Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 24 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/6/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 24
“Let the LORD Avenge”
There’s a lot in the Bible about the notion of “waiting on the LORD.” Often, however, that can be a rather mysterious notion for people. What does it mean to “wait on the LORD.” Too often people can misapply that idea. They might make it an excuse for inaction, but that’s not right. Or they might turn it into some mystical charismatic thing where they are waiting for God to somehow speak to them and tell them what to do; but that’s not how the bible uses this idea either. Time and again the idea of waiting on the LORD is about the patience and trust that you put in God in light of the promises he has given us. You are “waiting” for God to bring such promises about. Such patience and trust does not necessarily mean that you just sit back and do nothing until the promise comes about. Rather, instead, it usually will involve you acting in a way that is in line with his promises, because you patiently believe and trust that God will bring it about. And so waiting on the LORD involves patience and faith and trust; it also involves actions that are in line with both his promises and the overall Word of God. You are right to pursue what God has promised if you are pursuing in ways that are appropriate to God. But this also means that you should not pursue something God has promised in ways that violate God’s revealed will.
Well, as I begin today’s sermon, I hope you see how this idea of how to wait and how not to wait on the LORD relates to this chapter. David has been waiting on the LORD during this time of his life. He’s been waiting for God to establish him as King over Israel, just as God promised when he had Samuel anoint him back in chapter 16. David has had to wait for God’s promise in this regard to come to pass. David has in general done so with great faith and patience and trust. Certainly it has not been a time of inactivity of David. We saw that last chapter, that he even acted very Messianically as he came to the need of the town of Keilah. And David has also been very active in being on the run from King Saul, doing what he can to keep him and his loyal men alive until the time when God brings about the promise for him to reign as king.
And so then in today’s passage, we see the form in which David’s waiting comes about. David is providentially given an opportunity for which he could potentially speed up his ability to reign as king. But David does not take advantage of the opportunity. And the reason he doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity is because he believes it would be morally wrong in these circumstances to take hold of this opportunity for advancement that is before him. And so, as a man after God’s own heart, his waiting on the LORD here must restrain him from acting, in this particular case. So then, let’s look into this more and learn from David’s waiting on the LORD.
Our first point then will be to consider the main reason given here by David as to why he doesn’t kill King Saul when he is given the chance here. David’s reason is summarized in verse 6, saying that he won’t harm Saul since “he is the anointed of the LORD.” But let’s back up and set the scene here. David and his men are again hiding out in a cave. Saul and his men are again hunting for him. In amazing providence Saul takes a break from his men to use the bathroom. He goes into a cave to do his business, and lo and behold it’s the same cave that David and his men are hiding out in, in the back of the cave. So David’s men immediately see the opportunity. Look at verse 4. They tell David, “This is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.'” Now to clarify, there is no record in the Bible of such a Word of God coming to David. But either way, David and his men have a different idea of what he should do here. They seem to think that David should use this opportunity to kill Saul. But David won’t do that. Instead he cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe so that he can prove to Saul that he could have killed him, but didn’t. We see even in verse 6 that David had to order and restrain his men from attacking Saul.
So this brings us back to David’s reasoning. David won’t hurt King Saul because Saul has been anointed by God to be king. We’ll learn a little more about what this means to David in chapter 26. There in 26:9 David says that someone would be guilty to strike one who has been anointed by God as king over the people. David says that instead he’ll wait for either God to strike Saul, or for when he dies naturally, or for him to die in battle; then David can become the next king. So do you see David’s point? David sees that Saul has been divinely appointed to his role as king. David sees that it would be wrong, immoral, wicked, a sin incurring God’s wrath, to strike out against that one God has appointed.
And so his men see that God has provided David an open door to be able to gain the throne right away. But David knows that not every open door is to be gone through. I use that language of open door, of course, because Christians too often fall into this trap. You see we believe in divine providence. In other words, we believe that God orchestrates all of human history. And so when some open door providentially presents itself to us, we can be like David’s men here and think that the open door is God’s provision for us, and think that we ought to walk through that open door. But just because God’s in control of all things doesn’t mean that every open door he puts before us is him telling us to walk through it. Maybe he has placed the open door there instead as a test of our righteousness. In fact, that’s exactly what happens to David here. David is tested by God here. Will he act in righteousness in terms of how one should treat a divinely appointed King, or will he act in wickedness to try to gain what he desires. And the complicating matter is that David knows God has said that he will be king. Therefore it’s not wrong for David to desire to begin his reign as king; it’s not wrong for him to act toward that goal, in general. But like his men he could have falsely though that any opportunity to advance that cause should be taken. But there’s an old saying that tells us that such thinking is wrong. It’s this: the end does not justify the means.
