1 Samuel 26:20-25
Sermon preached on January 30, 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.
When I was a kid, I had a knack for making bad decisions. I remember one winter it got really cold and the harbor froze. It was actually rare that that happened but when it did it was a great place to skate. One day that winter the ice was really great and one of my friends and I decided that it would be really something to skate across the harbor. So that's what we did. And that wasn't such a bad decision. The ice was really thick and smooth. So we didn't think it was a bad decision, we thought it was a great opportunity. But my mom thought it was a really bad decision. She was kind of upset when I told her what we had done. She thought I was out of my mind. But the really bad decision was the one I didn't tell her about. You see, when we got about 4/5 of the way across the harbor, we found that an icebreaker had gone through sometime previously. We didn't see the ship, it was long gone, but we could see the path it made through the ice. The path where the ship went past was filled with some pieces of ice that the ship had broken up, and new ice had formed between them. But we weren't sure that new ice would hold us. I think that if we hadn't been so close to our goal we might have turned around and gone back. But since we were almost there, we decided to skate over the newly formed ice. We made it, but looking back on it, that was a really bad decision. We could have easily broken through the ice and drowned.
I also recall the first time I ever mowed the lawn of the house we moved into when I was eight years old. Our house was on a hill and the lawn at the front went down in three stages, it went down a little, flattened out, and then when down again, flattened out and went down again. It was pretty steep. My dad was probably at work and he had told me to do the lawn. I think the only instruction he gave me was on how to start the mower. So I started the lawn with our power push mower. The way I decided to do it was to go up and down the hill in straight lines. I remember I was going down and holding the mower in front of me when I saw one of the neighborhood men running toward me yelling at me to stop. He told me to never go up and down like that, because if I slipped going up, the mower would come down on top of me, and that if one of my feet slipped going down, it could easily slide under the mower and I'd lose part of it. He told me to always mow sideways, across the hill. He was absolutely right. So that's how I did it from then on. But before he corrected me it had never entered my mind that I would slip. I just didn't think of it.
Making the right decision is so important. Wouldn't it be great if the right decision was obvious, that we could pick it out easily? That's the way it was with David here. After David spared Saul's life, Saul said to David, (verse 21)
"I have sinned. Come back, David my son.
Because you considered my life precious today,
I will not try to harm you again.
Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly."
Saul wanted David to come back to him. But David would have none of it. He didn't trust Saul. Thus we see
the second way that God protected David in this situation was by giving him the wisdom not to rejoin Saul.
The first way was by causing the deep sleep to fall on Saul and his men. But here David displayed wisdom. He stayed away from Saul. He told Saul to send one of the young men over to retrieve Saul's spear. After that David went on his way. David has learned from hard experience. He knows he can't trust Saul. It wasn't that Saul was insincere in what he was saying. Saul no doubt meant it. The problem was that Saul was so fickle. David might be safe with him one moment, but one would never know what would happen from moment to moment.
David had trusted Saul before and it had almost cost him his life. In chapter 19 we learn that Saul plotted to kill David. Jonathan had warned David and then interceded with his father on David's behalf. Saul then promised not to harm David. So Jonathan brought David to Saul. But it wasn't long before Saul threw his spear at David trying to pin him to the wall.
The lesson for you is that
you need to be wise in our dealings with unbelievers.
In Matthew 10:16 Jesus said to His disciples,
"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.
Therefore be as shrewd as snakes
and as innocent as doves."
This world can be a dark place. Jesus tells us that we are to be aware of the dangers around us. We're sheep in the midst of wolves. In living our life we are to exercise insight and wisdom. We are not to be stupid. Rather, we are to be thoughtful, prudent, wary.
The Scripture gives us many examples of people being fooled by deceitful adversaries. David was well aware of them. For example, you'll remember how after a battle Joab's brother Asahel chased after Abner trying to kill him. Abner was running away from the battle urged Asahel to stop and go back. When Asahel refused, Abner killed him. Later, Abner thought that the animosity between him and Joab was over. After Abner made peace with David and met with him, Joab sent messengers to bring Abner back. We read, (2 Samuel 3:26–27)
"Now when Abner returned to Hebron,
Joab took him aside into the gateway,
as though to speak with him privately.
And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel,
Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died."
Abner shouldn't have trusted Joab. He should have been on his guard.
Later in 2 Samuel 20:9–10 we read that Joab did the same thing to Amasa. David was going to make Amasa commander of the army in place of Joab. Joab wasn't going to let that happen. Near the great rock in Gibeon, Amasa approached Joab. We read,
"Joab said to Amasa, 'How are you, my brother?'
