Caution: Revenge straight ahead! (1 Samuel 23-24)

Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 23-24

Envy, bitterness, and revenge, like conjoined triplets, have been the haunt of man since Cain slew his brother Abel (Genesis 4). Jealousy consumes, and bitterness festers, until revenge lifts its venomous head destroying lives, friendships, marriages, and families.

Today’s Scripture reading offers a contrast between the spirit of two men: Saul, the king of Israel whose envy consumed, and festered into a murderous rage; David, who practiced what Paul encouraged when he penned, “avenge not yourselves…for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord(Romans 12:19).

Background – David, and four hundred fighting men, had taken refuge in Judah among his brethren (22:5), while Saul’s desperation to kill him was frustrated in a tirade against his own tribesmen of Benjamin, and his son Jonathan. Adding to his wickedness, the king ordered the slaughter of the priests and families who had resided in Nob (22:16-19).

1 Samuel 23 – The Hunt to Kill David

David’s Victory over the Philistines at Keilah (23:1-6)

Encamped in the hills of Judah, David received news how the Philistines had raided Keilah, a city of Judah located on the border of Philistia, and it was during the time of harvest (23:1). Angered by the intrusion upon his people, David sought the will of the LORD, and asked, “Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And the Lord said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah” (23:2).

With only four hundred men, David’s men resisted going to war against the Philistines whose numbers would have been far greater than their own (23:3-4). Nevertheless, David and his men went to Keilah, and God gave him a great victory over his enemy (23:5). Rather than applaud David for protecting Keilah, and securing Israel’s border, Saul took the occasion to call Israel to war against him and his men (23:7-8).

A Warning of Betrayal and a Friend’s Encouragement (23:9-18)

David, demonstrating the discernment of a man after the heart of God, called upon the LORD for direction (23:9-11), and He confirmed the men of Keilah would betray him into the hand of Saul (23:12). By this time, David’s four hundred men had become a small force of six hundred men, and they withdrew into “the wilderness of Ziph in a wood” (23:15), and there Jonathan sought him out (23:16), and with a humility that few men might have, he encouraged David saying, “Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth” (23:17). The two friends renewed their “covenant before the LORD,” and Jonathan returned to his house (23:18).

Betrayed by the Ziphites, and Pursued Around the Mountains (23:19-29)

David and his men sought refuge in “the wilderness of Ziph” (23:15), and soon after his meeting with Jonathan, the men of Ziph plotted to betray David to Saul (23:19-21). True to his evil character, the king disingenuously accused David of his own sin, saying, “he dealeth very subtilly” (23:22). Wisely, David continued on the move, staying ahead of Saul until he diverted his men to war against the Philistines (23:23-28). With Saul departed, David moved his band of men to a beautiful oasis known as En-gedi (23:29). Located in southern Israel and overlooking the western shore of the Dead Sea, Engedi made a perfect hiding place for David (23:29).

1 Samuel 24 – A Story of Two Natures

David and his band of six hundred men were hiding in the caves of En-gedi when King Saul received word that he was in the midst of the rocky crags of that oasis. Choosing three thousand handpicked fighters, Saul set out to find and destroy David once and for all (24:1-22).

With Saul and his army encamped in the valley, David and his men retreated into the darkness of a large cave overlooking Saul’s camp. There is no delicate way to state what occasioned Saul putting himself within David’s reach, other than to state simply, the king chose David’s hideout to relieve himself. With his guards stationed outside the cave, Saul was not aware he had retreated into his enemy’s lair.

David’s men urged him to strike a mortal blow to the king (24:4), and they were stunned when he refused (24:7). Indeed, his heart was so tender that the mere act of cutting off the hem of Saul’s robe troubled him (24:5).

1 Samuel 24:6 – “And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.”

I invite you to consider how David reflected humility, and honored the king in four ways (24:8-10).

First, he addressed the king with respect due his office saying, “My lord the king” (24:8). He also honored the king in his manner when he stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself” (24:8).  The third way he honored the king’s office was in how he entreated the king with a question, not an accusation, and asked“Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?” (24:9) Finally, he proved the evil reports the king had entertained about him were false, when he had opportunity to kill the king, he spared him (24:11).

Truth – If you want to know the character of a man, observe his actions when his enemy is most vulnerable. Rather than bitterness, David maintained a tender heart, and as long as Saul was king, he honored him as God’s anointed. Rather than revenge, David turned Saul over to the LORD to deal with him (24:12, 15).

Remember – Vengeance is God’s business.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith