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David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Samuel 26

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David Spares Saul's Life Again

A. David's second opportunity to kill Saul.

1. (1Sa 26:1-4) The Ziphites betray David again.

Now the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, "Is David not hiding in the hill of Hachilah, opposite Jeshimon?" Then Saul arose and went down to the Wilderness of Ziph, having three thousand chosen men of Israel with him, to seek David in the Wilderness of Ziph. And Saul encamped in the hill of Hachilah, which is opposite Jeshimon, by the road. But David stayed in the wilderness, and he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness. David therefore sent out spies, and understood that Saul had indeed come.

a. Now the Ziphites came to Saul: The Ziphites - the people of the city of Ziph - had betrayed David's whereabouts to Saul before (1 Samuel 23:19-23). Now, they try to gain King Saul's favor again by helping Saul find David again.

b. Saul went, having three thousand chosen men of Israel with him, to seek David. This means Saul has gone back on his previous repentance shown in 1 Samuel 24:16-21. At that time, David had opportunity to kill Saul, but did not take it. When David boldly demonstrated this to Saul, the king was greatly moved emotionally, and publicly repented for his murderous intentions toward David. Saul's repentance was deep, sincere, and emotional - but it didn't last very long.

i. Three thousand chosen men reminds us that Saul had a great numerical advantage. 3,000 against 600 is a significant advantage.

c. David therefore sent out spies: David, as wise and capable commander, constantly monitors the movements of Saul. David knows where Saul is, but Saul does not know where David is.

2. (1Sa 26:5-8) David's second opportunity to kill Saul.

So David arose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Now Saul lay within the camp, with the people encamped all around him. Then David answered, and said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother of Joab, saying, "Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?" And Abishai said, "I will go down with you." So David and Abishai came to the people by night; and there Saul lay sleeping within the camp, with his spear stuck in the ground by his head. And Abner and the people lay all around him. Then Abishai said to David, "God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day. Now therefore, please, let me strike him at once with the spear, right to the earth; and I will not have to strike him a second time!"

a. Now Saul lay within the camp: The King James Version says that Saul lay within the trench. The translation is pretty literal from the Hebrew, but gives the wrong idea. The idea is that the perimeter of Israeli army camp was marked by the tracks of their wagons, and it was within the perimeter of the camp that Saul slept. Saul lay within the camp is a good translation of the idea.

b. So David arose and came to the place where Saul had encamped: The last time David and Saul met, David was simply hiding from Saul, and Saul happened upon the place where David hid. This time, David actively seeks Saul out.

i. So David arose means that David himself went. He could have sent any of his 600 men to do this job, and from a military sense, it made more sense to send someone else. Why should David take on such a dangerous mission? The fact that David did this shows his boldness and courage; the outcome of it all shows God was leading him in it.

c. David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army: As the entire army sleeps, Saul sleeps near the commander of his army. Then David, with a trusted assistant (Abishai the son of Zeruiah), secretly creeps down to where Saul and Abner sleep. With Saul's spear stuck in the ground by his head, and all asleep, Saul is completely vulnerable.

d. Then Abishai said to David, "God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day": Here, David receives the same advice as on the previous occasion he had to kill Saul (1 Samuel 24:4). Each time, David's associates pointed out that this circumstance was not an accident, God designed it - and the design was for David to take righteous vengeance upon Saul.

i. Abishai even makes it easy for David: Please let me strike at once with the spear. David would not raise his hand against Saul; Abishai would do it, and not feel bad about it in the slightest way. David could say to himself and everyone else, "I did not kill Saul."

ii. Abishai also weaves into the matter an element of poetic justice: the spear used to kill Saul would be the king's own spear, stuck in the ground by his head. The spear that was thrown at David in attempted murder before (1 Samuel 18:10-11 and 19:9-10), would now be used as the instrument of the LORD's righteous judgment! It all might have seemed to be perfectly given from the hand of God!

3. (1Sa 26:9-12) David's response to the opportunity to kill Saul.

And David said to Abishai, "Do not destroy him; for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" David said furthermore, "As the LORD lives, the LORD shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord's anointed. But please, take now the spear and the jug of water that are by his head, and let us go." So David took the spear and the jug of water by Saul's head, and they got away; and no man saw it or knew it or awoke. For they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen on them.

a. Do not destroy him; for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD's anointed, and be guiltless: It wasn't that David thought Saul was right. David knew more than anyone that Saul was deeply in sin. But David knew that even a sinning Saul was still the anointed king over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1). That would only change when God changed it; David would not stretch out his hand against the LORD's anointed. He knew he would be guilty before God if he did.

i. We might think that at this time, David had more righteous reason than ever to kill Saul. Now, Saul had gone back on a previous promise to leave David alone. Many of us, if we were in David's position, would have said "I showed love and let him off once before. I'm full of love, but I'm not stupid. Saul had his chance and he blew it; this time, this opportunity is from God!"

ii. But love, at least in the eyes of the world, will sometimes act in what the world considers to be a stupid way. Jesus said that we should forgive, and forgive, and forgive again (Matthew 18:21-22).

iii. In addition, Saul's sin against David did not make him less the anointed king of Israel. Though this was a trial that required supernatural endurance and love from David, it still would have been sin for him to kill Saul.

iv. "Though Saul be a cruel tyrant, and rejected by God, yet he is our sovereign lord and king; and I, though designed king, as yet am but a private person, and his subject; and therefore cannot kill him without sin, nor will I consent that you shouldst do it." (Poole)

b. The LORD shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish: David knew that it wasn't "hard" for God to kill Saul. The LORD was more than able to kill Saul at any time He chose. Every breath Saul took was a gift from God. God could have allowed any wicked man to kill Saul at any time. When it came to striking down an anointed king of Israel, God did not need the services of a godly, righteous man like David!

i. "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord (Romans 12:17-21). If vengeance belongs to God, it does not belong to us, so we are to love our enemies and never repay evil with evil.

ii. We might even say that since Saul deserved it, it was the "right thing" to kill Saul. But if it was the "right thing," this was the "wrong way." Often when we have a right thing in front of us, we will be tempted to pursue it in a wrong way.

iii. David's greater Son, Jesus, showed us how to refuse to pursue the right thing the wrong way. Jesus rejected Satan's shortcut to the cross (Luke 4:5-8). Jesus never did miracles just to promote Himself (John 6:30-33). Jesus went the way of the cross instead. Jesus shows us that God's way may be more difficult - but it is always better.

iv. David knew to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33). Our job is to seek first the kingdom of God, and He will bring things to pass as we do.

c. David took the spear and the jug of water by Saul's head: David would not kill Saul, but he did take the spear and the jug of water as evidence that he had the opportunity to kill Saul. Probably, David noticed that a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen on them all, and knew there was a reason for it.

B. David confronts Saul again with the evidence of his mercy.

1. (1Sa 26:13-16) David chides Abner, Saul's body guard.

Now David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of a hill afar off, a great distance being between them. And David called out to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, "Do you not answer, Abner?" Then Abner answered and said, "Who are you, calling out to the king?" So David said to Abner, "Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy your lord the king. This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, you deserve to die, because you have not guarded your master, the Lord's anointed. And now see where the king's spear is, and the jug of water that was by his head."

a. Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? In this vivid scene, David implies that he cares more for Saul's life than Abner does.

b. See where the king's spear is, and the jug of water that was by his head: This dramatic evidence - like the evidence of the corner of Saul's robe in 1 Samuel 24:11 - was undeniable proof that David had the opportunity to kill Saul, but did not do it.

2. (1Sa 26:17-20) David calls out to Saul.

Then Saul knew David's voice, and said, "Is that your voice, my son David?" And David said, "It is my voice, my lord, O king." And he said, "Why does my lord thus pursue his servant? For what have I done, or what evil is in my hand? Now therefore, please, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant: If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering. But if it is the children of men, may they be cursed before the LORD, for they have driven me out this day from sharing in the inheritance of the LORD, saying, 'Go, serve other gods.' So now, do not let my blood fall to the earth before the face of the LORD. For the king of Israel has come out to seek a flea, as when one hunts a partridge in the mountains."

a. David speaks to Saul with genuine humility (my lord, O king … my lord … please let my lord … his servant). Since David was so right, and Saul was so wrong, it would have been easy for David to project a superior attitude towards Saul, but he didn't.

b. What have I done, or what evil is in my hand? David first asked Saul to consider the facts, and to clearly think about what he was doing.

c. If the LORD has stirred you up against me … if it is the children of men: Next, David made easier for Saul to repent. David knew very well that the LORD or other men had not stirred up Saul, but rather it came from Saul's own bitterness, carnality, and jealousy. But he offers these suggestions to Saul, to given him an easier way to repent. He can admit that his actions against David were wrong, without admitting that they originated with himself.

d. They have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the LORD, saying, "Go, serve other gods." Here, David reveals his own heart's struggle under the pressure from Saul's relentless persecution. What hurts David the most is that he can't go to the house of God, and openly be with the people of God, and live his life after the LORD as he longs to. The pressure of all this tempts David to consider leaving Israel all together and going among people who worship other gods.

e. Now therefore, do not let my blood fall to the earth before the face of the LORD: David concludes his appeal to Saul with a simple request. "Saul, please don't kill me!"

i. "There is a vast deal of dignity in this speech of David, arising from a consciousness of his own innocence. He neither begs his life from Saul, nor offers one argument to prevail upon him to desist from his felonious attempts, but refers the whole matter to God, as the judge and vindicator of oppressed innocence." (Clarke)

f. As when one hunts a partridge in the mountains: "It is worthy of remark that the Arabs, observing that partridges, being put up several times, soon become so weary as not to be able to fly; they in this manner hunt them upon the mountains, till at last they can knock them down with their clubs. It was in this manner that Saul hunted David, coming hastily upon him, and putting him up from time to time, in hopes that he should at length, by frequent repetitions of it, be able to destroy him." (Clarke)

3. (1Sa 26:21) Saul apologizes to David.

