1 Samuel 26:12-20
Sermon preached on January 23, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
Did you ever feel completely helpless? It’s a horrible feeling. I remember my brother was dying, I wished that I could do something to make him better—but there was nothing I could do. Doctors couldn’t help him. Nurses couldn’t help him. A family who loved him couldn’t help him. We were helpless as we watched him die.
Being helpless is one thing, but being helpless and guilty is something far worse. When I was in high school there was a guy in my class who had an older brother who was a senior. One night he and some friends were out and they decided to have a drag race to see which of their cars was the fastest. It was a dark, rainy night but it was rather late so they thought it would be okay to race on this new section of road in town. They get everything set up and then started the race, but it just happened that an old gentleman was crossing the road as they approached. He didn’t have a chance. My friend’s brother hit him and killed him. The man died at the scene. Can you imagine being the driver of that car? Can you imagine being at the scene and watching the man die knowing that you were responsible? Not only was he helpless to save the man, but he knew that he was guilty. It must have been horrible for him. I’m sure he wished that he could have gone back in time and gotten out of it. But he couldn’t. He was helpless and guilty.
One of the interesting things about our text is that Abner and his army were in the same situation.
David calls to Abner and points out his inability to protect Saul. David then rebukes Abner for failing to protect the king. One of the great truths we see here is that
Abner and his army were helpless, yet guilty.
David said to Abner, (verses 15–16)
“You’re a man, aren’t you?
And who is like you in Israel?
Why didn’t you guard your lord the king?
Someone came to destroy your lord the king.
What you have done is not good.
As surely as the LORD lives,
you and your men deserve to die,
because you did not guard your master,
the LORD’S anointed.
Look around you.
Where are the king’s spear
and water jug that were near his head?”
David was holding Abner guilty even though the reason Abner didn’t protect the king was because the Lord had caused a deep sleep to fall on Abner.
At first glance this doesn’t seem right and someone might say that David was wrong in saying this. They might say,
“David didn’t know that the reason Abner was sleeping was because God had caused a deep sleep to come upon him. David’s rebuke of Abner was really mistaken.”
The reason that objection is wrong is because the Psalms that David wrote clearly show that he knew of God’s governance of human affairs. Indeed, David taught us these truths. I could cite dozens of instances, but one should suffice. It’s not even the best one, but I chose it because it refers to sleep. In Psalm 4:8 David wrote,
“I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O Lord,
make me dwell in safety.”
David knew that God directed his safety while he slept. David knew full well that God’s providence directed his safety while he was in Saul’s camp. He saw firsthand that it was a supernatural sleep from the Lord.
Yet he still rebukes Abner for failing to protect King Saul.
But how could Abner be guilty when what he did was the result of a deep sleep from God overpowering him?
Before I attempt to answer that I want you to see that this doctrine is not just taught in this one place in Scripture, but we see it in many places.
We see it in Genesis in the story of Joseph. When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he said to them, (Genesis 45:5)
“And now, do not be distressed
and do not be angry with yourselves
for selling me here,
because it was to save lives
that God sent me ahead of you.”
Joseph saw God’s hand in their jealousy, in the selling him into Egypt. Joseph traced it all to God’s providence. But did that mean that Joseph’s brothers were innocent? Absolutely not. Even they knew it. When their father Jacob died they were afraid that Joseph was going to take vengeance on them. We read, (Genesis 50:16–20)
“So they sent word to Joseph, saying,
‘Your father left these instructions
before he died:
‘This is what you are to say to Joseph:
I ask you to forgive your brothers
the sins and the wrongs
they committed in treating you so badly.’
Now please forgive the sins
of the servants of the God of your father.’
When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
His brothers then came
and threw themselves down before him.
‘We are your slaves’, they said.
But Joseph said to them,
‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?
You intended to harm me,
but God intended it for good
to accomplish what is now being done,
the saving of many lives.’”
