1 Once again, some people from Ziph went to Gibeah to talk with Saul. “David has a hideout on Mount Hachilah near Jeshimon out in the desert,” they told him.
2Saul took 3,000 of Israel's best soldiers and went to look for David there in Ziph Desert. 3Saul set up camp on Mount Hachilah, which is across the road from Jeshimon. But David was hiding out in the desert.
When David heard that Saul was following him, 4he sent some spies to find out if it was true. 5Then he sneaked up to Saul's camp. He noticed that Saul and his army commander Abner the son of Ner were sleeping in the middle of the camp, with soldiers sleeping all around them. 6David asked Ahimelech the Hittite and Joab's brother Abishai, “Which one of you will go with me into Saul's camp?”
“I will!” Abishai answered.
7That same night, David and Abishai crept into the camp. Saul was sleeping, and his spear was stuck in the ground not far from his head. Abner and the soldiers were sound asleep all around him.
8Abishai whispered, “This time God has let you get your hands on your enemy! I'll pin him to the ground with one thrust of his own spear.”
9“Don't kill him!” David whispered back. “The Lord will punish anyone who kills his chosen king. 10As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord will kill Saul, or Saul will die a natural death or be killed in battle. 11 But I pray that the Lord will keep me from harming his chosen king. Let's grab his spear and his water jar and get out of here!”
12David took the spear and the water jar, then left the camp. None of Saul's soldiers knew what had happened or even woke up—the Lord had made all of them fall sound asleep. 13David and Abishai crossed the valley and went to the top of the next hill, where they were at a safe distance. 14“Abner!” David shouted toward Saul's army. “Can you hear me?”
Abner shouted back. “Who dares disturb the king?”
15“Abner, what kind of a man are you?” David replied. “Aren't you supposed to be the best soldier in Israel? Then why didn't you protect your king? Anyone who went into your camp could have killed him tonight. 16You're a complete failure! I swear by the living Lord that you and your men deserve to die for not protecting the Lord's chosen king. Look and see if you can find the king's spear and the water jar that were near his head.”
This story amazes me. In Acts 13:22 Paul describes David as “a man after God’s own heart” and here we see why. The man who wrote “The Lord is my shepherd” had learned in his life leading the sheep that he was in turn led by God. But it is one thing to say this, and quite another to put it into practice. Especially in times of stress.
It is part of the bigger story that runs through chapters 24-26. In ch 24 we read how he spared Saul’s life when he had the opportunity to kill him. Chapter 25, which looks like an interlude, is actually another episode in the same story. When David had vowed to kill Nabal and his men, Abigail restrained him. She recognized that he was destined to be king one day, and urged him not to give in to revenge. A few days later, Nabal died.
David was a soldier, and he had no qualms about taking the lives of his enemies. It was a higher principle that restrained him. He recognized that, for now, Saul was anointed by God as king. He trusted that God would work out his promises to him in due time. What patience that must have taken! Think about it. How easy it would have been to justify himself!
This was the last time he saw Saul, who died fighting the Philistines at Mount Gilboa (ch 31). There would be seven more years of struggle with the supporters of Saul before David was finally crowned king of all Israel.
In our own lives, how often have we interpreted opportunity as guidance? Do we have the steady faith to live by what we know to be right, even when other people may be goading us to seize the opportunity? Or do we act politically, manoeuvring our way to further our own ends? Do we listen to godly wisdom, as the soldier David listened to a woman? What strength it takes to live with the meekness that David showed in this story.
Almighty God, please let this story sink into my heart. There will be times when I am tempted to force the issue to my own advantage. If times are hard now, help me to live with trust and integrity. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who fills me with peace, patience, faith, and self-control. You are my Lord. Amen.