By J.R. Miller
1 Samuel 26
Twice at least David had Saul in his power and might have killed him--but each time he magnanimously spared him. On the former occasion Saul was seeking David in the wilderness of Engedi, and entered a cave, not knowing that David and his men were that very hour hiding in the inner recesses of the same cave. When it was discovered that the king was in the cave, David's men tried to induce their master to take advantage of the opportunity and kill him. But David refused, only stealing up to the king and cutting off the skirt of his robe, that he might have evidence to prove to Saul that he had no hostile purpose towards him. When Saul had passed out of the cave, David also went out and called after him, telling him that he must no longer believe that he was his enemy. He then held up the part of the king's garment in his hand to let him know how easily he could have killed him if it had been in his heart to do so. Saul was deeply affected, and the two men then made a covenant of friendship. But Saul's kindly feeling, like all the good things in him, was transient only, and before long he was again hunting David among the mountains.
In this second sparing of Saul's life by David, the king and his men were pressing their relentless pursuit and lodged one night close to where David and his men were hiding. If Saul had known that David was near he would have sought to capture him. He had allowed his envy to drive all the love out of his heart. The lesson our Master teaches us--is to bear wrong patiently, to forgive injury, to return kindness for unkindness, good for evil, love for hate. It is a fatal injury to his life when one allows himself to grow bitter, to cherish resentment, to let envy or any hurt feeling rankle in his heart. At last love is utterly driven out, and dark and malign passions take full possession. It was thus with Saul. Envy is one of the most perilous passions, and one which if cherished, may come to a fearful growth.
When Abishai, who accompanied David on the visit to Saul's camp, saw the king sleeping within the camp, and all his men asleep, it seemed to him that it was now time for David to put an end to his enemy's efforts to kill him. Abishai put his own interpretation on what seemed to him a clear Providence. He inferred that God would not thus have brought Saul into David's hands, if He had not meant that he should kill him.
Many of us are too apt to interpret Providences in accordance with our own wishes. When we are desiring guidance in a certain matter, and there is one way we very much want to take, we frequently find what seem to us to be Providences which favor our preference. This incident shows us that we need to be careful in interpreting the meaning of events. We are not to enter every door that stands open. Opportunity does not always indicate duty. When you find in some trouble, a person who has done you a grievous wrong, there is an opportunity to repay his wrong by refusing to help him. But does the opportunity justify the retaliation? The "Providence" in this case affords a test of character rather than a Divine commission to do wrong.
In interpreting Providences we must remember that no opportunity to do anything in itself wrong, must ever be regarded as a Divine leading. Abishai's inference was not justifiable. It was a misreading of the thought of God. An opportunity for revenge is never a voice of God commanding revenge. Our duty always is to be kind, to bear wrong patiently, to return love for hate.
David's temptation to give heed to the words of Abishai was great. Saul had been pursuing him with cruel hatred, with no reason whatever. His life was continually in peril. It would be easy to listen to Abishai and end it all. The suddenness of the opportunity also made it harder to resist the impulse. Nothing is more critical than a sudden opportunity of indulging an ardent passion. With scarcely a moment for deliberation, one is apt to be hurried blindly along, and at once to commit the deed.
But David refused to listen for a moment to the voice that counseled the destruction of the king. The plausible suggestion that God had put Saul into his power, in order that he might smite him, had no influence upon David. He buttressed himself in his refusal upon the sacredness of the person of the king, the Lord's anointed. "Destroy him not; for who can put forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" In this heroic rejection of the temptation, David showed admirable self-control. He restrained himself, and he restrained his hot-headed men. He would not put forth his own hand to touch the king, and he would not allow any of his followers to do it. In the first instance David may have hoped to soften Saul's heart, by sparing him--but this second time he could cherish no such hope. He acted here purely on principle, from regard for the sacredness of the king.
One feeling which must have been strong in favor of David's destroying Saul, was that he would thus open his own way to his place as king. He knew that he was to be Saul's successor. He seemed now to have a short, quick way to the throne--it was necessary only to take advantage of his opportunity and kill Saul. But David would not dare take the throne--until God gave it to him. This is a very important lesson.
There often are things that God intends to give us--but which we must wait to receive in God's way. Short-cuts in traveling often bring us into trouble. Short-cuts in life's paths are always hindrances in the end. Jacob's mother knew that Jacob was to have the blessing of the first-born--but if she had waited it would have come without being stained as it was, by her own and Jacob's deception. Young men are ambitious, and their ambition may be pure and right--but sometimes they are in such feverish haste to reach what they wish--that they take the short-cut of dishonesty or selfishness to get sooner to the coveted place. But it never pays. It was far better that David should wander on in exile for a time longer, and then reach the throne by a clean path. It is pleasant to see young men get on in life--but we must always ask how they get on--before we can know whether their elevation is really an honor or not.
David practiced here also, long before Christ came the teaching of returning love for hate, kindness for unkindness. "Would it not be manly to resent it?" said one who had received an insult. "Yes," was the reply, "but it would be Godlike to forgive it." David did the Godlike thing. He had a chance to avenge himself. He had his cruel and relentless enemy in his power. The opportunity was most favorable. One stroke, and Saul never would have troubled him any more. His life would then have been safe. He would have become king at once. His men were urging it. Yet he overcame the temptation and allowed Saul to pass out of his hand unharmed. He listened to the voice of God speaking to him in his own conscience, and restrained the impulse to avenge himself.
No lesson is harder to learn, than that which David's example teaches us. The first impulse, even of a child when wronged or hurt by another, is to seek revenge. Sometimes older people encourage this spirit in children, by telling them to whip the chair or rocking-horse by which they have chanced to be hurt. In older people, too, the desire for revenge is natural, and can be repressed only by the higher law of love which Christ teaches. The lesson to learn is that the punishment of injustice or wrong done to us--does not belong to ourselves--but must be left in God's hands. "Vengeance belongs unto Me; I will recompense, says the Lord."
"The Lord will render to every man according to his deeds." There are apt to be wrong views about bearing injuries. People ask: "Is there to be no justice in cases like David's? Must we quietly bear wrongs, and must the person who does the wrongs never receive any punishment?" Our sense of right is sometimes so outraged, that our souls cry out in remonstrance when we are told that we never should resist--but should turn the other cheek when one cheek has been smitten.
We are not the judges of other men and their actions. There is but one judge, that is God, and we must leave in his hands all the right and the wrong in our lives. Our clumsy hands are not skillful enough to adjust such delicate matters as these. We are not required to say that a certain person's treatment of us was beautiful when it was outrageous; that no wrong was done to us when we know there was infamous wrong; that the person deserves no punishment when it is clear that he deserves severe punishment. But we are to recognize the truth that that is God's responsibility, not ours; that we are to be patient, meek, and non-resisting, leaving the whole matter in God's hands. We have the example of our Master. When He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not--but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously. We may commit into God's hand, as David did here, all the matter of the wrongs or injuries others have done to us, and leave it there with perfect confidence. "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?"