"So David and Abishai came to the people by night: and, behold, Saul lay sleeping within the trench, and his spear stuck in the ground at his bolster; but Abner and the people lay round about him. Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day: now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time. And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless? David said furthermore, As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord's anointed; but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruise of water, and let us go."--1 SAM. xxvi. 7-11.
David stands for all times as the pattern of true loyalty--loyalty under the most extreme temptation. Knowing that he is to be king himself hereafter, he yet remains loyal to his king though unjustly persecuted to the death. Loyal he is to the end, because he has faith and obedience. Faith tells him that if king he is to be, king he will be, in God's good time. If God had promised, God will perform. He must not make himself king. He must not take the matter into his own hand. Obedience tells him that Saul is still his master, and he is bound to him. If Saul be a bad master, that does not give him leave to be a bad servant. The sacred bond still remains, and he must not break it. But Saul is more. He is king--the Lord's anointed, the general of the armies of the living God. His office is sacred; his person is sacred. He is a public personage, and David must not lift up his hand against him in a private quarrel.
Twice David's faith and obedience are tried fearfully. Twice Saul is in his power. Twice the temptation to murder him comes before him. The first time David and his men are in one of the great branching caves of Engaddi, the desolate limestone cliffs, two thousand feet high, which overhang the Dead Sea--and Saul is hunting him, as he says, as a partridge on the mountains. "And it came to pass when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him saying, Behold David is in the cave of Engedi. And Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats. And he came to the sheepcotes, and by the way there was a cave; and Saul went in, and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave. And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold I will deliver thine enemy into thy hand, and thou mayest do to him as seemeth good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe privily. And it came to pass afterwards, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt. And he said unto his men, The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord. So David stayed his servants." And afterwards Saul rose up, not knowing what had happened, and David followed him. And when Saul looked back, David stooped down with his face to the earth and bowed himself before Saul, and spoke many noble words to his king (1 Sam. xxiv. 1-8).
And David's nobleness has its reward. It brings out nobleness in return to Saul himself. It melts his heart for a time. "And it came to pass that when David had made an end of speaking, that Saul said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept. And he said to David, 'Thou art more righteous than I--for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil. And thou hast shewed me this day how thou hast dealt with me; for as much as when the Lord delivered me into thine hand, thou killedst me not. For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? Wherefore the Lord reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day. And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand.'"
And so it will be with you, my friends. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink, for so thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." Thou shalt melt the hardness of his heart. Thou shalt warm the coldness of his heart. Nobleness in thee shall bring out in answer nobleness in him, and if not, thou hast done thy duty, and the Lord judge between him and thee.
But Saul's repentance does not last. Soon after we find him again hunting David in the wilderness, seemingly from mere caprice, and without any fresh cause of offence. The Ziphites--dwellers in the forests of the south of Judea--came to Saul and said, "Doth not David hide himself in the hill of Hachilah. Then Saul arose and went down to the wilderness, having three thousand chosen men of Israel with him, to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul pitched in the hill of Hachilah. But David abode in the wilderness, and he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness." Again Saul lies down to sleep--in an entrenched camp, and David and Abishai, his nephew, go down to the camp at night as spies. Then comes the story of my text--how Abishai would have slain Saul, and David forbade him to lift his hand against the Lord's anointed, and left Saul to the judgment of God, which he knew must come sooner or later--and merely took the spear from his bolster and the cruse of water to show he had been there.
Once again Saul's heart gives way at David's nobleness: for when David and Abishai got away while Saul and his guards all slept, David calls to Abner (verse 14-25), and rebukes him for not having guarded his king better. "Art not thou a valiant man? Wherefore, then, hast thou not kept thy lord the king? The thing is not good that thou hast done: As the Lord liveth, ye are worthy to die, because you have not kept your master, the Lord's anointed. And now see where the king's spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his bolster. And Saul knew David's voice, and said, Is this thy voice, my son David? And David said, It is my voice, my lord, O king. Wherefore does my lord then thus pursue after his servant? for what have I done? Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth, for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge. Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David, for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes. Behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly."
But David can trust him no longer. Weak, violent, and capricious, Saul's repentance is real for the time, but it does not last. He means what he says at the moment; but when some fresh base suspicion crosses his mind, his promises and his repentance are all forgotten. A terrible trial it is to David, to have his noble forgiveness and forbearance again and again bring forth no fruit--to have to do with a man whom he cannot trust. There are few sorer trials than that for living man. Few which tempt him more to throw away faith and patience, and say, "I cannot submit to this misconduct over and over again. It must end, and I will end it, by some desperate action, right or wrong."