Godly ambition is a good thing; but it must be godly. David knows that this open door is one to not walk through because it would not be godly. David almost passes the test perfectly here. He still actually cuts a piece of Saul’s robe off, and then he has some remorse over that, per verse 5. It’s believed that this act of cutting off the robe could have been perceived as a cultural gesture of rebellion, which is not the message David meant to communicate. In fact in chapter 26 there will amazingly be yet another providential situation like this, and that time David will fully past the test because he doesn’t cut the robe, but just takes Saul’s spear and water jug. At any rate, the point is that David knew to not walk through this open door in order to achieve more quickly what God had promised him. And so here, waiting on the LORD for David would have to involve something other than killing Saul.
How did David know not to kill Saul here? How did he know that the open door was not God’s provision but rather a test of righteousness? Well, David asked what God’s will would be. He sought to understand God’s will in terms of sin and righteousness. And that answered the question definitively for him. He could not walk through that open door without sinning, thus he wouldn’t walk through it. We see this same thing illustrated by Jesus himself in his wilderness temptation. Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, with all their glory, if Jesus would just bow down and worship him. Now Jesus knew that God the Father had promised him as the Messiah that he would reign over all the kingdoms of the world. Surely this could have been the “quick” way to achieve that promise. But obviously it would have been wrong for Jesus to do that. Jesus knew it would be wrong because the Scriptures say, “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” That’s how Jesus then responded to Satan. And so that’s what we must do too. Whenever an open door is providentially set before us, we must exercise biblical discernment before we go through it. Just because God opens a door, doesn’t mean you should walk through it. And frankly the opposite is true too. Just because God closes a door, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to yet open it and walk through it. God might open or close a door to test you, to see if you will live by the light of his revealed word. Let us seek to follow David and Jesus’ example on this as those who are disciples of Christ. Use the Bible to determine what doors to try to walk through or not, whether they are opened or closed!
Well then, let’s turn now to our second point and consider how David then treats his enemy here. You see David is in this especially interesting position. His enemy, is the anointed of the LORD! And yet even if Saul wasn’t the anointed one, how David treats Saul has much application in general for how a Christian ought to treat an enemy. You see, David spares Saul’s life, even though he is an enemy. Saul is stunned by this and even quotes in verse 27 what is probably conventional wisdom of his day, that if a man finds his enemy he won’t let him get away safely. And yet David does. And David then even takes the initiative to show this fact to Saul. David confronts Saul, telling him the truth in love, displaying the evidence of the cut corner of the robe.
What David does here is simply put like this: he is loving his enemy. We remember that this was a teaching of Jesus as well. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Jesus also taught us to not repay evil with evil, but to show good to those who give you evil. We read about this idea in Romans 12 as well, and there it prefaces that with this statement: “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord,” Romans 12:19. And isn’t that exactly what David is doing here? In the heart of this passage, when he confronts Saul with his kindness, we see him appeal to this in verse 15. David says to Saul, “Let the LORD be judge and judge between you and me, and see and plead my case, and deliver me out of your hand.”
You see, we are not all judges. If anyone was a judge in this passage, it was supposed to be King Saul. But in the perversion of his office, he tyrannically tried to kill David repeatedly without any trial, and as David proves here, without any cause. David has been fleeing for his life in light of this failure of Saul to be judge. But faced with such an enemy, and knowing that he is not yet the king, he appeals to a higher authority to judge in their conflict. Let the LORD judge, he says. And that often is what we will need to do as well in our conflicts. As everyday citizens, we are not in a place to judge, condemn, and punish our enemies. Yes, in some circumstances, we have opportunity to bring them to civil or church courts, for help. But in many situations, we simply have to trust that God will bring the ultimate justice even if we don’t receive it in this life.
And so David shows kindness here to his enemy Saul. In response, Saul says that David is more righteous than he, verse 17. (That reminds me of how Judah told Tamar the same thing in Genesis 38, but I digress.) And that’s the point here in our second point for today. When we said in our first point that David didn’t walk through that open door because it would not have been righteous for him to kill his king, we see that David’s righteousness went beyond that. David’s righteousness was not just that he didn’t kill the Lord’s anointed one. It was that he showed kindness and goodness to an enemy who had instead treated him so horribly. We often think of righteousness toward others as just in terms of treating people fairly. But to be fair, there’s nothing fair about David treating Saul so kindly when Saul treats him so horribly. And yet it is righteous for David to treat Saul like this. And that’s because God shows us that righteousness in the full must be a righteousness that is modeled after God’s righteousness. And God’s righteousness is one that brings great mercy and grace into how he treats enemies. And that has been seen most fully in how God sent Jesus to the cross to save enemies from their sins. And so for David to wait for the Lord, it meant here showing kindness to an enemy, instead of reaching out and striking that enemy. That was modeled all the more in how Jesus fulfilled the will of God the Father in going to the cross for our salvation. And in light of this, we too are called as we wait for the Lord’s final return in glory to show such kindness even toward our enemies in this life.
