When dealing with our text, the reasoning of some scholars would go something like this: “The events of chapter 26 are remarkably similar to those of chapter 24. This similarity can best be explained by assuming that these are simply differing accounts of the same incident.”123 It is difficult to reach such a conclusion without assuming that the text of Scripture is somewhat corrupted, and thus certainly not without error. It is true that in both chapters, there are distinct similarities. For example, in both chapters the Ziphites go to Saul to inform him of the whereabouts of David. But what is so difficult about taking the two chapters at face value and assuming that what the Ziphites were not able to do in their first effort, they attempted to do in their second?
Students of Scripture are right, I think, in taking note of the similarities of these two chapters. They are wrong, in my opinion, when they try to explain these similarities based upon the assumption that one or both biblical accounts are flawed. There is a much easier (and better) solution. It begins with the assumption that the Bible is, just as it claims to be, the inspired Word of God, without error. Let us assume that the proximity and similarity of these two accounts of Saul’s meeting with David is by divine design. Let us assume that the author (Author) purposely placed these two accounts in close proximity, so that we would take note of their similarity. And let us further suppose that the author intends for us to take note of both the similarities and the differences. It may well be that the difference between these two similar accounts is the key to understanding both passages.
Let me illustrate what I am suggesting. In the Book of Genesis, we read that Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt. They do so because they are jealous of Joseph and hate him because he is the favorite son of Jacob. They do not care that selling Joseph into slavery will break their father’s heart. When Joseph eventually becomes second in command to Pharaoh, his brothers come down to Egypt to buy grain from him, not knowing that Joseph is really their brother. Joseph then creates a situation in which these brothers must bring their younger brother Benjamin with them if they are to return to Egypt for more grain. Joseph then creates a crisis in which Benjamin is made to look guilty of stealing from him. Joseph gives his brothers the opportunity to betray their brother, Benjamin, to leave him as a slave in Egypt, and to return safely to their father. In short, Joseph gives his brothers the chance to virtually relive their betrayal of him nearly 20 years earlier. What is significant about this “similar” situation in Egypt is the difference in the way the brothers -- especially Judah -- respond. Their compassion toward Jacob and their concern for Benjamin shows Joseph that they have truly repented of their sin against him. The situation is very similar to the betrayal of Joseph, by design, so that the brothers’ repentance will be evident by the differences in the second “similar” incident from the first.
This is much like what the author of 1 Samuel is doing in chapter 26. In chapter 24, David is conscience-smitten because he has cut off a portion of Saul’s robe. While David does many things right in dealing with Saul in chapter 24, he fails to consistently apply the same principles in his dealings with Nabal in chapter 25. It is only after he is gently rebuked by Abigail that David leaves vengeance to God and gives up his plan to execute Nabal, along with all his male servants. In chapter 26, we find David in circumstances similar to those in chapter 24. I believe God is giving him another chance, a chance to “do it right.” And that he does, as we shall see. The similarities of chapters 24 and 26 inform us that David gets a second chance. The differences between the two chapters tell us how well David did, the second time around.
1 Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding on the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon?” 2 So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, having with him three thousand chosen men of Israel, to search for David in the wilderness of Ziph. 3 And Saul camped in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon, beside the road, and David was staying in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, 4 David sent out spies, and he knew that Saul was definitely coming. 5 David then arose and came to the place where Saul had camped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army; and Saul was lying in the circle of the camp, and the people were camped around him.
We have met the Ziphites before. In chapter 23, we are told that the Ziphites went up to Saul at his home in Gibeah, informing him of David’s whereabouts and promising to deliver him over to the king (23:19-20). Saul wanted to be certain not to let David slip through his fingers, and so he sent the Ziphite delegation home, with instructions to identify all of David’s hiding places so they would be certain of his capture on his next campaign (23:21-23). They returned home, and Saul soon came in hot pursuit of David. When David learned of Saul’s coming, he moved further south, where he was nearly trapped by Saul on a mountain in the wilderness of Maon. Had it not been for the timely arrival of a messenger with the report that the Philistines had attacked Israel, Saul would have captured David (23:24-29).
