His Victory Over Saul
1 Samuel 24
"He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Prov. 16:32). A man who is "slow to anger" is esteemed by the Lord, respected by men, is happy in himself, and is to be preferred above the strongest giant that is not master of self. Alexander the Great conquered the world, yet in his uncontrollable wrath, slew his best friends. Being "slow to anger" is to take time and consider before we suffer our passions to break forth, that they may not transgress due bounds; and he who can thus control himself is to be esteemed above the mightiest warrior. A rational conquest is more honorable to a rational creature than triumph by brute force.
The most desirable authority is self-government. The conquest of ourselves and our own unruly passions, requires more regular and persevering management than does the obtaining of a victory over the physical forces of an enemy. The conquering of our own spirit is a more important achievement than the taking of a foeís fortress. He that can command his temper is superior to him that can successfully storm a fortified town. Natural courage, skill and patience, may do the one; but it requires the grace of God and the assistance of the Holy Spirit to do the other. Blessedly was all this exemplified by David in that incident which has occupied our attention in the last two chapters. He had been sorely provoked by Saul, yet when the life of his enemy was in his hand, he graciously spared him, and returned good for evil.
"A soft answer turneth away wrath" (Prov. 15:1). Strikingly was this illustrated in what is now to be before us. A child of God is not to rest satisfied because he has not originated strife, but if others begin it, he must not only not continue it, but endeavor to end it by mollifying the matter. Better far to pour oil on the troubled waters, than to add fuel to the fire. "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17). We are to disarm resentment by every reasonable concession. Mild words and gentle expressions, delivered with kindness and humility, will weaken bitterness and scatter the storm of wrath. Note how the Ephraimites were pacified by Gideonís mild answer (Judges 8:1-13). The noblest courage is shown when we withstand our own corruptions, and overcome enemies by kindness.
"Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4). Wherein does this forgiving of others consist? First, in withholding ourselves from revenge. "Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any" (Col. 3:13): "forbearing and forgiving" are inseparably connected. Some men will say, We will do to him as he has done to us; but God bids us, "Say not I will do so to him as he hath done unto me, I will render to the man according to his work" (Prov. 24:29). Corrupt nature thirsts for retaliation, and has a strong inclination that way; but grace should check it. Men think it a base thing to put up with wrongs and injuries; but this it is which gives a man a victory over himself, and the truest victory over his enemy, when he forbears to revenge.
By nature there is a spirit in us which is turbulent, revengeful, and desirous of returning evil for evil; but when we are able to deny it, we are ruling our own spirit. Failure so to do, being overcome by passion, is moral weakness, for our enemy has thoroughly overcome us when his injuring of us prevails to our breaking of Godís laws in order to retaliate. Therefore we are bidden "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21): then is grace victorious, and then do we manifest a noble, brave and strong spirit. And wondrously will God bless our exemplifications of His grace, for it is often His way to shame the party that did the wrong, by overcoming him with the meekness and generosity of the one he has injured. It was thus in the case of David and Saul, as we shall now see.
"And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept" (1 Sam. 24:16). Though his mind was so hostile to David, and he had cruelly chased him up and down, yet when he now saw that the one he was pursuing had forborne revenge when it was in his power, he was moved to tears. In like manner, when the captains of the Syrians, whom the prophet had temporarily blinded, were led to Samaria, fully expecting to be slain there, we are told that the king "prepared great provisions for them: and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away." And what was the sequel to such kindness unto their enemies? This; it so wrought upon their hearts, their bands "came no more into the land of Israel" (2 Kings 6:20-23). May these incidents speak loudly unto each of our hearts.
"And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said, is this thy voice, my son David? And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept." Let us pause and adore the restraining power of God. Filled with wrath and fury, so eager to take Davidís life, Saul, instead of attempting to kill him, had stood still and heard Davidís speech without an interruption. He who commands the winds and the waves, can, when He pleases, still the most violent storm within a human breast. But more; Saul was not only awed and subdued, but melted by Davidís kindness. Observe the noticeable change in his language: before, it was only "the son of Jesse," now he says, "my son, David." So deeply was the king affected, that he was moved to tears; yet, like those of Esau, they were not tears of real repentance.
"And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil" (v. 17). Saul was constrained to acknowledge Davidís integrity and his own iniquity, just as Pharaoh said, "I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you" (Ex. 10:16); and as many today will own their wrong-doing when shamed by Christians returning to them good for evil, or when impressed by some startling providence of God. But such admissions are of little value if there is no change for the better in the lives of those who make them. Nevertheless, this acknowledgment of Saulís made good that word of Godís upon which He had caused His servant to hope: "He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday" (Ps. 37:6). They who are careful to maintain "a conscience void of offense toward God and man" (Acts 24: 16), may safely leave it unto Him to secure the credit of it.
"This fair confession was sufficient to prove David innocent, even his enemy himself being judge; but not enough to prove Saul himself a true penitent. He should have said, ĎThou art righteous, and I am wicked,í but the utmost he will own is this, ĎThou art more righteous than I.í Bad men will commonly go no farther than this in their confessions: they will own they are not so good as some others are; there are that are better than they, more righteous" (Matthew Henry). Ah, it takes the supernatural workings of Divine grace in the heart to strip us of all our fancied goodness, and bring us into the dust as sell-condemned sinners, it requires too the continual renewings of the Holy Spirit to keep us in the dust, so that we truthfully exclaim, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and for Thy truthís sake" (Ps. 115:1).
