It’s been a while since we last studied the book of 1 Samuel together. So, let me refresh your memory a little. The first few chapters were mostly about Samuel, who grew up in the tabernacle, doing the work of the priests; and he became a prophet, who revealed the will of Lord to God’s people at that time. And he was the leader of God’s people in those days. But when Samuel grew old, the people said they now wanted a king to rule over them, a king like all the other nations had. This displeased Samuel and the Lord, because by asking for a king like the nations had they were rejecting the Lord who was their King.
Nevertheless, the Lord gave them what they asked for; and Saul was appointed king of God’s people. And it soon became clear that Saul was indeed a king like the other nations had, because he was a king who did not listen to the word of the Lord and who was disobedient to him. So, in chapter 15 Samuel announced to Saul that the Lord has rejected him as king. However, although God had rejected him, he would continue to reign for many more years. In chapter 16 Samuel anointed David to be king over his people. However, although he was anointed as king, it would be many more years before he actually became king. And in chapter 17, the Lord enabled David — who was only a shepherd-boy at the time — to kill Goliath, the mighty Philistine giant. And from that point on, much of what we read in 1 Samuel has been about Saul’s jealousy of David and his efforts to kill him.
And all along I’ve been trying to make the point that the things that happened in those days with Samuel and David anticipated what the Lord was going to do for his people by his Son Jesus Christ. Samuel points forward to Christ who is our Prophet and Priest, who came into the world to reveal the will of God for our salvation and who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. And David points forward to Christ who is our Great King, who has conquered sin and Satan and death on our behalf and who calls us into his kingdom and who promises to keep us in it and to protect us from all his and our enemies. And so, what we’ve been reading in 1 Samuel is not ancient history, because the things we read in this book are God’s revelation to us of the gospel of Jesus Christ; and by the things he has revealed in 1 Samuel God calls on sinners everywhere to turn from their sins in repentance and to trust in Christ the King who is the only Saviour of the world.
Today we’ve come to chapter 26 and to this story which is similar to the story recorded for us in chapter 24. In chapter 24, Saul and his men were hunting for David in order to kill him. But he had to pause his pursuit for a bathroom break. So, all by himself, he went into a cave to relieve himself. It just so happened that David and his men were hiding in the exact same cave. And when David’s men saw Saul, all by himself, and defenceless, they were convinced that this was David’s chance to kill Saul. But David would not listen to them. In fact, he rebuked them for suggesting that he should harm Saul, who was still the Lord’s anointed king. And when Saul went out of the cave and returned to his men, David revealed himself and made clear to Saul that he could easily have killed him, but he would not because he meant no harm to the king.
That’s what happened in chapter 24. And the story recorded for us in chapter 26 is very similar. And let’s turn to it now.
Verses 1 to 4
The chapter begins by telling us about the Ziphites who went to Saul to tell him where David could be found. We came across the Ziphites back in chapter 23 when they did the exact same thing: they went to Saul to tell him where David could be found. Some people never change. And so, according to verse 3, David went down to the Desert of Ziph to search for David. And you’ll see that he brought with him three thousand men. I’ve said before that the Hebrew word for thousand can mean either a thousand or a company of men. So, perhaps he brought three thousand men or perhaps he brought three companies of men. In either case, he brought a lot of men with him, soldiers, to help him find and kill David. And you’ll see from verses 3 and 4 that David was aware that Saul was nearby.
Verses 5 to 7
We might expect David either to hide from Saul or to flee from him. However, he did neither of those things and no doubt what he decided to do will have puzzled his men. According to verse 5, he set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. It’s pretty surprising, isn’t it? Instead of hiding or fleeing, he went straight over to Saul’s camp.
And the next thing we read is also surprising, because when he got there, what did he discover? He discovered that Saul and his men — all of them — were lying down. They were sleeping. You’d think an experienced commander like Saul would have posted guards to keep watch in the night. But, as we’ll discover later, the Lord had put them into a deep sleep. Saul was sleeping at the centre of the camp and all his men were around him.