After Saul returned from following the Philistines, he resumed his pursuit of David. Saul just happened to pause for a rest stop at the very cave in which David and his men were hiding. While Saul was in the cave, David secretly cut off a portion of Saul’s robe, but he would not allow anyone to harm Saul. He then presented himself to Saul, demonstrating his innocence by showing the portion of the king’s robe he had just cut off inside the cave. Saul “repented” for the moment, and the two men parted peacefully (chapter 24). It was here that David publicly embraced the position that it would be wrong for him (or anyone else) to remove Saul by harming him, since this would be opposing God’s anointed. David would not harm his king; he would only seek his good.
In chapter 25, we see that the commitment David made regarding Saul’s well being was not one he was willing to extend to Nabal. David sent a delegation of ten men to ask Nabal for a contribution of food because he was celebrating at sheep-sheering time. Nabal rudely refused, withholding any food, and adding insult to injury by heaping insults upon David and his followers. David was so incensed that he set out to kill Nabal and every male in his household. Through the wise intervention of Abigail, Nabal’s wife, David spared Nabal’s life temporarily, and thus was restrained from acting foolishly. In her appeal to David, Abigail reminded him of the very principles he embraced in chapter 24.
Now, once again, we find the Ziphites betraying David to Saul. When the Ziphites come to Saul, he is not in the wilderness of Ziph, threatening the lives of those who would withhold information about David’s whereabouts. He is at home in Gibeah, having given up the pursuit of David, at least for a time. But with the arrival of these helpful informers, Saul is once again prompted to pursue David.124 These Ziphites, descendants of Caleb and thus of Judah, are fellow-Judahites with David, and yet they betray their future king to a Benjamite like Saul.
Saul returns to the wilderness of Ziph, accompanied by 3,000 of his best soldiers. This time he does not intend to let David get away. Saul pitches camp on the hill of Hachilah, close to the road. David remains in the more remote part of the wilderness. This time things are going to be a lot different than the last time these two men met in this place. The first time David was seeking to retreat, while Saul was advancing. Now it is Saul whose soldiers are camped and David who is taking the initiative. David’s spies locate Saul’s camp and inform David, who approaches with his men. David looks down on Saul’s camp and sees Saul asleep in the center of the camp, easily identified by his size, his armor or apparel, and most certainly by his spear. Next to Saul lies his uncle and commander of the army, Abner. From Saul and Abner in the center radiate his 3,000 soldiers, looking something like the concentric ripples when a rock is thrown into a calm pool of water.
6 Then David answered and said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, saying, “Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” 7 So David and Abishai came to the people by night, and behold, Saul lay sleeping inside the circle of the camp, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the people were lying around him. 8 Then Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time.” 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD'S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD'S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.” 12 So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul's head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the LORD had fallen on them.
David’s scouts locate Saul’s camp, and accompanied by at least two men, David goes to the campsite.125 Two men seem to be near David, Ahimelech the Hittite (not to be confused with Ahimelech the priest, who was killed by Saul) and Abishai the son of Zeruiah, who was the brother of Joab and Asahel (2 Samuel 2:18). David speaks to these two men, requesting that one of them go with him down to Saul’s camp. Ahimelech appears to remain silent, while Abishai volunteers.
Imagine for the moment that you are Abishai. Saul has carefully positioned himself at the innermost part of the circle of his troops. Abner, a heroic warrior and Saul’s body guard, is lying right next to the king. You carefully pick your way through this maze of human bodies, fearing that at any moment someone will awaken. It seems impossible that someone among these 3,000 men is not on watch. You hear a soldier snoring very loudly and wonder if you should turn him on his side, lest he wake up the others. You step on a stick, and it snaps -- your heart nearly stops. You can hardly believe you have actually made it as you stand there with David, looking down at Saul sleeping peacefully, with Abner close by. Close to Saul’s head is his spear, thrust into the ground, and his water container.126
If you are Abishai, it would not take long to figure out what should come next. Knowing from the incident in the cave that David is squeamish about killing Saul, Abishai whispers to David, “God has delivered Saul into your hand today. Now, then, let me finish Saul off with his own spear. It will only take one blow, I assure you.” Abishai reasons: “True, David refused to kill Saul in the cave, but he surely has learned his lesson by now. If David is reluctant to do it, I will. Surely David did not ask for volunteers to come down here with him, only to look at the king and then leave.” What an interesting debate it must have been between David and Abishai, as they strongly disagree, yet desperately try to keep from waking up Saul or any of his men.
