The Life of David, Vol. I.
by A. W. Pink
His Final Words With Saul
1 Samuel 26
"There are few periods in the life of David in Which his patient endurance was displayed more conspicuously than in his last interview with Saul. Saul had once more fallen into his power; but David again refused to avail himself of the advantage. He would not deliver himself by means that God did not sanction, nor stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed. Recognition of the excellency of David, and confession of his own sin, was extorted, even from the lips of Saul" (B. W. Newton).
In the preceding chapter we followed David and his lone attendant as they entered the camp of Saul, and secured the king’s spear and the cruse of water which lay at his head. Having accomplished his purpose, David now retired from his sleeping enemies. Carrying with him clear evidence that he had been in their very midst, he determined to let them know what had transpired, for he was far from being ashamed of his conduct—when our actions are innocent, we care not who knows of them. David now stations himself within hailing distance, yet sufficiently removed that they could not come at him quickly or easily. "Then David went over to the other side and stood on the top of an hill afar off; a great space being between them" (1 Sam. 26:13). This was evidently on some high point facing the "hill of Hachilah" (v. 3), a wide valley lying between.
"And David cried to the people, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, Answerest thou not, Abner?" (v. 14) David now hailed the sleeping camp with a loud voice, addressing himself particularly unto Abner, who was the general of the army. Apparently he had to call more than once before Abner was fully aroused. "Then Abner answered and said, Who art thou that criest to the king?" Probably those were words both of anger and contempt: annoyance at being so rudely disturbed from his rest, and scorn as he recognized the voice of the speaker. Abner had so lightly esteemed David and his men, that he had not considered it necessary to keep awake personally, nor even to appoint sentinels to watch the camp. The force of his question was, Whom do you think you are, that you should address the monarch of Israel! Let not the servants of God deem it a strange thing that those occupying high offices in the world consider them quite beneath their notice.
"And David said to Abner, art not thou a valiant man? and who is like to thee in Israel? wherefore then hast thou not kept thy lord the king? for there came one of the people in to destroy the king thy lord" (v. 15). David was not to be brow-beaten. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion" (Prov. 28:1). Where the fear of God rules the heart, man cannot intimidate. Paul before Agrippa, Luther before the Diet of Worms, John Knox before the bloody Queen Mary, are cases in point. My reader, if you tremble before worms of the dust, it is because you do not tremble before God. David boldly charged Abner with his criminal neglect. First, he reminded him that he was a valiant "man," i.e. a man in office, and therefore duty bound to guard the person of the king. Second, he bantered him in view of the high position he held. Third, he informed him of how the king’s life had been in danger that night as the result of his culpable carelessness. It was tantamount to telling him he was disgraced forever.
"This thing is not good that thou hast done. As the Lord liveth ye are worthy to die, because ye have not kept your master, the Lord’s anointed" (v. 16). By martial law Abner and his officers had forfeited their lives. It should be duly noted that David was not here speaking as a private person to Saul’s general, but as the servant and mouthpiece of God, as is evident from "as the Lord liveth." "And now, see where the kings spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his bolster." David continued to banter him: the force of his word was, Who is really the king’s friend—you who neglected him and left him exposed, or I that spared him when he was at my mercy! You are stirring up Saul against me, and pursuing me as one who is unfit to live; but who, now, is worthy to die? it was plainly a case of the biter being bit.
"And Saul knew David’s voice, and said, Is this thy voice, my son David?" (v. 17) The king at once recognized the voice of him that was denouncing Abner, and addressed him in terms of cordial friendship. See here another illustration of the instability and fickleness of poor fallen man: one day thirsting after David’s blood, and the next day speaking to him in terms of affection! What reliance can be placed in such a creature? How it should make us the more revere and adore the One who declares, "I am the Lord, I change not" (Mal. 3:6). "And David said, it is my voice, my lord, O king" (v. 17). Very beautiful is this. Though David could not admire the variableness and treachery of Saul’s character, yet he respected his office, and is here shown paying due deference to the throne: he not only owned Saul’s crown, but acknowledged that he was his sovereign. Tacitly, it was a plain denial that David was the rebellious insurrectionist Saul had supposed.