Joseph’s brothers were guilty. They knew it. Joseph knew it. Even though the selling of Joseph into Egypt was ultimately God’s doing, they were guilty.
We see the same thing in Romans 9 regarding Pharaoh. Paul wrote that God said, (Romans 9:15–21)
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion.”
“It does not, therefore,
depend on man’s desire or effort,
but on God’s mercy.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh:
I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you and that my name might be
proclaimed in all the earth.
Therefore God has mercy
on whom he wants to have mercy,
and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
One of you will say to me:
‘Then why does God still blame us?
For who resists his will?’
But who are you, O man,
to talk back to God?
Shall what is formed
say to him who formed it,
‘Why did you make me like this?’
Does not the potter have the right
to make out of the same lump of clay
some pottery for noble purposes
and some for common use?”
The book of Exodus tells us that Pharaoh hardened his heart. It also tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Nevertheless, Pharaoh was guilty.
The same might have been true of King Saul. Notice what David says to him about his pursing David in verses 18-19. David said,
“Why is my lord pursuing his servant?
What have I done,
and what wrong am I guilty of?
Now let my lord the king
listen to his servant’s words.
If the LORD has incited you against me,
then may he accept an offering.”
David considered it quite possible that God was ultimately behind Saul’s trying to kill David. David wasn’t sure about that, but it was a possibility.
That may have been true of Saul, but it was definitely true of Abner. He was helpless to protect Saul and yet he was still guilty. How could this be?
Part of the answer that Scripture gives us is it is God’s prerogative to deal with sinners as He sees fit.
God is all powerful. He is holy and righteous. God did not make anyone a sinner. He is not the author of sin. He does not tempt anyone to sin. (James 1:13) Sin did not come from God.
Sin originated in the angelic world when Satan led a third of the angels of heaven into rebellion against God. Human sin originated in Adam and Eve when they were tempted by Satan. Both angels and men sinned by willful, voluntary choices.
Sin did no originate with God. He is pure and holy. Deuteronomy 32:4 says of God,
“He is the Rock,
his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is He.”
In Job 34:10 Elihu correctly says,
“Far be it from God to do evil,
from the Almighty to do wrong.”
God hates sin. It is an affront to Him. It is a contradiction of His nature. As the prophet Habakkuk said of God, (Habakkuk 1:13)
“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.”
In being perfectly just and holy, in being all powerful, it is God’s prerogative to deal with sinners. He is the Great Judge of all the earth. God would be perfectly just and holy in condemning us all to hell. But He has saved some. That is His right. He has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy. In saving them, He is perfectly just and holy in overruling the destructive end of the sins of the enemies of His people. In their sin, evil people seek to fight against and destroy God’s people. But God doesn’t allow their sin to destroy God’s people. He directs their evil in other directions.
Let me illustrate. One summer I worked in Moncton, New Brunswick with CN. In Moncton they had what was called a Hump Yard. It was a big train complex where they made up trains. At one end of the complex was a man made hill. On each side of the hill there was a train track. If my memory is correct, at the top of the hill was a control center, sort of a min version of an airport control tower. A train would back up one side of the hill. The engines would be at the tail end of it. At the top of the hill each box card would be unhitched and it would then race down the other side of the hill. At the bottom of hill there would be a series of switches, which the control tower operated. These switches would put the car into a certain track. I’m not sure how many tracks there were, I would guess a dozen and a half or more. Each track was a train that they were making. All the rail cars that were going to Halifax would be put on one track. All the rail cars that were going to Cape Breton would be put on another. All the rail cars that were going to Montreal would be put on another. We were told never to go on those tracks because it was so dangerous. You wouldn’t hear the boxcars coming.
Now, imagine that you as a Christian are sitting on one of those tracks that the boxcars could come racing into. Imagine that Satan is in control of backing that big train to the top of the hill and unhooking the cars. The rail cars represent evil he tries to send your way. He’s trying to destroy you by sending one of those boxcars hurtling down your track in order to run over you and destroy you. But God isn’t going to let you be destroyed. Rather than letting those boxcars go down your track, he diverts them to other tracks so that you are safe. God is controlling and directing the evil so that you are protected.