David forbids Abishai to kill Saul for essentially the same reasons he verbalized in the cave in chapter 24. No one can lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed without incurring guilt.127 In verse 10, David goes beyond what he has said before. “As surely as God lives, He will be the one to remove Saul,” David assures Abishai. David does not know how, but after his experience with Nabal and Abigail, he knows that God can accomplish His will in any number of ways. He could strike Saul dead, Saul could die naturally, or he might be killed in battle. These are just some of the ways God could remove Saul, but in each case, it will not be by David’s hand, nor by the hand of any of his men.
David has come for Saul’s spear and water container, and that is all. So he takes up Saul’s spear and water jug, instructing Abishai to come along with him. I can see Abishai shaking his head as they make their way back through that maze of bodies surrounding Saul and finally slip into the safety of darkness. “That was a suicide mission! All that only to take a spear and a water jug.” Whether they knew it or not, the author of our text informs us that this was not just a stroke of good luck, or even a good military maneuver. God had miraculously put these 3,000 men to sleep. David and Abishai could have been yelling at each another (Is it possible they were?), and no one would have awakened. Abishai could have stumbled and fallen upon a couple of these soldiers, and they still would have been safe. I wonder how many times in history men have assumed they had a really close call, or they did a spectacular job at some task, without ever knowing that behind it all was the hand of God.
13 Then David crossed over to the other side, and stood on top of the mountain at a distance with a large area between them. 14 And David called to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner answered and said, “Who are you who calls to the king?” 15 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 to destroy the king your lord. 16 “This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, all of you must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the LORD'S anointed. And now, see where the king's spear is, and the jug of water that was at his head.”
David’s mama raised no fool. David waits to call out until he has crossed over what seems to be a valley. Then, standing far from Saul’s reach on top of a mountain, David cries out to the people in general and to Abner in particular. It is probably still in the dark of night, or in the dimly lit early morning hours. The soldiers of Saul are apparently awakened by the sound of David’s voice. Not seeing who is calling out, Abner does not recognize David’s voice.
There is a reason David cries out to the soldiers and to Abner in particular. David indicts the entire group for not properly protecting their king. And for this, David insists that their failure should cost them their lives. As we read David’s words to Abner and the others, we begin to grasp the reasons behind David’s perplexing invasion of Saul’s camp. David did not go down to Saul’s camp frivolously, as a kind of spur-of-the-moment prank. He had a plan, which had worked out just as he had expected. When David asked for a volunteer, Abishai stepped forward, just as I suspect David anticipated. You see, Abishai was a mighty man of valor as described in 2 Samuel 23:18-19:
18 And Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the thirty. And he swung his spear against three hundred and killed them, and had a name as well as the three. 19 He was most honored of the thirty, therefore he became their commander; however, he did not attain to the three.
Abishai is a stouthearted soldier, a man who has no qualms about taking the life of another. David took Abishai along with him, knowing full well that he would want to kill Saul when they reached him in his camp.
Those to whom David call out are soldiers. They are there to arrest David, whom some represented as a dangerous outlaw, determined to gain the throne by killing Saul. If this were the case (or even if it were not) they are Saul’s secret servicemen. David informs them they have failed their most important duty –protecting their king. David claims a would-be killer successfully penetrated their defenses and reached their king, fully intending to do him harm. Only because David stopped him (i.e., Abishai) is the king still breathing. David is right! While David did not approach Saul to kill him, this was surely Abishai’s intention. The only reason Abishai did not kill King Saul was that David stopped him. If any doubted one had come this close to Saul, look for the king’s spear and water jug. Imagine the dismay, especially for Abner, when they look at the ground, inches from Saul’s head, and see the hole where the head of the spear has been and the missing water jug, and perhaps a pair of footprints leading to the spear and back. David invites Saul’s security force to send a man up to him to retrieve the missing items. David has the spear, and he has made his point.