"And he said, Wherefore doth my lord thus pursue after his servant? for what have I done? or what evil is in mine hand?" (v. 18). Once more (cf. 1 Sam. 24:11, etc.) David calmly remonstrated with the king: what ground was there for his being engaged in such a blood-thirsty mission? First, David was not an enemy, but ready to act as his "servant’ and further the court’s interests; thus he suggested it was against Saul’s own good to persecute one who was ready to do his bidding and advance his kingdom. Equally unreasonable and foolish have been other rulers who hounded the servants of God: none are more loyal to the powers that be, none do as much to really strengthen their hands, as the true ministers of Christ; and therefore, they who oppose them are but forsaking their own mercies.
Second, by pursuing David, Saul was driving him from his master and lawful business, and compelling to flee the one who wished to follow him with respect. Oh, the exceeding sinfulness of sin: it is not only unreasonable and unjust (and therefore denominated "iniquity"), but cruel, both in its nature and in its effects. Third, he asked, "What have I done? or what evil is in mine hand?" Questions which a clear conscience (and that only) is never afraid of asking. It was the height of wickedness for Saul to persecute him as a criminal, when he was unable to charge him with any crime. But let us observe how that by these honest questions David was a type of Him who challenged His enemies with "which of you convicteth Me of sin?" (John 8:46), and again, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou Me?" (John 18:23).
"Now therefore, I pray thee, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If the Lord have stirred thee up against me, let Him accept an offering" (v. 19). It is likely that David had paused and waited for Saul to make reply to his searching queries. Receiving no answer, he continued his address. David himself now suggested two possible explanations for the king’s heartless course, First, it might be that the Lord Himself was using him thus to righteously chastise His servant for some fault. It was the divine side of things which first engaged David’s mind: "If the Lord hath stirred thee up against me." This is a likelihood which should always exercise the conscience of a saint, for the Lord "does not afflict willingly" (Lam. 3:33), but usually because we give Him occasion to use the rod upon us. Much of this would be spared, if we kept shorter accounts with God and more unsparingly judged ourselves (1 Cor. 11:31). It is always a timely thing to say with Job, "Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me" (10:2).
Should the Lord convict him of any offense, then "let him accept an offering": David would then make his peace with God and present the required sin offering. For the Christian, this means that, having humbled himself before God, penitently confessed his sins, he now pleads afresh the merits of Christ’s blood, for the remission of their governmental consequences. But secondly, if God was not using Saul to chastise David (as indeed He was), then if evil men had incited Saul to use such violent measures, the divine vengeance would assuredly overtake them—they were accursed before God. It is blessed to note the mildness of David on this occasion: so far from reviling the king, and attributing his wickedness unto the evil of his own heart, every possible excuse was made for his conduct.
"But if they be the children of men, cursed be they before the Lord; for they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go, serve other gods" (v. 19). This was what pained David the most: not the being deprived of an honorable position as servant to Saul, not the being driven from home, but being exiled from Canaan and cut off from the public means of grace. No longer could he worship in the tabernacle, but forced out into the deserts and mountains, he would soon be obliged to leave the Holy Land. By their actions, his enemies were saying in effect, "Go, serve other gods": driving him into a foreign country, where he would be surrounded by temptations. It is blessed to see that it was the having to live among idolaters, and not merely among strangers, which worried him the more.
Ah, nought but the sufficiency of divine grace working in David’s heart could, under such circumstances, have kept him from becoming utterly disgusted with the religion which Saul, Abner, and his fellows professed. But for that, David had said, "If these be ‘Israelites,’ then let me become and die a Philistine!" Yes, and probably more than one or two readers of this chapter have, like the writer, passed through a similar situation. We expect unkind, unjust, treacherous, merciless, treatment at the hands of the world; but when they came from those whom we have regarded as true brethren and sisters in Christ, we were shaken to the very foundation, and but for the mighty power of the Spirit working within, would have said, "If that is Christianity, I will have no more to do with it!" But, blessed be His name, God’s grace is sufficient.