In doing so, He is pure and holy. He isn’t responsible for the evil. He’s not the author of it. God is righteous and holy. He always is. God directs all things to bring salvation to His people. As Joseph said to his brothers about their selling him into Egypt, (Genesis 50:20)
“You intended to harm me,
but God intended it for good
to accomplish what is now being done,
the saving of many lives.”
As we read in Proverbs 16:4,
“The LORD works out everything
for his own ends—
even the wicked for a day of disaster.”
Proverbs 16:1-9 speaks about God’s rule. Man plans in his heart, but from the Lord comes the reply. Verse 9 says,
“In his heart a man plans his course,
but the Lord determines his steps.”
Bruce Waltke writes that the theme of Proverbs 16:1-9 is that, (Proverbs, Vol. 2, p. 8)
“the Lord’s sovereign rule encompasses human accountability.”
Thus in sending a deep sleep on Abner and the rest of his men, God was indeed sending evil their way. They failed to do their duty. They failed to protect the Lord’s anointed. But the evil didn’t originate with God. Indeed, I suspect that it might perhaps have been poetic justice. In chasing after David, Abner and his men were perhaps hoping to catch David and his men sleeping so that they could sneak up on them and kill them. If so, God sent their own evil planning would have been coming back on their heads.
But in any event, Abner and his men were guilty. They deserved death. They were both helpless and guilty.
There are two lessons we should learn from this.
First, for those of you who are not Christians, this shows you that
you really need Jesus.
Helpless and guilty. That’s describes your condition. The really sad thing is that you might not even realize it. Before they went to sleep Abner and his men didn’t realize it. They were helpless to capture David or even to protect Saul. Saul was doomed. His water jug, which symbolized life, was taken from him and now he’s like a non-person. David doesn’t even call to him—but to Abner. It showed that Saul was doomed and no one can protect him.
Like Abner, you’re helpless. Sin has you. Like the deep sleep that came over Abner, sin has come over you and it has you. Satan has you. You’re helpless before them. They’re too powerful for you. You’re on the road to destruction.
Not only that, but you’re guilty. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) The wages of sin is death.
You’re helpless and guilty. But there is still hope for you. Jesus can save you from the utmost horror. Go to him before it’s too late. In the moments before my friend’s brother hit that man going across the road, moments before he even saw him, he had the opportunity to stop it all. He had the opportunity to back out of the race. He didn’t and his life became a nightmare because after he hit him it was too late. Don’t let an eternal nightmare happen to you. Go to Jesus now. Ask Him to save you.
Secondly, for Christians this means that
you should trust God implicitly.
God is in control. He protected David. We see this in the deep sleep that fell upon Saul and his men. In verse 12 we read,
“So David took the spear
and water jug near Saul’s head,
and they left.
No one saw or knew about it,
nor did anyone wake up.
They were all sleeping,
because the Lord
had put them into a deep sleep.”
God is in control of all things. He is going to protect His people and establish His kingdom. God reigns. Our faith in that ought to be unshakable. Remember what Jesus said to Pilate when Pilate told Him that he had power to release Him or put Him to death? Jesus replied, (John 19:11)
“You would have no power over me
if it were not given to you from above.”
People have no power at all unless God gives it. The truth of Jesus’ words were remarkably demonstrated just a short time later when Pilate tried to secure the tomb of Jesus. The Jews came to Pilate and asked him to secure Jesus’ tomb. Pilate replied, (Matthew 27:65–66)
“‘Take a guard. Go, make the tomb
as secure as you know how.’
So they went and made the tomb secure
by putting a seal on the stone
and posting the guard.”
Of course they weren’t trying to stop the resurrection—they were trying to stop Jesus’ disciples from stealing His body. But what happened? In Matthew 28:2–4 we read,
“There was a violent earthquake,
for an angel of the Lord came down
from heaven and, going to the tomb,
rolled back the stone and sat on it.