In truth, David saved the king’s life. As commander-in-chief of Saul’s forces, Abner is responsible for this serious breach of security which endangered the life of the king. Abner is the man in charge. It was on his watch, so to speak, that Saul’s life was endangered. And it was Abner who lay next to the king, within easy reach of the one who would have killed the king. Abner is the most renowned soldier in Saul’s army. What a blemish this incident puts on his record! But it is much worse than this, for failing to protect the king is a crime punishable by death. In this instance, not only Abner, but every one of the 3,000 soldiers is guilty of a most unpardonable sin.
Someone told me of a news story they heard on the radio. Apparently there was an attempt on the life of Saddam Hussein’s son. His son was not killed, but for failing to protect him properly, all of the security men were executed. David is not speaking idle words, and every soldier standing near Saul must wonder what the king’s response will be.
17 Then Saul recognized David's voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord the king.” 18 He also said, “Why then is my lord pursuing his servant? For what have I done? Or what evil is in my hand? 19 “Now therefore, please let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if it is men, cursed are they before the LORD, for they have driven me out today that I should have no attachment with the inheritance of the LORD, saying, 'Go, serve other gods.' 20 “Now then, do not let my blood fall to the ground away from the presence of the LORD; for the king of Israel has come out to search for a single flea, just as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
Saul slowly comes to his senses, groggy no doubt from his supernatural slumber. He overhears the conversation between Abner and a distant voice. Saul knows that voice; it is the voice of none other than David. He has already heard enough to soften him. “Is this your voice, my son David?”128 David acknowledges that it is indeed he. From here, David takes the lead, inquiring of Saul why he is pursuing him once again. He asks Saul what evil deed he has done to necessitate such action on Saul’s part. There is, of course, no good answer.
What follows is even more intriguing. David pleads with Saul to listen to his words and to consider what he is about to say. It is wrong for Saul to seek to kill David, for he has done his king no wrong. Indeed, he has just saved the king’s life. But having pointed this out, David pursues the matter more deeply, in terms of its theological implications. In verses 19 and 20, God is prominent, and so are the spiritual consequences of Saul’s pursuit of David.
Saul obviously believes that David is guilty of some wrongdoing so that he needs to be hunted down and eliminated. David shows that there can be only two sources from which Saul could arrive at such a conclusion. On the one hand, it is possible that David has truly sinned, and that the Lord has stirred Saul up to deal with this evil. If this is the case, Saul need only tell David what his sin is, and then David can obtain atonement for this sin by offering a sacrifice, which God will find acceptable. If this is the case, there is no need for Saul to pursue and punish David, since God has forgiven him.
There is yet another possibility. If David is innocent, then there must be those who have wrongly accused David before Saul by characterizing him as a dangerous criminal, worthy of death. If this second possibility is true, then such false accusers are under a curse before the Lord. It is not David who is worthy of death, but those who have wrongly accused David before Saul.
15 He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD (Proverbs 17:15).
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20).
The sin of such men goes even beyond making false accusations against David. In provoking Saul to pursue David, they have forced an innocent man to flee from his country. It is they, aided by Saul, who have driven David out of Israel. The spiritual implications of this are immense. To leave the country, as David has had to do, is to “have no attachment with the inheritance of the Lord” (verse 19). To force a true Israelite to leave this land is to so much as say, “Go, serve other gods” (verse 19).
This is a very significant point, but one much harder for us to grasp than for an Old Testament Israelite like David. Let me attempt to explain. When God created the world and mankind, He put Adam and Eve in a special place, the Garden of Eden. It was here that He fellowshipped with them. When they sinned, they were driven out of this place of fellowship and blessing. When God chose Abraham, He set apart a man whom He would bless, and whose descendants He would bless as well. But He also set aside a place of blessing. It was to this place of blessing that Abraham was instructed to go, leaving his homeland and family behind. God also chose the land of Israel as the place where He would dwell in a special way.
When Jacob deceived his brother Esau, he was virtually forced to leave this special place, Israel. As he was leaving Israel (or what became the land of Israel), headed for Paddan-aram, God gave Jacob a dream:
12 And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 “Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 “And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on its top. 19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. 22 “And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house; and of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee” (Genesis 28:12-22, emphasis mine).
