As you’re tracking along here at Reformation and Revival, you may pick up on a recurring theme. That theme is an all-out attack on paganism or creature-worship. Creature-worship is the ugly headwaters from which spring all of our social and cultural woes. And the church of God cannot drain the swamp without eliminating the source. We certainly cannot drain the swamp while bathing ourselves in the idolatrous muck. We have to leave off the creature-worship for the worship of the Creator (Romans 1). And our passage from 1 Samuel today goes a long way in helping us do just that.
The Text – A Summary
In the first division, King Saul pursued David in the wilderness of Engedi with three thousand men (v. 1-2). Saul entered a cave to relieve himself, not knowing that David was in the cave with his own men (v. 3). David’s men said, “Now is the time, David. If there were any time to defeat your enemy, it is obviously now.” But David knew better. He did not cut Saul to pieces. He did, however, cut off a corner of his robe (v. 4). But not without a pang of conscience. He also stood firmly against his men, not allowing them to kill Saul (v. 7).
In the second division, David followed Saul out of the cave, calling after him. He bowed with reverence to Saul while questioning him. David evidenced that he spared Saul’s life, claiming he would do Saul no wrong. David’s speech is full of wisdom. He showed respect, calling Saul father and the Lord’s anointed while calling himself a flea. At the same time, David proved his innocence while indicting Saul—”the Lord gave you into my hand” (v. 10). David entrusted himself to God’s judgment multiple times (v. 12, 15).
In the third division, Saul speaks. He wept, calling David his son (v. 16). He said David was more righteous than himself (v. 17). He agreed with David that the Lord gave him into David’s hand (v. 18). Saul also admitted that David would be king and asked him to swear no harm to his father’s house (v. 20, 21). David swore this to Saul. Saul then went home. David did not follow Saul but traveled back to his stronghold (v. 22).
Now you can understand someone asking, “Why in the world would David not take his shot when he had it? Doesn’t he believe in providence? It seems like an easy story to read. God brought your enemy right into your cave, and he, of course, is going to the bathroom. But David knew two things. First, Saul was the LORD’s anointed. God really had set up King Saul as the first King of Israel. And he rightly refused to raise his hand against the LORD’s anointed. But the second truth that David knew is essential. David knew that the LORD himself would raise his hand against King Saul. David could leave Saul alone because God was not going to leave Saul alone. The key phrase is in verse 12. David said, “The LORD avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.”
David was no pagan. In that cave, he was not given to creature-worship. And so he was not given to creature-vengeance. He knew what we must know, and that is: God is better at vengeance than we are. His wrath is better and far hotter than our wrath. So we can leave room for the wrath of God (Romans 12:19). People who do this are free. They’re not walking through life as slaves to bitterness, fear, and the earthly wisdom of misguided advisors. There is quite a bit of that pagan slavery going on in our times, so we should mark that the wisdom of God runs in an entirely different direction. He says to us, “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:17).
Saul would have happily struck David down if the situation had been reversed. He had proven himself to be a king like the unbelieving nations. He paid lip service to Yahweh. But the god he worshiped was creature, not the uncreated Creator. It follows that Saul was a slave. Leaving no room for the wrath of God, Saul was a slave to his own wrath, not only attempting to pin David to the wall with his spear but even his own son! Saul was also a slave to his own lies. He was happy to pay lip service to David, speaking tender words when advantageous for him to do so. Soon we will see Saul, a slave to his own fear, being driven to the witch’s house in a desperate attempt to use any earthly means to escape his trouble.
So here’s the lesson for the day: America is pregnant with pagan slaves who are out for blood and have no concept of leaving room for God’s wrath. They simply don’t get David’s actions in the cave. They would only be convinced to act as David did if they could be sure that their constituency, board, or friends would see their actions and repay them for their “abundant mercy” in the future. In other words, they would only have spared Saul if their creature-gods saw and blessed them. Such people are pagan slaves, not Christian freemen. So have nothing to do with those chains, for you are Christians, and “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear” (Romans 8:15).