His appearance was like lightning,
and his clothes were white as snow.
The guards were so afraid of him
that they shook and became like dead men.”
What a scene—can you picture that glorious angel sitting on the stone that he had rolled away? Jesus rose from the dead and the disciples were able to go to the tomb and see that it was empty. The guards couldn’t do anything to stop God’s purposes. They were like dead men.
It was the same when King Herod imprisoned Peter. We read about it in Acts 12. Herod was intending to kill Peter. He did everything to make sure that Peter did not escape. We read, (Acts 12:4)
“After arresting him,
he put him in prison,
handing him over to be guarded
by four squads of four soldiers each.”
Peter was made as secure as Herod could make him. There were at least three gates between Peter and freedom. In addition to that there were numerous guards. Not only that, but even while he was sleeping Peter was chained to two guards. But what happened? We read, (Acts 12:7–10)
“Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared
and a light shone in the cell.
He struck Peter on the side
and woke him up.
‘Quick, get up!’ he said,
and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
Then the angel said to him,
‘Put on your clothes and sandals.’
And Peter did so.
‘Wrap your cloak around you
and follow me,’ the angel told him.
Peter followed him out of the prison,
but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first and second guards
and came to the iron gate leading to the city.
It opened for them by itself,
and they went through it.
When they had walked the length of one street,
suddenly the angel left him.”
Now God will probably not intervene in our lives in a dramatic fashion. Ours is not the age of miraculous signs.
But the truth that God is in control of everything remains true. This is a truth that we should hold close to our hearts and derive great hope and comfort from it. As Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 10:29–31,
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground
apart from the will of your Father.
And even the very hairs
of your head are all numbered.
So don’t be afraid;
you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We are in His hand and no one is able to pluck us out of His hand. (John 10:2-29) As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28
“And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called
according to his purpose.”
We must firmly believe this truth. God is with us. We don’t have to be afraid of anything. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:35–39,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…
No, in all these things we are
more than conquerors
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that
neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 135:6,
“The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.”
Saul, Abner and the 3000 chosen men of Israel were not able to do anything to David. God caused a deep sleep to fall upon them. We’re not told if it was through an angel, but it very well might have been. If it was no one saw him. Saul’s men didn’t. David didn’t. Yet it was an angel that brought Peter out of prison. It was an angel that protected Daniel in the lion’s den. Indeed, in Genesis 28:11–15 we read about Jacob’s ladder. Jacob was on his way to Haran. He laid down to sleep. We read,
“He had a dream in which he saw
a stairway resting on the earth,
with its top reaching to heaven,
and the angels of God
were ascending and descending on it.
There above it stood the LORD,
and he said: ‘I am the LORD,
the God of your father Abraham
and the God of Isaac.
I will give you and your descendants
the land on which you are lying.
Your descendants will be
like the dust of the earth,
and you will spread out
to the west and to the east,
to the north and to the south.
All peoples on earth will be blessed
through you and your offspring.
I am with you and will watch over you
wherever you go,
and I will bring you back to this land.
I will not leave you
until I have done what I have promised you.’”
You may not see God’s angels watching over you—but they are there. One of the lessons of Jacob’s ladder is that God’s angels come to earth to carry out the missions He sends them on. One of their missions is to protect His people.
Even you little ones have angels watching over you. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:10,
“See that you do not look down
on one of these little ones.
For I tell you that their angels in heaven
always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
We don’t want to focus exclusively on the angels themselves, because we know that it is Jesus who sends them. They merely do His will in protecting us. Jesus is our Protector. The enemies of His people are in His control. They can do nothing against Him. God keeps us safe.
How we should praise and thank our great God Jesus Christ. He has saved us when we were helpless. He has saved us from our shame and guilt and has given us an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept for us in heaven. Our God has done so much for us. How we should praise Him.