In this dream, God communicated a very important message to Jacob. The message was that Canaan was a very special place; it was the place where heaven and earth intersected, it was the place where God dwelt in a special way. It was a message that motivated Jacob to return to this place and not stay in Paddan-aram. Just as God chose a certain people, among whom He would dwell, God chose a certain place where He would dwell. It is because of this that Jacob was buried in the promised land, even though he died in Egypt (Genesis 47:27-31; 49:29-33). Joseph, likewise, instructed that his bones be taken to this land when the nation Israel returned (Genesis 50:22-26; Exodus 13:19).
When the Israelites were ready to enter the promised land, God made it very clear to them that they were to worship Him only at the designated place in the promised land:
5 “But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. 6 “And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the first-born of your herd and of your flock. 7 “There also you and your households shall eat before the LORD your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you. 8 “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9 for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. 10 “When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security, 11 then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God shall choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the LORD. 12 “And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. 13 “Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, 14 but in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you” (Deuteronomy 12:5-14).
To force David to flee from the land of Israel was to force him to flee from the place where God dwelt in a special way; it was to force him to leave the place where God had provided for men to worship Him. Thus, to force one to flee from Israel was as much as to say, “Go, serve other gods.” Do you remember the story of Ruth? In the Book of Ruth, Naomi and her husband left Israel during a time of famine and went to the land of Moab. When her husband and two sons died, Naomi decided to return to the land of Israel. Her two daughters-in-law were Moabites. Naomi fully intended to leave these two women in their own land, while she went on alone to Israel. Notice what Naomi tells them, and how Ruth responds:
12 “Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me. “ 14 And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:12-17, emphasis mine).
In effect, by urging her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab rather than return to Israel with her, she was urging them to serve other gods. To leave Israel is to leave the land where one can worship God (because of His special presence there, particularly in conjunction with the ark of God and eventually the temple).
In the Book of 2 Kings, we read of the healing and conversion of Naaman, the Syrian. When Naaman was about to return to his own country, he made a very unusual request of the prophet Elisha:
17 And Naaman said, “If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules' load of earth; for your servant will no more offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD” (2 Kings 5:17).
Naaman realized that the God of Israel was the only true God. He also recognized that He dwelt in a special way in Israel, and that He was to be worshipped there. What was Naaman to do? He asked for some Israelite soil to take back to Syria with him, so that He could worship the God of Israel on Israelite soil.129
Later in Israel’s history, God would send His people into captivity, outside the land. This was a devastating blow, as can be seen by one of the Psalms written during the Jewish captivity in Babylon:
1 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion. 2 Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. 3 For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” 4 How can we sing the LORD'S song In a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. 6 May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy (Psalm 137:1-6).
David fled to Gath in Philistia (21:10-15) and then to Moab (22:3-4). I believe David was outside the land of Israel when the prophet Gad appeared to him, instructing him to leave the stronghold and to return to the land of Judah (22:5). We are not told why in that text, and I am inclined to think that David was not told either. But now I think he has figured it out. David has grasped a very important truth – that Israel is the special place in which God has chosen to dwell in a special way, and where He can be worshipped. It is indeed, the place where heaven and earth meet, just as in Jacob’s dream. David has also grasped the implications of this truth as it applies to his pursuit by Saul and his men, forcing him to flee the country. Those who have incited Saul against David have forced him to flee the country, and thus may might as well have said to him, “Go, serve other gods.” This is a crime worthy of death:
6 “If your brother, your mother's son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods' (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. 9 “But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 “So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you” (Deuteronomy 13:6-11; see also verses 12-18).