And, in fact, it does seem as if David was very near yielding to temptation, the last and worst temptation which befalls men in his situation--to turn traitor and renegade, to go over to the enemies of his country and fight with them against Saul. That has happened too often to men in David's place; who have so ended a glorious career in shame and confusion. And we find that David does at last very nearly fall into it. It creeps on him, little by little, as it has on other men in his place, but it does creep on. He loses patience and hope. He says, I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul, and he goes down into the low country, to the Philistines, whose champion, Goliath, he had killed, and makes friends with them. And Achish, king of Gath, gives him a town called Ziklag, to live in, he and his men. From it he goes out and attacks the wild Arabs, the Amalekites. And then he tells lies to Achish, saying, that he has been attacking his own countrymen, the Jews. And by that lie he brings himself into a very great strait--as all men who tell lies are sure to do.
When Achish and his Philistines go next to fight against the Jews, Achish asks David and his men to go with him and his army. And then begins a very dark story. What David meant to do we are not told; but one thing is clear, that whatever he did, he must have disgraced himself for ever, if God had not had mercy on him. He is forced to go. For he can give no reason why he should not. So he goes; and in the rear with the Philistine king, in the post of honour, as his bodyguard. What is he to do? If he fights against his own people, he covers himself with eternal shame, and loses his chance of ever being king. If he turns against Achish and his Philistines in the battle he covers himself with eternal shame likewise, for they had helped him in his distress, and given him a home.
But God has mercy on him. The lords of the Philistines take offence at his being there, and say that he will play traitor to them in the battle (which was but too likely), and force king Achish to send him home to Ziklag, and so God delivers him out of the trap which he has set for himself, by lying.
But God punishes him on the spot. When he comes back to his town, it is burnt with fire, utterly desolate, a heap of blackened ruins, without a living soul therein. And now the end is coming, though David thinks not of it. He had committed his cause to God. He had said, when Saul lay sleeping at his feet, and Abishai would have smitten him through, "Who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed. As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him, or he shall come to die, or he shall go down into battle and perish."
And on the third day a man--a heathen Amalekite--comes to Ziklag to David with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head. Israel has been defeated in Mount Gilboa with a great slaughter. The people far and wide have fled from Hermon across the plain, and the Philistines have taken possession, cutting the land of Israel in two. And Saul and Jonathan, his son, are dead. The Amalekite has proof of it. There is the crown which was on Saul's head, and the bracelet that was on his arm. He has brought them to David to curry favour with him. Saul, he says, was wounded, and asked him to kill him (2 Sam. i. 6-10). It is a lie. Saul had killed himself, falling on his own sword, to escape torture and insult from the Philistines, and the Amalekite is caught in his own trap. Out of his own mouth will David judge him. How dare he stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed? Let one of the young men fall on him, and kill him. And so the wretch dies.
And then bursts forth all the nobleness of David's heart. He thinks of Saul no longer as the tyrant who has hunted him for years, who has put on him the last and worst insult of taking away his wife, and giving her to another man. He thinks of him only as his master, his king, the grand and terrible warrior, the terror of Ammonites, Amalekites, and Philistines, the deliverer of his country in many a bloody fight, and he bursts out into that fine old lamentation over Saul and Jonathan, sentences of which have been proverbs in the mouths of men to this day. "How are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty. Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of woman. How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!" (2 Sam. i. 19-27).
Let each and every one of us, my friends, imitate David's loyalty, and be true to our duty, true to our masters, true to our country and true to our queen, through whatever trials and temptations. Above all, let us learn from David to obey; and remember that to obey we need not become cringing and slavish, or give up independence and high spirit. David did neither. Unless you learn to obey, as David did, you will never learn to rule. Imitate David--and so you will imitate David's greater son, even our Lord Jesus Christ. For herein David is a type of Christ.
One might say truly that David's spirit was in Christ--if the very opposite was not the fact, that the spirit of Christ was in David, even the spirit of loyalty and obedience, toward God and man. The spirit which made our Lord fulfil the whole law of Moses--though quite unnecessary, of course, for him--simply because He had chosen to be born a Jew, under Moses' law; the spirit which made Him obedient to the ordinance of the country in which He was born, made Him even pay tribute to Caesar, the heathen conqueror, because the powers that ruled, were ordained of God. And yet that same spirit kept Him lofty and independent, high-minded and pure-minded. He could tell the people to observe and to do all that the scribes and Pharisees told them to do, because they sat in Moses' seat, and yet He could call those very scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, who made the law of no effect, and were bringing on themselves utter destruction.
That spirit, too, made Him loyal and obedient to God His Father in heaven. Doing not His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him. Of Him it is written, that though He were a Son, yet learned He "obedience by the things which He suffered;" and that He received the perfect reward of perfect loyalty, because He had humbled and emptied Himself, and became obedient unto death even the death of the cross. Therefore God highly exalted Him, and gave Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, of things in the earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue confess that He is Lord and God, to the glory of God the Father.
This is a great mystery! How can we understand it? How can we understand the Divine and eternal bond between Father and Son? But this at least we can understand, that loyalty and obedience are Divine virtues, part of the likeness of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, and therefore divine graces, the gift of God's holy Spirit.
May God pour out upon us that Spirit, as He poured it out on David, and make us loyal and obedient to our queen, and to all whom He has set over us; and loyal and obedient above all to Christ our heavenly king, and to God the Father, in whom we live, and move, and have our being.