Then Joab took Amasa by the beard
with his right hand to kiss him.
Amasa was not on his guard
against the dagger in Joab's hand,
and Joab plunged it into his belly,
and his intestines spilled out on the ground.
Without being stabbed again, Amasa died."
Amasa should not have trusted Joab.
You Christians need to be wary. You're involved in a spiritual battle. Your struggle is not merely against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in high places. The apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders and said, (Acts 20:29–31)
"I know that after I leave,
savage wolves will come in among you
and will not spare the flock.
Even from your own number
men will arise and distort the truth
in order to draw away disciples after them.
So be on your guard!
Remember that for three years
I never stopped warning each of you
night and day with tears."
Christians, you live in a dark world. Don't believe for a second that our society will tolerate Christianity when it gets the power to crush it. Our society is all about tolerance. But as our society gets more and more free, more and more sinful, you can be sure that the one thing it will not long tolerate is Christianity. We need to fight and oppose every breakdown of morals and decent behavior that our society wants to let go of—because every step towards Sodom and Gomorrah is a step toward crushing the gospel of Jesus Christ. The breakdown of society's traditional mores is essentially a step toward eliminating Christianity. We must not view these things as wars in themselves. Rather they are battles in a much bigger war.
You can't trust the world. It is dominated by Satan. Over the centuries Christians have found that the world can't be trusted. In the 17th century the Scottish Presbyterians supported the return of Charles II to the throne of England and Scotland. He made them many promises which he later broke.
Bruner writes, (Quoted from Leon Morris, Pillar Commentary)
"If we are to be sheep among wolves — and this is Jesus' intention — then we should at least be smart sheep, sheep who use our heads, sheep who don't overestimate the benevolence of wolves (p. 381)."
Christians, be wise. The only hope for this world is the gospel of Jesus Christ. You need to be a light to the world. You need to be like Jesus, in love, in righteousness, in wisdom—so that you can effectively stand against the evil around you.
The second thing our text teaches us is that
David's wisdom was part of the means by which God saved him from King Saul.
David was wise in the way that he acted towards Saul in spite of the fact that God had promised that he would be king over Israel. David had been anointed by Samuel. He had been promised by God that he would be king over God's people Israel. David knew that God controlled all things. As he wrote in Psalm 135:5–6,
"I know that the Lord is great,
that our Lord is greater than all gods.
The Lord does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths."
Yet he was not going to behave foolishly by returning to Saul. He knew he couldn't trust Saul. That wisdom that God gave him was part of the means that God used to save him.
In the same way you need to be wise in your dealings. If God is going to protect you, you need to draw close to Him and do certain things that the wisdom from above tells you to do.
Let me illustrate. Have you heard the story of Hudson Taylor and the life jacket? Hudson Taylor is regarded as one of the greatest missionaries of all time. He had a passion for seeing the gospel spread and dedicated his life to spreading the gospel in China. He spent 51 years in China, founded the China Inland Mission, was responsible for 800 other missionaries going to China. These missionaries founded 125 schools. He was one of the most influential men of the 19th century.
On his very first journey to China in 1853 the ship on which he was traveling encountered a huge storm. The ship was threatened with disaster. When he was urged to put on his life-jacket Taylor refused. He felt it would be dishonoring to God to wear it.
Can you imagine? Is wearing a life-jacket dishonoring to God? Does it indicate a lack of trust in His care? Hudson later repudiated his rashness. He wrote,
"The use of means ought not to lessen our faith in God, and our faith in God ought not to hinder our using whatever means he has given us for the accomplishment of his own purposes."
Taylor finally got it right.
We are to be wise. We are to use our brains. These are part of the means by which God saves us.
An incident in the life of the apostle Paul illustrates this.
Acts 23 tells us that the apostle Paul was in Roman custody. He had been arrested shortly after he went up to Jerusalem. His little nephew came and told him that there were 40 men who had vowed not to eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. What did Paul do? Now remember, just the night before, the Lord had stood near Paul and said to him, (Acts 23:11)
"Take courage! As you have testified
about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome."
In light of that, some people might think that Paul didn't have to take any precautions, that he knew that God would see him safely to Rome. But Paul took action. He used his head. He took steps to protect his life. He called one of the centurions and told him to take his little nephew to the commander, so that the boy could tell the commander about the plot against Paul.
Paul's actions didn't indicate a lack of faith. They were prudent.
God not only ordains the end (like Paul preaching in Rome) but also the means by which that end is obtained (sending his little nephew to tell the commander). God had ordained that Paul would testify about Jesus at Rome. He also ordained the fact that Paul's nephew heard about the plot against Paul. Paul, hearing the news and recognizing the threat, warned the Romans and so was saved.