This accusing and pursuing of David is indeed a most serious matter. It is wrong because David is innocent. Those who pursue David have now placed themselves in a most dangerous position. On whose side do these men suppose God is? David has been able to come and go in their camp. He is able to reach Saul’s side and take his spear, without any resistance. If he had chosen to do so, he could have killed Saul. And yet it is David who saves the king’s life, and not the king’s own men. They have failed to protect their king! They, not David, are worthy of death. And since all these soldiers of Saul have failed to protect their king, they are guilty of a capital offense. They deserve to die. Not only do they deserve to die at the hand of Saul, they deserve to die at the hand of God. By accusing David and forcing him to flee the country, they are promoting the worship of false gods. They are condemned men. They are in a lot of trouble, with their king and with their God. This incident shows that it is not David whose life is in danger as much as those who pursue him, or who falsely accuse him to their king. Those guilty of this sin seem to be present on this very night. Saul’s spear is not thrust that night, but David’s words pierce the very heart of every man.
In verse 20, David pleads with Saul that his blood not be shed outside of the land, away from the presence of the Lord. There is no need for Saul to pursue him so vigorously. Searching for David is like searching for a single flea, like hunting a partridge in the mountains. It is a whole lot of work with very little benefit. It is a futile, if not a dangerous, task. Let the king forsake his pursuit and cease listening to those who pit him against David.
21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.” 22 And David answered and said, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. 23 “And the LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the LORD delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORD'S anointed. 24 “Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the LORD, and may He deliver me from all distress.” 25 Then Saul said to David, “Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.
David does not use Saul’s spear against him, but Saul gets the point. Saul recognizes his own sin in his dealings with David. But the most significant word is “return”. Has Saul been a part of the sin of driving David out of the land, away from the opportunity to worship his God? Then he would now confess his sin, and give up his pursuit of David so that he may safely “return” to the place of worship. Because David regards Saul’s life as precious, Saul promises to regard David’s life as precious. Saul confesses that he has sinned, and that in his sin, he has been guilty of the very serious error to which David refers.
In response to Saul’s confession and promise of amnesty, David shouts, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it.” It does appear, as some have observed, that the spear was a symbol of authority in the ancient world.130 David does not presume to keep the symbol of authority that belongs to Saul, and so he calls for one of Saul’s men to fetch it.
Would some say David is a sinner, a traitor, and an enemy of Saul? David concludes his defense by asserting his righteousness in verses 23 and 24. It is the Lord who will repay each person for his righteousness and faithfulness, David reminds his pursuers. This He does individually (“each man”). Although the Lord delivers Saul into David’s hand, David does him no harm, because he is the Lord’s anointed. David therefore looks to the Lord to reward him for his deeds this night.
While Saul and his men put themselves in jeopardy by accusing and pursuing David as a sinner and a criminal, David is assured that his life is safe in the hands of his God. As David has highly valued the life of Saul, he knows that God will highly value his life, and thus he is assured God will indeed deliver him from all his distresses (verse 24).
Saul’s final words are a pronouncement of blessing on David, with the assurance that he will accomplish great things and that, in the end, David will prevail (verse 25). With these words, the two men part company for the last time. They shall not meet again because the time of Saul’s death draws near. Saul returns to his place, but David goes on his way. David knows better than to think Saul’s repentance will last.
There is a message here to those, like Saul and his men, who wrongly accused David. God defends His own. There is no way that God’s anointed can be removed before God’s time. This was true of Saul; it was also true of David. God defends the innocent, and He will bring about justice for the afflicted. In this brief period of time, God turned the tables on the enemies of David. It was not David who was in grave danger, but those who opposed him. Let the enemies of God’s chosen ones take note, and let His chosen ones take courage.
For David, the events of this chapter are a high water mark for David’s grasp of God’s truth, and for the application of it in his life. David stood tall outside that cave in chapter 24, but he stands even taller here in chapter 26. He is confident of God’s protection and care, and of Him as the one who will reward his righteousness and judge his accusers. If in chapter 24 we see David gently rebuking his king, in chapter 26 we see him rebuking those who have set the king against him. David now sees his flight from his enemies in terms of its spiritual implications.
If David has grown spiritually after the events of chapter 24, and this growth is evident in chapter 26, we must conclude that Abigail plays a significant role in this. The things David affirms as true in chapter 26 are the very things about which Abigail assures him. If David has any doubt that he will become the next king, Abigail assures him he will reign over Israel (25:30). Though David wants to take vengeance on his enemies (i.e. Nabal), Abigail reminds him that God will better handle such matters, and that leaving this to God will keep David from any regrets (25:31). Does David fear for his life? Abigail assures him that his life is safely in God’s hands (25:29). It is said that behind many great men, there is a great woman. Certainly that was true of David and Abigail.