Then Saul said, "I have sinned. Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly."

a. I have sinned: The last time Saul was in this situation, he was overcome with emotion. His feelings seemed right, but his life was not changed (1 Samuel 24:16-21). This time, there is something cold and mechanical about Saul's words. It feels that the words are right, but this time, the feelings aren't even there.

i. On another occasion, Saul "repented" with the right words but no depth of heart. In 1 Samuel 15:24-25 and 15:30, Saul said the words, "I have sinned," yet he was still far more concerned about his image before the people than the condition of his heart and life before God.

ii. Sometimes we know the right words to say - we know what sound spiritual and right - but our hearts really aren't there. When we sense this in others, we are to love them, deciding to think the best and forgive them (as Jesus described in Luke 17:3-4). When we sense this in ourselves, we should be honest, then pray mightily that our heart would come into the same right place as our words!

iii. "Good motions that fall into wicked hearts, are like some sparks that fall from the flint and steel into wet tinder; lightsome for the time, but soon out." (Trapp)

b. For I will harm you no more … Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly: This is a time when we really wish we could see and hear what happened, so we can see the expression on Saul's face, and the tone and intonation of his words. It seems - both from the "feel" of the verse and Saul's subsequent actions - that Saul isn't repentant; rather, he simply has a bitter realization that David has got the better of him once again. His words in 1 Samuel 26:25 express this also: You shall both do great things and also still prevail.

i. "The Apostle makes a great distinction, and rightly, between the sorrow of the world and the sorrow of a godly repentance which needeth not to be repented of. Certainly Saul's confession of sin belonged to the former; while the cry of the latter comes out in Psalm 51, extorted from David by the crimes after the years." (Meyer)

c. Morgan on I have played the fool: "In these words we have a perfect autobiography. In them the complete life-story of this man is told... There had been given to him the Spirit of God, the friendship of Samuel, and the devotion of men whose hearts God had touched. He had so acted that the Spirit departed from him; Samuel had been unable to help him; and the hearts of the people had been turned away from him. The whole secret was that he had leaned to his own understanding, had failed to obey, and so had become the evil-tempered man he was, mastered by hatred, and fighting against God."

4. (1Sa 26:22-25) David explains to Saul why he did not kill him.

And David answered and said, "Here is the king's spear. Let one of the young men come over and get it. May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into my hand today, but I would not stretch out my hand against the Lord's anointed. And indeed, as your life was valued much this day in my eyes, so let my life be valued much in the eyes of the LORD, and let Him deliver me out of all tribulation." Then Saul said to David, "May you be blessed, my son David! You shall both do great things and also still prevail." So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.

a. May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness: David trusts in the God who blesses the righteous and the faithful. David knew the truth of Hebrews 6:10 before it was written: For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name.

i. David understood the principle Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:2: With the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you. David wanted the "extra big scoop" of God's mercy given for himself, so David gave Saul the "extra big scoop" of mercy. That generous measure of mercy will be a great blessing to David later in his life.

b. So let my life be valued much in the eyes of the LORD: David wanted to fulfill his calling, to be the next king of Israel. But he wanted both the throne and the blessing of God. He refused to take the throne through murder or rebellion. He would wait until it came to him God's way. In this, David trusted that God would protect him when he did eventually come to reign over Israel.

i. David knew that if he wanted God's support when he became king, he must support Saul now.

ii. David held on to this principle, and when he became king, he recognized that his righteousness was rewarded. The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all His judgments were before me, and I did not put away His statutes from me. I was also blameless before Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His sight. With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; with a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; with the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. For You will save the humble people, but will bring down haughty looks. (Psalm 18:20-27)

c. David went on his way: Saul invited David to return (1 Samuel 26:21), but David did not take the invitation. He would wait and see if the repentant words Saul spoke showed a genuine repentance in his life. But as David goes on his way, he is faced with the temptation he spoke of in 1 Samuel 26:19 - the temptation to flee Israel all together and live among the ungodly.

i. "Knowing Saul's unstable and deceitful heart, he would not trust to any of his professions or promises, but kept out of his reach." (Poole)

ii. "Since now there is nothing more to be said, David and Saul part, never to see each other again." (Youngblood)

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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