"Now therefore let not my blood fall to the earth before the face of the Lord: for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains" (v. 20). In these words David completed his address to Saul. First, he gave solemn warning that if he shed his blood, it would fall before the face of the Lord, and He would not hold him guiltless. Second, he argued that it was far beneath the dignity of the monarch of Israel to be chasing the son of Jesse, whom he here likens unto "a flea"—an insignificant and worthless thing. Third, he appeals again to the king’s conscience by resembling his case to men hunting a "partridge"—an innocent and harmless bird, which when attacked by men offers no resistance, but flies away; such had been David’s attitude. Now we are to see what effect all this had upon the king.
"Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David; for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day; behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly" (v. 21). This is more than the wretched king had acknowledged on a former occasion, and yet it is greatly to be feared that he had no true sense of his wickedness or genuine repentance for it. Rather was it very similar to the remorseful cry of Judas, when he said, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood" (Matthew 27: 4). These words of Saul’s were the bitter lament of one who, too late, realized he had made shipwreck of his life. He owned that he had sinned—broken God’s law—by so relentlessly persecuting David. He besought his son to return, assuring him that he would do him no more injury; but he must have realized that his promises could not be relied upon. He intimated that David’s magnanimity had thoroughly melted his heart, which shows that even the worst characters are capable of recognizing the good deeds of God’s people.
"Behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly." O what a fool he had been: in opposing the man after God’s own heart, in alienating his own son, in so sorely troubling Israel, and in bringing madness and sorrow upon himself! And how exceedingly had he "erred": by driving away from his court the one who would have been his best friend, by refusing to learn his lesson on the former occasion (1 Sam. 24), by vainly attempting to fight against the Most High! Unbelieving reader, suffer us to point out that these words, "I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly," are the wail of the lost in Hell. Now it is too late they realize what fools they were in despising the day of their opportunity, in neglecting their souls’ eternal interests, in living and dying in sin. They realize they "erred exceedingly" in ignoring the claims of God, desecrating His holy Sabbaths, shunning His Word, and despising His Son. Will this yet be your cry?
"And David answered and said, Behold the king’s spear! and let one of the young men come over and fetch it" (v. 22). This at once shows the estimate which David placed on the words of the king: he did not dare to trust him and return the spear in person, still less accompany him home. Good impressions quickly pass from such characters. No good words or fair professions entitle those to our confidence who have long sinned against the light. Such people resemble those spoken of in James 1:23, 24, who hear the word and do it not, and are like unto a man "beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was." Thus it was with Saul; he now said that he had sinned, played the fool and erred exceedingly, yet this deterred him not from seeking unto the witch of Endor!
"The Lord render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness: for the Lord delivered thee into my hand today, but I would not stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed" (v. 23). This was very solemn, David now appealed to God to be the Judge of the controversy between himself and Saul, as One who was inflexibly just to render unto every man according to his works. David’s conscience is quite dear in the matter, so he need not hesitate to ask the righteous One to decide the issue: good for us is it when we too are able to do likewise. In its final analysis, this verse was really a prayer: David asked for divine protection on the ground of the mercy which he had shown to Saul.
"And, behold, as thy life was much set by this day in mine eyes, so let my life be much set by in the eyes of the Lord, and let Him deliver me out of all tribulation" (v. 24). It is to be noted that David made no direct reply to what Saul had said, but his language shows plainly that he placed no reliance on the king’s promises. He does not say, "As thy life was much set by this day in mine eyes, so let my life be much set by in thine eyes," but rather, "in the eyes of the Lord." His confidence was in God alone, and though further trials awaited him, he counted upon His power and goodness to bring him safely through them.
"Then Saul said to David, Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt still prevail" (v. 25). Such were the final words of Saul unto David: patient faith had so far prevailed as to extort a blessing even from its adversary. Saul owned there was a glorious future before David, for he who humbleth himself shall be exalted. There was a clear conviction in the king’s mind that David was favored by God, yet that conviction in nowise checked him in his own downward course: convictions which lead to no amendment only increase condemnation. "So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place" (v. 25). Thus they parted, to meet no more in this world. Saul went forward to his awful doom; David waited God’s time to ascend the throne.