Do some scholars agonize that chapter 26 is too similar to chapter 24? It is similar, because it is a kind of replay of chapter 24. When God wants to teach us a lesson, if we fail to learn that lesson through one experience, God will continue to bring experiences our way which confront us with the same basic test. I think the reason there is a second incident in chapter 26, so similar to the one described in chapter 24, is that God wanted David to retake the same test so that he received a higher score.
Years ago I remember talking with a friend who was going through some problems in his life. As we talked, my friend mentioned that in addition to his current problems, he had faced many problems before. As I probed with a few questions, it became apparent that in each situation, the problems and the issues were very much alike. I then asked my friend, “Has it ever occurred to you that God keeps bringing you back to the same problem because you have not yet dealt with it as you should?” He acknowledged that this was probably the case. I think maybe it was also with David, and it may be the same for us. When we fail to deal with certain matters as we should, God persists at giving us further opportunities to do it right.
Finally, I believe there is something for us to learn about the “place of blessing” for Christians today. For the Old Testament saint, as we have seen, dwelling in the land of Israel was a privilege and a source of blessing. Here, one could offer sacrifices and worship God freely and fully. Elsewhere, God could be worshipped and served, but with certain restrictions. One could, of course, be in the land and still distant from God due to unbelief and disobedience. And, one could be in a distant land and still have an intimate walk with God. But ideally, living in the land of Israel was to be in the place of God’s presence and blessing.
What does that mean for us who are New Testament Christians, who live far from the promised land? The answer of the New Testament is very clear on this matter. In John 1, Jesus presents Himself as Israel’s Messiah. Jesus calls Philip to follow Him, and Philip then finds Nathaniel, telling him that the promised Messiah has come and that He is Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:43-44). When Nathaniel comes to Jesus, the Lord tells him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (1:48). Nathaniel is convinced and says to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (1:49). Our Lord’s words to Nathaniel are incredible:
50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:50-51).
With these words, Jesus takes Nathaniel, and us, all the way back to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28. In this dream, Jacob sees angels ascending and descending upon a ladder that goes to heaven, but rests on the earth. Jacob is most impressed with where the ladder stands – in Israel – and with the special nature of this place as the dwelling place of God. Jesus now takes up this imagery as He speaks to Nathaniel. Nathaniel has just objected to Peter’s assessment of Jesus, based solely on the place Jesus has come from – Nazareth (John 1:46). Jesus now informs Nathaniel that while he is concerned about the place where the ladder was resting, Jesus is the ladder! The place is important, but the Person of Jesus is even more important. It is Jesus Christ whom God appointed as the means to join heaven and earth, to provide men with an access to heaven. It was not Israel, the place, but Israel, the person, who would save men from their sins and lead them to heaven.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of the birth of our Lord Jesus, and then of the flight of Joseph and Mary and the child to Egypt. After the death of Herod, Joseph brings his family back to the land of Israel. When he does so, Matthew writes,
14 And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON” (Matthew 2:14-15).
These words, “OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON,” are found in Hosea 11:1. They refer to the fact that God brought Israel, His “son” (see Exodus 4:22-23) out of Egypt. Now, by inspiration, Matthew applies them to the baby Jesus. Just as Israel was God’s “son,” whom He brought out of Egypt, so the baby Jesus is God’s “Son,” whom He also brought up from Egypt. In one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, God has summed up all of Israel, and all of Israel’s hopes. Israel is the place where God meets with men, but Jesus is the “Son,” the person by whom God saves men. Israel is the place where the person of the Messiah came. And now that He has come, it is He that is to be preeminent, and not the place.
When Jesus meets with the Samaritan woman, the matter of the “place” to worship God arises. I want you to take special note of what the woman says to Jesus and what our Lord says in response to her:
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. 22 “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:19-26).