"And thou hast showed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the Lord had delivered me into thine hand, thou killest me not" (v. 18). This is striking: even the most desperate sinners are sometimes amenable to acts of kindness. Saul could not but own that David had dealt far more mercifully with him, than he would have done with David if their position had been reversed. He acknowledged that he had been laboring under a misapprehension concerning his son, for clear proof had been given that David was of a far different stamp than what he had supposed. "We are too apt to suspect others to be worse affected towards us than they really are, and than perhaps they are proved to be; and when afterwards our mistake is discovered, we should be forward to recall our suspicions as Saul doth here" (Matthew Henry).
"And thou hast showed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when the Lord had delivered me into thine hand, thou killest me not." In view of the later sequel, this is also exceedingly solemn. Saul not only recognizes the magnanimity of David, but he perceives too the providence of God: he owns that it was none other than the hand of Jehovah which had placed him at the mercy of the man whose life he had been seeking. Thus it was plain that God was for David, and who could hope to succeed against him! How this ought to have deterred him from seeking his hurt afterwards; yet it did not: his "goodness was as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away" (Hosea 6:4). Alas, there are many who mourn for their sins, but do not truly repent of them; weep bitterly for their transgressions, and yet continue in love and league with them; discern and own the providences of God, yet do not yield themselves to Him.
"For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away?" (v. 19). No, this is not the customary way among men. "Revenge is sweet" to poor fallen human nature, and few indeed refuse to drink from this tempting cup when it is presented to them. And if there be more lenity shown unto fallen enemies today than there was in past ages, it is not to be ascribed unto any improvement in man, but to the beneficent effects of the spread of Christianity. That this is the case may be clearly seen in the vivid contrasts presented among nations where the Gospel is preached, and where it is unknown: the "dark places" of the earth are still "full of the habitations of cruelty" (Ps. 74:20).
"For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away? wherefore the Lord reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day" (v. 19). Strange language this for a would-be murderer! Yes, even the reprobate have spurts and flashes of seeming piety at times, and many superficial people who "believeth every word" (Prov. 14:15) are deceived thereby. "Seemingly pious" we say, for after all, those fair words of Saul were empty ones. Had he really meant what he said, would he not personally and promptly have rewarded David himself? Of course he would. He was king; he had power to; it was his duty to reinstate David in the bosom of his family, and bestow upon him marks of the highest honor and esteem. But he did nothing of the sort. Ah, dear reader: do not measure people by what they say; it is actions which speak louder than words.
"And now, behold, I know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand" (v. 20). The realization that God had appointed David to succeed him on the throne, was now forced upon Saul. The providence of God in so remarkably preserving and prospering him, his princely spirit and behavior, his calling to mind of what Samuel had declared, namely; that the kingdom should be given to a neighbor of his, better than he (15:18)óand such David was by his own confession (v. 17); and the portion cut off his own robeówhich must have been a vivid reminder of Samuel rending his mantle, when he made the solemn prediction; all combined to convince the unhappy king of this. Thus did God encourage the heart of His oppressed servant, and support his faith and hope. Sometimes He deigns to employ strange instruments in giving us a message of cheer.
"Sware now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my fatherís house" (v. 21). Under the conviction that God was going to place David upon the throne of Israel, Saul desired from him the guaranty of an oath, that he would not, when king, extirpate his posterity. What a tribute this was unto the reality of Davidís profession! Ah, the integrity, honesty, veracity of a genuine child of God, is recognized by those with whom he comes into contact. They who have dealings with him know that his word is his bond. Treacherous and unscrupulous as Saul was, if David promised in the name of the Lord to spare his children, he was assured that it would be fulfilled to the letter. Reader, is your character thus known and respected by those among whom you move?
"Sware now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my fatherís house." How tragically this reveals the state of his heart. Poor Saul was more concerned about the credit and interests of his Family in this world, than he was of securing the forgiveness of his sins before he entered the world to come. Alas, there are many who have their seasons of remorse, are affected by their dangerous situations, and almost persuaded to renounce their sins; they are convinced of the excellency of true saints, as acting from superior principles to those which regulate their own conduct, and cannot withhold from them a good word; yet are they not thereby humbled or changed, and sin and the world continue to reign in their hearts until death overtakes them.
"And David sware unto Saul. And Saul went home: but David and his men gat them unto the hold" (v. 22). David was willing to bind himself to the promise which Saul asked of him, and accordingly swore to it on oath. Thus he has left us an example to "be subject unto the higher powers" (Rom. 13:1). His later history evidences how he respected his oath to Saul, by sparing Mephibosheth, and in punishing the murderers of Ishbosheth. It is to be noted that David did not ask Saul to sware unto him that he would no more seek his life. David knew him too well to trust in a transient appearance of friendliness, and having no confidence in his word. Nor should we deliberately place a temptation in the way of those lacking in honor, by seeking to extract from them a definite promise.
"And Saul went home; but David and his men gat them up unto the hold." David did not trust Saul, whose inconstancy, perfidy and cruel hatred, he full well knew. He did not think it safe to return unto his own house, nor to dwell in the open country, but remained in the wilderness, among the rocks and the caves. The grace of God will teach us to forgive and be kind unto our enemies, but not to trust those who have repeatedly deceived us; for malice often seems dead, when it is only dormant, and will ever long revive with double force. "They that, like David, are innocent as doves, must thus, like David, be wise as serpents" (Matthew Henry). Note how verse 22 pathetically foreshadowed John 7:53 and 8:1.
Here then is the blessed victory that David gained over Saul, not by treacherous stealth, or by brute force but a moral triumph. How complete his victory was that day, is seen in the extent to which that haughty monarch humbled himself before David, entreating him to be kind unto his offspring, when he should be king. But the great truth for us to lay hold of, the central lesson here recorded for our learning is that David first gained the victory over himself, before he triumphed Over Saul. May writer and reader be more diligent and earnest in seeking grace from God that we may not be overcome by evil, but that we may "overcome evil with good."