I doubt that David knew at this stage that the Lord has put them all into a deep sleep. So what he wanted to do next was another surprise: he wanted to go down into the camp to Saul. And he wants to know who will go with him. As you’ll see from verse 6, this man Abishai offered to go. He, in fact, is a nephew of David’s and we’ll hear more about him and his brothers in 2 Samuel. But for now, the two of them went down into Saul’s camp.
And look at verse 7: they found Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. This spear has been mentioned a lot in the past, because it always seemed to be in Saul’s hand and it’s the spear he threw at David and it’s the spear he threw at Jonathan. So, his spear is there. And Abner, who was the commander of Saul’s army, was also there, asleep. And all the other soldiers were lying around David.
Verses 8 to 12
Well, we’ve had three surprises so far: it was surprising that David headed for the camp instead of fleeing; it was surprising that Saul and his men were asleep instead of standing guard; and it was surprising that David wanted to go right into the camp. Three surprises. But the next thing that happens is not at all surprising, because the next thing to happen was Abishai’s suggestion to David that today God has given your enemy into your hands. So, let me pin him to the ground, says Abishai, with one thrust of my spear. I won’t strike him twice. In other words, one strike is all I’ll need to kill him.
That’s not surprising, is it? Abishai is one of David’s men. He’s a soldier. He’s trained for war and he’s ready to kill his enemies.
But is David’s response a surprise? Not if we’ve read chapter 24 when David also had the opportunity to kill Saul and when he refused to harm the Lord’s anointed king. He refused to kill Saul in chapter 24 and he refuses to kill Saul here in chapter 26. He said to Abishai: ‘Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?’ Saul may have been a wicked king who refused to obey the Lord. But he was still, for the time being, the Lord’s anointed king. And as far as David was concerned, it would be wrong for him to harm the Lord’s anointed king.
And thus far, what he says matches what we read in chapter 24. However, what he went on to say is new. But what he went on to say is perhaps something he learned after the events of chapter 25. Do you remember the events of chapter 25? Chapter 25 was the story of Nabal, that foolish man, who refused to give David and his men some food, even though David and his men had guarded Nabal’s livestock. And David was all set to kill Nabal, but Nabal’s wife, Abigail, managed to persuade David not to do so.
And do you remember? She somehow knew that David would one day be king. And by persuading David not to kill her husband, she was preventing David from becoming known as the kind of king who takes personal revenge on his enemies. Instead he must be known as the kind of king who only fights the Lord’s battles. He must be known as the king of king who only goes to war to protect the Lord’s people. That’s what the Lord’s Anointed King should do. And Abigail helped David to see that.
And she also taught him that the Lord will always watch over him. And therefore there’s no need for him to take personal revenge or to take matters into his own hand, because he can always trust in the Lord to keep him safe and to deal with his enemies on his behalf.
And that’s the lesson which influences what David goes on to say in verse 10: ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord himself will strike [Saul]; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish.’ In other words, there’s no need for me to kill Saul, because God will deal with Saul in the Lord’s own time. Either Saul will die a natural death or he will die in battle. But whichever it is, I can trust in the Lord to deal with Saul on my behalf. ‘But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.’ And instead of killing Saul, he took Saul’s spear and water jug and they left.
And there’s a lesson here which we all need to learn. The lesson is this: we ought to trust in the Lord because he’s the Sovereign Lord who rules and reigns in heaven above over all things; and he’s working out his purposes for his people in the world, including his purposes for you. And though you may be puzzled at times and wonder what’s going on; and why does he allow this person to trouble me; and why did he let these things happen to me; and why did he permit these circumstances to come about, nevertheless, you can still trust in him, because he’s the Sovereign Lord who rules and reigns in heaven above over all things and over all people. And when the time is right — and so long as it is good and right and pleasing in his sight — he’s able to step in on your behalf and put things right for you. David believed that; and you must believe it too.
And while we trust in him and wait for him to act on our behalf, what should we do? Well, we should remain obedient. That’s what David was doing. Out of obedience to God, he refused to harm the Lord’s anointed king, because to do so would have been wrong in God’s sight. And maybe there are situations in your life, which you would change if you could, but for whatever reason, you can’t. Maybe there are people in your life, whom you would change if you could, but you can’t. Well, while you trust in the Lord to sort things out on your behalf, you must remain obedient to him, loving and serving him and loving and serving the people around you. That’s his will for you.
Verses 13 to 25
Let me deal briefly with the rest of the passage. David stood on top of a hill some distance away from Saul’s camp. And he called out to Abner, the commander of Saul’s army. And really, he’s mocking Abner, isn’t he? You’re some man, aren’t you? Some mighty soldier? And yet you didn’t guard your king tonight, did you? In fact, you deserve to die, because you failed to guard the Lord’s anointed king.
And David also addressed Saul, once again protesting his innocence. Why are you pursuing me? What have I done wrong? What wrong am I guilty of? And he complains that he’s been driven from his share of the Lord’s inheritance. He’s referring to the land of Israel. Instead of allowing him to live in the Promised Land, they are driving him away. Instead of allowing him to live in the Promised Land, they are driving him to pagan lands where the people worship other gods. And in verse 20 he compares himself to a flea and to a partridge. In other words: I’m not threat to you. I’m as harmless as a flea and a partridge.
And Saul seems to have been persuaded by what David’s has said. He confesses that he has sinned. And he asks David to come back to him. And he promises not to harm David again.
But Saul has said similar things before; and he isn’t to be trusted, is he? And indeed, David does not rejoin Saul, but they go off on their separate ways.
In verse 23 David said to Saul that the Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness. And, of course, the reason David said that is because he was confident that he had done what was right and he’d remained faithful to the Lord on this occasion. He’d done what was right, because he did not harm the Lord’s anointed king. And instead of going astray, and sinning against the Lord by killing Saul, he’s remained faithful to the Lord.
It won’t be very long before David does what is wrong in the sight of the Lord and is unfaithful to him, because the time will come when David will sleep with another man’s wife and he will arrange for that man to be killed on the battlefield. So, while David was righteous and faithful on this occasion, he will fall short of perfect righteousness and faithfulness, which is what the Lord requires.
And you and I are the same, because though at times we do what is right and we follow the Lord faithfully, there are many more times when we do what is wrong, and we are unfaithful. And perhaps you’ve been a believer for most of your life, and yet you still fall short of doing his will; and you still disobey him every day in thought and word and deed. Though you want to do what is right, you keep doing what is wrong. Though you want to be faithful, you know that so often you are faithless and you wander from his ways. Though you confess your sins, and your unrighteousness and faithlessness, you still go back to the same sins and you repeat them over and over again.
The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness, but even your best deeds are spoiled by sin and you deserve nothing from him but his wrath and curse, because from the time you were conceived you have been a sinner; and every day you do what is wrong.
And yet the good news of the gospel is that there is one who is perfectly righteous and faithful and it’s Jesus Christ our Saviour, who came to earth as one of us; and as one of us, he kept God’s law perfectly, doing all that God requires of us and resisting every temptation to sin. And when the time was right, he suffered and died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sins, taking the blame for what we have done wrong so that all who trust in him are pardoned by God for all that they have done wrong; and they’re accepted as righteous in God’s sight for the sake of his perfect righteousness which he shares with all who trust in him.
And so, though you may have done everything wrong, God treats you — for the sake of Christ the righteous one — as if you’ve done everything right. Though you have been faithless, God treats you — for the sake of Christ the faithful one — as if you’ve always been faithful. And for the sake of Christ he promises to give you everlasting life so that you will live with him for ever and for ever in glory.
And while you wait for that day, when you will enter his glory, the righteous and faithful one, Jesus Christ, gives you his Spirit to renew you in his image and to help you to do what is right and to remain faithful to your Heavenly Father, who loved you and sent his Son to save you.