The Samaritan woman knows well the differences between the Samaritans and the Jews over the proper place of worship. She brings this matter up in her discussion with Jesus. But Jesus does not talk with her about the “proper place” at all. He tells her that the issue of worship now centers on a Person, not a place. Those who would worship God “in Spirit and in truth” need to worship God through the coming Messiah. With this the woman agrees, but she mistakenly assumes He has not yet come. Jesus tells her, “I . . . am He.” Those who would worship God must worship Him through Jesus Christ. Worship is therefore no longer a matter of being in the right place, but of worshipping by means of the right Person.
Since the coming of Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, worshipping God is no longer a matter of being in the right place, but of being in the right Person. In John 15, Jesus speaks to His disciples about abiding in Him in terms of a branch abiding in a vine. In chapters 14 and 16, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the Holy Spirit who is to come. By means of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ promises to abide in every true believer. And so it is in the New Testament epistles that we find salvation, sanctification, and spiritual blessing described as the result of being “in Christ.”
23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24, emphasis mine).
11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11, emphasis mine).
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23, emphasis mine).
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, emphasis mine).
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, . saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2, emphasis mine).
4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4, emphasis mine).
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30, emphasis mine).
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22, emphasis mine).
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14, emphasis mine).
17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17, emphasis mine).
4 But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage (Galatians 2:4).
I end this message on a bitter-sweet note. My friend and fellow-elder, Lee Crandell, died during the week after I preached this message. I remember his last words to me. He remarked how much he liked this message, and especially the application. I know what he meant. Lee loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and he loved hearing and proclaiming the message of the Gospel. He knew what it meant to be “in Christ.” Lee died, “in Christ”. What a comfort:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, emphasis mine).
To be “in Christ” is to be forgiven of your sins. To be “in Christ” is to be a new creation, to have old things pass away, and all things to become new. To be “in Christ” is to have eternal life. To be “in Christ” is to be assured of resurrection from the dead, to spend eternity in the presence of Jesus Christ. My friend, Lee, was “in Christ.” If he were here today, he would ask you a simple question, “Are you ‘in Christ’?” Being saved, being a Christian, being assured of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, is not a matter of being in the right place, but of being in the right Person. The way to be “in Christ” is to acknowledge your sin against God, and to trust in Jesus Christ alone as the means God has provided for your salvation. By faith in Him, His suffering and death pays the penalty for your sins. By His righteousness and resurrection from the dead, you are made righteous and raised to newness of life. If you have never trusted in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on your behalf, I urge you to do so this very moment. To be “in Christ” is to be in God’s appointed place of salvation and blessing forever.
125 One could easily assume that David and all his men went to Saul’s camp, but the text does not really say so. We are told that spies were sent out and found the place where Saul was camped (verse 4). Then we are told that David arises and comes to the place (verse 6). Only Ahimelech, the Hittite, and Abishai are mentioned as being with David. Were these two men the “spies”? It is not hard to reason that David would leave his troops behind. After all, sneaking up on Saul, and then disappearing into the night, is much easier for a couple of men than for 600 men. And since David did not intend to fight with Saul’s men or to kill Saul, there was no reason to take them along. Furthermore, he would only have to argue with more men about not killing Saul (see 24:4-8).
126 A friend of mine quipped after this message that this is the first time in the text Saul has finally hit his target. If I had been Abner, I would have waited to lie down close to the king until after he had actually hit his mark.
127 There is a certain subtlety here in David’s response to Abishai. He says, “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed. . . .” It is as though Abishai has said to David, “All right, so you can’t find it in yourself to kill Saul; then let me do it.” And David responds in a way that sends the message to Abishai, “Even though you were to kill Saul, it would be my responsibility for letting you do so.” If David, as the commander in chief of his 600 men, allows anyone to kill Saul, it is really David who is held responsible.
130 “The spear was the symbol of authority in place of the scepter. This is the reason that the spear (‘javelin’ – A. V.) was at hand in the royal court of Saul (cf. 1 Sam. 18:8ff.; 19:9). This traditional sign of authority still exists among some bedouin Arabs today. A spear stuck in the ground outside the entrance distinguishes the tent of a sheik.” John J. Davis & John C. Whitcomb, Israel: From Conquest to Exile (Winona Lake, Indiana, BMH Books, [combined paper edition], 1989, p. 244.