Part of the means by which God protects His people is when they use their brains. We are to be cunning like snakes. There's a line from the poem, "Oliver's Advice" (by Valentine Blacker (1778 - 1823) was published in Ballads of Ireland, ed. Edward Hayes,1856) that depicts Oliver Cromwell addressing his troops before a battle. He said,
"Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!"
Our prudence is one of the means by which God protects us.
When the plague hit Geneva in 1542 three ministers volunteered to minister to the plague victims—Pierre Blanchet, Sebastian Castalio and John Calvin. Blanchet was chosen and he soon became a victim of the plague. He died because he contacted the plague in ministering to those who were sick. At that point the magistrates of Geneva needed another minister to work with the sick. But they wouldn't let Calvin expose himself to this dangerous work. They gave him strict orders not to do it. They wouldn't let him do it because they knew he would die if he did. They were wise in doing so.
Leon Morris writes of Christians, (The Gospel According to Matthew, PNTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992, 252-253)
"They must do their very best in the difficult situations they will meet. They are to be sensible as serpents, where the term rendered sensible is given various nuances in the translations, such as "wary" (REB), 'cunning' (JB), or 'shrewd' (NASB). It points to the need for careful thought when confronted with these difficult situations. Disciples are sheep indeed, but that does not mean that they are to be stupid."
Christians, pray to God for the wisdom that comes from above. Only God can give it. Ask Him for this great wisdom.
The third way that God protected David in this situation lies is the fact that
David valued Saul's life.
David returned Saul's spear to him. In his reply to Saul he still referred to Saul as 'the Lord's anointed'. He told Saul that he 'valued' his life. In spite of all the evil and trouble that Saul inflicted on David, at the end of it all David still loved Saul. Even though Saul was his enemy, David honored him, forgave him and protected him (from Abishai, who wanted to kill Saul).
Those things were a great protection to David. How could David be harmed when he behaved like that towards Saul? What he said in verse 24 was absolutely true. He said,
"As surely as I valued your life today,
so may the Lord value my life
and deliver me from all trouble."
Consider how David esteemed Saul. When David heard that Saul and Jonathan had been killed, he said of Saul,
"Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.
How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice."
As the lament goes on David continues to praise Saul. He said, (2 Samuel 1:23–24)
"Saul and Jonathan— in life they were loved and gracious,
and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold."
Can you believe David's words? What's going on there? I'm sure that many think that David was being duplicitous in his lament. But I'm convinced that David was absolutely sincere. He was not being deceitful, trying to win the hearts of Saul's followers. No. David was truly grieved at the death of Saul. There is no doubt that David had a forgiving heart toward King Saul. David forgave Saul for trying to kill him. David had love for King Saul in spite of all the evil that Saul had done.
How does God protect you in this evil world? One of the ways that He protects His people is by making them like Christ. He works Christ in us.
This is the ultimate protection that God gives us against the evil one and His plans to destroy us. By making you like Christ, by having you forgive your enemies, by having you free from bitterness, by having you filled with love for those who treat you wrong—you are truly safe because Christ is in you. If you are like Christ, what can harm you? Nothing in the ultimate sense.
Yes, you may be slandered. Nabal slandered David. But his slander was lies and it could not ultimately harm David. Unlike David, we can be killed. But Jesus has defeated death for us and death can't really harm us. If we are like Christ, nothing can harm us, we are more than conquerors.
James 3:17–18 says of the wisdom from above,
"But the wisdom that comes
from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate,
submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace
raise a harvest of righteousness."
Ask God to give you that wisdom.
Lastly, for those who are not Christians.
Consider Saul here. What a tragic, lost figure.
David is going to be blest. David would do great things and triumph.
The opposite was true for Saul. He had no protection. His spear had been symbolically transferred to David. At this point in his life things seemed hopeless for him. He was doomed. He was on his way to his death. What a pitiful character. He wanted help but since he had rejected God, the only place he could look was the witch at Endor. The message he got there was one of doom. Then he died a very inglorious death on Mount Gilboa, also killed were his three sons, Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.
Saul started his reign with such promise. But what an inglorious end. The same will happen to you unless you go to Jesus Christ. Right now your life may seem bright and promising, and like Saul, you may not be willing to give your life totally to God. King Saul is a great warning to you. You need Jesus. You need Him to save you from your sins, from your enemies, from the shame of the last judgment, and from eternal hell. Go to Him now. May God give you grace to do so.