So then let’s turn now to our third point. I want us in this third point to see how David’s treatment of Saul had a positive effect on Saul. Look at verse 16. In response to all the kindness David showed him, Saul lifts up his voice and weeps. Saul says that David should be rewarded for how David has treated him here. Surely there is some kind of remorse going on here; there is some kind of recognition by Saul of David’s righteousness. I’m reminded of the passage of scripture in Romans 12:20 that says that showing undeserved kindness to enemies is like heaping coals of fire on their heads. In other words, confronting someone evil with undeserved kindness can have a way to just stop that enemy right in their tracks. They can be shamed into ceasing or at least restraining their hostilities toward you.
Similarly, I’m also reminded of how Romans 2:4 talks about how the kindness God has shown us, is meant to lead us to repentance. When we hear that, of course, we can’t but help but think about how God’s kindness was expressed in sending Jesus. As we said a moment ago, this was a way God loved enemies. And in doing this, it should spark in us repentance. Well, David does similar here and it has at least some positive result. After all of Saul’s positive words here, he then stops pursuing David and returns home. Now, unfortunately, we’ll see that Saul’s apparent repentance here is only temporary. Before long we’ll find him again in pursuit of David. So, sometimes kindness shown to enemies has only a temporary effect. But nonetheless, we are reminded here of how showing undeserved loved for enemies can have an effect on our enemies. And we know that as Christians, we are living examples of that in terms of the underserved love God has shown to us in Christ.
Well, as we tie all this up together, we are reminded of how to wait on the LORD, particularly with regard to our interaction with enemies to the cross of Christ. As Christians looking to live for the LORD in 2015, we surely will encounter people who will be opposed to us and to what we stand for. In the final end of it, God will vindicate us before all such people when he returns. Then it will be clear to all that our hope was not in vain, and that the words of warning from the Bible that we bring needed to be heard and heeded. But until that day, how will you wait patiently for the LORD? Well, it means that you live in confident trust in him and his perfect plan and perfect timing. It means that when faced with providential opportunities before us, we won’t just leap into them, but we’ll spiritually look before we leap, in the sense that we’ll consider whether it is righteous or not to take that opportunity. And we’ll consider whether it is righteous or not by searching the Word of God. And particularly in our interactions with enemies of Christ, we’ll seek to show love and kindness, even if they show us evil. And yet like David here with Saul, we’ll also speak the truth that they need to hear as well, pointing them to the LORD. This is waiting on the LORD. It’s active waiting. It’s a waiting that reads and considers and looks to live out the Scriptures. And it’s a waiting that is characterized with peace and trust and righteousness.
Now, to be fair, sometimes this kind of waiting is hard for us. The reason can be expressed by David’s quote in verse 13. “Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.” Now yes, we who have been born again have experienced a new birth. No longer should we be identified as “wicked” but as “righteous”. And yet this is what our sanctification continues to address. Because mankind has fallen in since, we are all born wicked. And yet as born again Christians, we now have that seed of a new birth in us. Yet, there is still a work of change and growth going on inside us. Good works should spring forth from us now, but because we still struggle with a remaining corruption within us, sometimes wicked actions still come forth. And so yes, we can struggle to wait on the LORD in the ways we talked about today.
And yet in a sort of irony, this too is something we wait on the LORD for. We wait on the LORD until that enemy of the old man within us is fully put to death. There will be a day when we go to be with the LORD that the LORD will finish this sanctification work in us. But it is not here yet. And so we imperfectly wait for the LORD for the perfecting of our sanctification. How then do we live, waiting on the LORD in all these ways, when we know we will struggle to wait the way we should?
Well, let us keep coming back to the fountain of grace that God supplies to us. That fountain especially flows from the Word of God, and with the Lord’s Supper, and with prayer. Let us keep going to the things he’s given us for our growth and perseverance. We will need this grace as we wait for the LORD. Let us search the Word to see how to be waiting in life’s varying circumstances. Let us pray for the patience and trust and repentance that should characterize our waiting here and now. Let us go to the Supper to be encouraged that the God who supplies the bread and the wine amply supplies Christ and all his benefits to us as we wait for the Lord’s coming.
What a great God we have, who has loved us who were formerly enemies. Who does not judge us as we deserve, but we have a Lord who took that judgment upon himself. And a Lord that is with us even now, to finish what he has began in us by his Spirit. Until that glorious day of his return. Let us then wait on the LORD by waiting in the LORD. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.