithful” King.
One of the things I love about this chapter is what it teaches us about obedience. And we find this lesson right at the very center of the chapter, in verses 9-11. Go back and look at that. We read there that David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD's anointed and be guiltless?”  And David said, “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.  The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD's anointed.
I think that these verses are a great reminder of this common, biblical formula:
Faith in God’s sovereignty + a knowledge of His commands + holy imagination = obedience.
Let me explain what I mean. God’s sovereignty is the truth that God not only has the power to perfectly work anything He wills, but that He does indeed work all things according to His perfect will. David understands this. He knows God is at work in His circumstances.
But this is combined with a knowledge of God’s commands. David knows that God does not want him to harm Saul. He knows that it is not His place to “put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed”.
But here, in verse 10, we also get a glimpse of what we might call “holy imagination”. Abishai can only interpret the success of their stealth according to the limitations of his bitterness and his impulse to violence (something we will see with him and his brothers in II Samuel).
But in light of his faith and knowledge, David can imagine all sorts of ways that Yahweh will work for him. Just as God struck down Nabal in the last chapter, God can strike down Saul. Or maybe God will allow him to die of natural causes. Or maybe God will have him struck down in battle. No matter which of these options comes to pass, the outcome will be the same: God will accomplish David’s escape and David’s establishment as king. God’s hand will work things out, not David’s hand.
Faith in God’s sovereignty + a knowledge of His commands + holy imagination = obedience.
When it comes to those situations in your life, right now, where you are being tempted to follow your timing and tactics instead of God’s, when you, because of fear, are being tempted to take matters into your own hands, whether through sinful action or crippling anxiety, are you considering the possibilities of what God can do? Is your holy imagination at work?
When you know the right thing to do, but don’t know how things can work out, can you imagine what God might do? Can you imagine how God might change the circumstances? How God might change someone else’s heart? How God might change you?
You see, holy imagination is not constrained by our limitations. Holy imagination is driven by faith in God’s sovereignty. It declares with confidence the rhetorical question of Genesis 18:14. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
I like what one Dale Ralph Davies said about this in his commentary on I Samuel:
“Many contemporary believers, in fact, would do well to let their imaginations run riot in regard to the adequacy and sufficiency of God. Regretfully, we probably associate imagination with falsehood or fancy. But “faith-ful” imagination cannot be accused of that. In fact one might say that faith needs imagination to pull out all the stops if it even to begin to grasp the grandeur, majesty, and ability of Yawheh.”
This morning, as we face the difficulties of today, as we face the troubles of tomorrow, we need to follow David’s example and let our holy imagination “run riot in regard to the adequacy and sufficiency of God”. When it comes to our families and our finances, when it comes to our relationships and our reputation, our hopes and our health, our position and provision, our feelings and our future, when we are tempted to turn to our timing and tactics in any of these areas, we need to consider the possibilities of what God can do.
Want some good fuel to pour on the fire of your holy imagination? Here it is from the pen of Paul: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Jesus is trustworthy. He is the king we need. And He is the king who has been “given all authority in heaven and on earth”. He is the king who will “be with us always, even to the end of the age”. He is the Lord of infinite possibilities.
Let’s pray and ask God to work out this ‘formula of faith’ in our hearts this morning.